International students voice concerns about returning employee

The Office of International Student Affairs postponed announcing a new director to December, over a month after the previously said date. A college official said this delay is due to the chosen candidate not responding to the college’s hiring in a timely manner.

On Nov. 2, six international students participated in a private panel discussion in the conference room of Office of Campus Life with Anthony Pinder, the associate vice president of internationalization and global engagement, and other college officials to address complaints. Some complaints regarded the job performance of Sheena Loiacono, the interim director and only employee of OISA during the summer before the students arrived or returned to Emerson.

Ann Zhang, the spiritual life commissioner of Student Government Association, planned the event in October after hearing multiple student inquiries about OISA during the summer.

Zhang did not respond for comment because of her busy schedule.

The international students in the panel commented on Loiacono’s delayed response in returning and distributing students’ federal government documents. Students also claimed she had unpleasant behavior when communicating with them, according to SGA International Student Commissioner Jay Liu, one of the students who attended the panel. 

The college recently hired an OISA program coordinator, Jason Yang. Pinder originally planned to announce a new director at the beginning of November, according to previous Beacon reporting. Pinder said students would not be affected because of the delay in hiring.

Loiacono took a leave of absence for personal reasons in September. After the panel, Pinder said he would announce to the Emerson community if Loiacono will come back.   

Ann Varghese, a second-year graduate student from Bahrain, India, said she approached OISA for a Curricular Practical Training application when she received an internship this summer. Students who have completed one academic year and have maintained their visa status may apply for CPT, which allows F-1 visa students to work legally in the United States and outside of the college campus.

Varghese prepared for her CPT a month and a half before the deadline in August, which she described as overly ahead of time. Varghese emailed OISA but never received a response.

After two weeks of emailing, Varghese walked into OISA to talk about her CPT in person. She said she found Loiacono seemingly oblivious to her situation. Loiacono told Varghese she was too busy to correspond with her through email, according to Varghese.

“She looked it up, and it took her one minute to tell me ‘You were missing something,’” Varghese said.  “She told me like ‘If this was in NYU, you know how long you would take?’ but I was not in NYU, I am in Emerson! She didn’t have to be nice to anyone but just do her job. That’s good even.”

Pinder said he fully understood the concerns of the international students and felt sorry for every misfortune they had to experience. He said it was the responsibility of the whole office.

“We don’t want to put our fingers on a certain person,” Pinder said. “We would like to absorb it as an office to see what we can do for international students.”

Pinder sourced the OISA issues to understaffing. He said his current priority is hiring a new director and rebuilding the structure of OISA.

James Hoppe, vice president and dean of campus life,  said he learned from the panel that all departments at Emerson need education for providing international students support.

“I think everyone in this campus needs to come to themselves to be more thoughtful and intentional [to international student issues],” Hoppe said in the interview.

Hoppe said he wrote new budget proposals for more services aimed toward the international students at Emerson. He could not disclose any further information.

Pinder said OISA will organize upcoming events like an international week and a CPT workshop for students in November.

Yang resolved many students’ Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, holds since starting his employment in October. SEVIS is an online account used by the United States government to keep track of current information on international students. Holds in an Emerson student account can prevent them from registering for classes.

Yang also met one-on-one with international students to talk about their complaints and what they want from OISA.

“I can see my colleagues are so passionate about solving students’ problems,” Yang said. “I hope office of international student affairs can leave students a home-like impression. It’s a place where students can talk about their problems and worries—it’s not like a government.”

Yang said it surprised him to see students so courageous to organize the panel and voice their concerns to faculty. He said he had never seen that in the other schools he’s worked in.

Liu, an SGA commissioner, said he plans to compile a report describing the current state of OISA and concerns from the international student community. He plans to give this report to the new director as a reference.

He said he will also provide suggestions to the new director when the college hires one.

“I will be the person who connects international student population with the OISA,” Liu said.

Varghese said in August she met with Pinder and Hoppe on behalf of multiple international students who said they had trouble working with OISA.

Varghese said Pinder and Hoppe were helpful and supportive. Two weeks after she met with Pinder, Varghese received an email from him saying he had three candidates set up for the OISA director position and invited her and fellow international students to meet them.

After Yang’s hiring and the college’s acknowledgment of the state of international student affairs at Emerson, Varghese said she noticed some improvement in OISA.

“Right now Jason seems amazing,” said Varghese. “He definitely gets back to all the emails we sent, which is something that we appreciate because we know there is somebody who is hearing our problems … So far it has been going good.”

Sheena Loiacono did not respond for comment.

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