During times of stress and uncertainty like many are experiencing now, coming together as a community can often provide necessary support systems.
The University Counseling and Psychological Services Office and the Office of International Students and Scholars held a virtual event over Zoom on Thursday titled, “Political Uncertainties: What Can You Do When You Can’t Vote?” in order to provide a platform for international students to share their concerns and emotions surrounding their inability to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Elena Cucco, a counselor at Lehigh’s Counseling Services who helped organize the event, said the idea for the event arose from international students expressing their struggles with the turbulence of the current election cycle as well as decisions made by the current White House administration. For example, earlier this year, President Donald Trump’s administration issued, then rescinded, a policy that put international students taking online-only classes at risk of deportation.
“We know that this sort of stuff has an immense impact on folks who are visiting because it sends messages related to how welcome they are here, how they are viewed by Americans, to practical concerns about when they can and cannot see their families to financial considerations such as (whether they will) be able to find work as an international person with a work visa,” Cucco said.
Cucco said it’s difficult for international students to not be able to have a hand in deciding policies that they hold personal stake in, which can naturally create distress.
The event was structured as an open dialogue between students, counselors and staff from the Office of International Students and Scholars. It began with a meditation that allowed participants to reflect upon the emotions they felt in relation to the current political climate. Then, both students and staff discussed their background in politics, the feelings they were experiencing and what the Lehigh community could do to help students come to terms with their uncertainties and anxiety.
Cucco said the event was intended to be experiential rather than intellectual.
“I think our aim is to both help people feel a sense of resilience within themselves and also feel a sense of connection with the community of people who have coped with hard things … and I think that’s somethings that’s more impactful if it is felt than if it is heard,” Cucco said.
Sophie Gani, ’24, is an international student from Indonesia. She said that growing up, politics was not heavily discussed in her household. However, once she started high school, she began learning more and began paying attention to the news.
She said her biggest concerns in U.S. politics is immigration and health care. Gani said she hopes to be able to come to campus eventually and potentially even work in the U.S. She also said health care was an important issue because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, because she cannot vote, she said she doesn’t have a say in these issues.
“I have to rely on other people to want to fight for my rights within the U.S.,” Gani said.
Gani said she believes events such as this one are valuable because they help individuals understand each other’s viewpoints.
“Having a forum to listen and learn about different perspectives is always beneficial because it is sometimes easier to understand where people from different backgrounds are coming from,” Gani said.
Shamell Brandon, a counselor at Lehigh who helped organize the event, said in times of turmoil, emotional support is essential.
“Election Day is still going to come when it’s going to come,” Brandon said. “We don’t get a fast forward button with more support. But we do get more hands to hold the heavy load that’s showing up inside, rather than being overwhelmed by it alone.”
Although the past few years have been difficult in terms of politics, Cucco said she believes Lehigh students are well equipped to deal with the challenges they may face.
“Lehigh students in particular are some of the most creative and collective groups of folks,” she said. “When people are feeling these things, usually they come together, and you all translate that kind of despair into community action.”