Aug 25, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Worried that the US may not be the friendliest of places for international students these days? While this is a valid concern, universities -- and the people who populate them -- are eager to embrace students from all over the world to their communities. Enter the #YouAreWelcomeHere social media campaign. Here’s a closer look at this exciting initiative designed to roll out the welcome mat for international students.

A Reassuring Message

According to its website, the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign “is a welcome message from U.S. higher education to international students from around the world.” First introduced last fall in a video by Study Group, an organization which works with education institutions to boost cultural and economic diversity at education institutions, the campaign has taken off in popularity.

Since its inception, the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign has become a national phenomenon supported by organizations including the National Association for College Admission Counseling, NAFSA: Association of International Educators and even the State Department’s Bureau of International and Cultural Affairs.  Today, more than 250 colleges and universities are participating in the campaign, which expresses a collective commitment to diversity, safety, and student development on campuses.

As any student who’s ever taken a creative writing class knows, it’s always better to “show not tell.” With this in mind, the campaign uses a variety of strategies to deliver its message in the most compelling and creative way. Photos, videos, statements and events including students, faculty and staff add up to a powerful message in support of internationalization in higher education communities throughout the U.S.

Worth noting? The US is not alone in its mission to convey a message of welcome to international students. A similar campaign -- #WeAreInternational -- is also underway in the post-Brexit UK.

 

Why It’s Necessary

Jessica Sandberg, who leads the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, told Inside Higher Ed, "The reason this struck me as an important message is that it's simple and it’s positive and it’s kind of a countervailing message to a lot of the other negative images and messages that are out there.”

Additionally, Sandberg says, the campaign highlights that the attitudes it represents extend far beyond international admissions offices: “The other piece that I think is important is, generally, international prospective students are hearing from people like me who work in international admissions,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “We wanted the campaign messages and videos to show that the support for international students isn’t just isolated to people who work in this profession, but it’s university presidents, the cheerleader and the football player and the faculty members.”

And while the campaign originated following President Trump’s executive order banning nationals from designated Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the US last year, it may be more important now than ever, given recent events in Charlottesville.

The good news? Students say it’s working. According to the #YouAreWelcomeHere website, “Students have expressed gratitude and relief. Several students report that the video messages are especially reassuring to their parents who are comforted to see friendly faces behind the many higher education institutions across the country. American students and alumni have also been expressing pride in seeing their institution participating in this campaign.” At a time when both Americans and non-Americans may feel alarm over the changing state of the country, #YouAreWelcomeHere may help facilitate a change in perception.

 

Getting Involved

Want to add your voice to the chorus of college community members? If your college or university is participating, look into whether they need volunteers to speak up at events, on video, or other forums. Or, consider starting a campaign of your own on campus. Enlisting your institution’s film department to get involved can help you get a video -- considered central to the campaign -- off the ground.

Don’t have a formal initiative established on your campus and no time to start one? No problem. According to campaign organizers, “The simplest form of participation is to use this hashtag in your social media posts to demonstrate the ways your school supports and values international students. If you tag your posts and videos with #YouAreWelcomeHere, we will share them across the campaign’s social media channels.”

Interested in checking out the many #YouAreWelcomeHere videos for yourself? The #YouAreWelcomeHere website is home to a comprehensive list of links. (Just prepare yourself for a serious case of the feels before clicking.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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