On-campus Violence Concerns Some International Students, Not Others

01 April 2023

Gun violence can happen anywhere in the United States.

It can happen at a school for children, a holiday parade or a food store.

It can also happen on college campuses.

FILE - A mourner wipes a tear during a vigil honoring the students killed and injured in Monday's shootings at Michigan State University, at The Rock on the grounds of the university in East Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
FILE - A mourner wipes a tear during a vigil honoring the students killed and injured in Monday's shootings at Michigan State University, at The Rock on the grounds of the university in East Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In February, a gunman came onto the grounds of Michigan State University and killed three people and hurt five others.

Last November, three University of Virginia students were killed by a classmate as they returned from a group trip to Washington, D.C.

Different kinds of violence can also strike universities. Last autumn, someone with a knife killed four students from the University of Idaho as they slept in their home near the school.

Investigators are still working on the case in Idaho. In Michigan, the man who shot the students later killed himself. In Virginia, police arrested the student who shot his classmates.

There have been nine mass shootings at or around American colleges since 1966. That information comes from the Violence Project . The group defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are murdered in public in a single incident.

The deadliest was at Virginia Tech in 2007. In that attack, a student killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

Fifteen years later, some laws and rules have been changed, but shootings still happen.

How does the risk of such violence affect international students coming to the United States? And how does it affect the people whose job it is to recruit such students?

VOA Learning English spoke with two international students and a member of one university's international programs team to find out.

Northeastern University recruiter

Beau Benson recruits international students at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. The university has one of the largest populations of international students in the country.

After a shooting like the one at Michigan State, Benson said, people thinking about coming to the U.S. for their studies have more questions about safety.

Benson said worried parents ask: "Will my son or daughter be safe if I send them halfway around the world?"

Benson notes, however, that the questions change depending on news events and international politics. Earlier in his career, international students and their parents were more worried about feeling welcome in the U.S.

"And it's really in the last few weeks or months, I would say, that the whole topic of gun violence has come up again."

Student reaction to violence

Kartik Sundaram and Khushi Agnish are both from India. They currently are in school or work on college campuses in the United States.

Sundaram studies the behavior of internet users at the University of Michigan. Agnish recently finished her studies at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. She now works as a researcher at Yale University.

Sundaram lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That is about 100 kilometers from the Michigan State University campus.

He called the Michigan State shooting "tragic."

"But it's kind of out of our control," he added. "There's nothing really I can do about it and there's no point in wasting my mental resources thinking about it."

Sundaram said that if a person with a gun did come to his classroom, "then I'm dead."

Agnish has experience at two American universities. She said the environment at Quinnipiac is very different than the one at Yale even though they are only 15 minutes apart.

Yale is in the city of New Haven and people can walk onto the campus without much trouble. Quinnipiac, on the other hand, is in the suburban city of Hamden. It is next to a large state park and separated from homes and business areas. She said anyone who drives a car must show their school identification card in order to enter the campus.

At Yale, people need a student card to enter buildings.

Agnish said she worries about crime and sometimes feels less safe in New Haven than she did in India.

"A lot of people know that India is not considered a very safe country. But to be honest, living in New Haven made me feel a bit like maybe I was safer back home. And I would say that because in India, the most that would happen is I could get kidnapped or something, right? Like someone could just pick me up, take me ,hold me hostage or something.

"But in America I fear sometimes someone might just shoot me."

Agnish said sometimes she worries she could be a target because of her skin color.

"There's a constant fear – because of the gun laws in this country – that if someone gets mad at you, they can just shoot you," she said.

What's next?

Both the students and Benson, the recruiter, are unsure if the recent violence at American universities will make future students consider higher education in countries other than the U.S.

Sundaram said he believes the benefit of studying in the U.S. outweighs the risk.

"The opportunity to make much more money was the dominant factor," he added.

Benson, however, worries that some international students may be turned off by the violence and the high cost of attending school in the United States. Universities in places like Canada, Australia and Northern Europe are considered safer and usually have a lower cost of attendance. He tells students that Boston is a safe place for international students and that Northeastern works hard to keep its campus safe.

For Agnish, she said she only really learned about gun violence in America during her first year in the U.S. She said such events were not talked about much in the news in India.

So, when she was considering coming to the U.S. for school, she did not think much about her safety.

But, Agnish said, "If I was asked now, I might think twice before making a decision."

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Dorothy.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English.


Words in This Story

campus –n. the location of a college or school

parade –n. an event used to celebrate something special, such as a holiday, where many people walk in a line or a group. Often with musicians.

recruit –v. to find people who want to come to a place such as a university

mad –adj. a feeling of anger

benefit –n. something that is positive or good

opportunity –n. the chance to do something

factor –n. something that helps produce or influence a result : one of the things that cause something to happen