Faculty speakers address topics of globalization and diversity

Matthew Swanson, assistant director of admissions, and Amy Pettengill-Fahnestock, assistant dean and international student advisor, began this year’s Faculty Lecture Series last Thursday by addressing a number of issues surrounding the increasing presence of international students at the College.

The talk, entitled “You’re From WHERE? Or What Happened to all the Americans?” centered on international admissions and the value of increasing international students on campus. This year’s Faculty Lecture Series’ theme is “Globalization and Us.”

Swanson centered his talk on the history, admissions and financing of international students at the College and Pettengill-Fahnestock talked about the impact of having international students in the College community.

In October 2001, the College adopted a need-blind admissions policy for international students, placing it on par with Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Middlebury. Previously, the College offered financial aid to roughly 8-10 international students who were selected for the highly competitive Haystack Scholarships.

“The implementation of this policy has had immediate and tremendous impact on our international population,” Swanson said. “The vast majority of international applicants to Williams require financial aid. The new policy has freed the admissions committee to admit many more of these academically superlative and otherwise compelling applicants.”

According to Swanson, the Admissions Office observed a 72 percent increase in international applicants for the Class of 2006 when compared with applicants for the Class of 2005. This year’s first-year class was the first to benefit from the changes in admissions policy. 87 percent of the admitted international students of the Class of 2006 receive some sort of financial aid. There were 424 international applicants to the Class of 2005, 691 to the Class of 2006 and 863 to the Class of 2007.

Of the five colleges that offer a need-blind policy towards international applicants, Williams offers the most liberal expense budget. “We are arguably the most generous American institution in packaging its aid-eligible international students,” Swanson said.

Yet Williams is rated only 21st on the College Board’s list of colleges with attractive international financial aid policies, which is published in the Board’s International Student Handbook. Nine other colleges, roughly the same size as Williams, stand ahead of the College.

Mt. Holyoke’s yearly budget for international financial aid of $8,326,674 is nearly three times the College’s $2,707,068. Macalester spends almost double at $5,319,323 and Middlebury’s annual spending tops $5,000,000.

The College’s position on the list is a result of the smaller proportion of international students on campus. While the student bodies at Mt. Holyoke and Macalester are currently composed of 16 and 14 percent international students, respectively the College’s international population stands at six percent of the student body. As such, the College is able to spend far more on a per-student basis than its peer institutions.

Swanson outlined a long term goal of raising the capital to fully endow financial aid. “A total of $45 million would be necessary to endow our target international population,” he said. “Recent gifts of $7.2 million by an anonymous donor and $5 million from Edgar Bronfman ’50 have provided a promising foundation.”

Pettengill-Fahnestock also talked about the wealth of diversity and experience that international students bring to the Williams community.

“In recent history, when world events had an unprecedented impact on the campus, several international students were instrumental in organizing events, exposing issues, confronting stereotypes and facilitating public discourse,” she said. “Had we not had such individuals among us, the campus could have processed recent events much differently.”

She also drew attention to the academic performance of international students. 21 percent of the international students are in the top 10 percent of their respective classes and the students with the highest GPAs in the Class of 2004 and 2005 are international students.

“You can imagine from what I’ve written that I’m a great fan of having a substantial international presence at Williams, and I firmly believe that the ultimate beneficiaries are U.S. students who gain a great deal from the experience of having international students in class and in the dorm,” said Dave Edwards, professor of anthropology.

Pettengill-Fahnestock also expressed concern about the recent hardships certain international students have faced by the latest Immigration and Naturalization Service restrictions. Certain airports will henceforth be off-limits to citizens of countries on a list released by the U.S. Department of State. They will be fingerprinted, photographed, interrogated and will not be allowed to travel before reporting to certain authorities.

A large number of students, faculty and staff members, and Williamstown residents attended the lecture. Among them was Phil Smith, former dean of admissions.

“I think it’s very exciting that there is such an increased focus on the international presence at Williams,” Smith said. “I’ve read international applications here for 45 years; this year’s group was the strongest I’ve ever seen. And Williams needs a strong international presence – it’s a win-win situation.”