South Asian students need our support

The pandemic situation in south Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and particularly India, has deteriorated in an alarming way. None of us are new to the images of COVID19 suffering and destruction. Even so, the images of pyres burning and smouldering ash filling the Indian cremation grounds are horrifying.

This has been a stressful time for the Australian south Asian community. The impact is even bigger for the large number of south Asian international students who do not have close family and friends in this country. These students have not visited their family and friends since early 2020, due to Australia’s border closure.

An Amnesty International vigil for human rights in India. Credit:AP

Australian international students have been ignored by the federal government during the pandemic, despite being an important source of revenue. University of Melbourne data reaffirms that these international students have felt a heightened sense of isolation, a sense of losing their support network, and profound anxiety. The worsening situation of their home countries have not made things easier for them.

Most universities have been trying to support international students with financial grants, food hampers, housing funds, and mental healthcare. The Victorian government has offered free meals and groceries, as well as money. But as our memory of COVID-19 lockdown fades, we need to increase our support for international students.

As academics, the first and foremost responsibility that we have towards our students is duty of care. This duty of care becomes more crucial during emergencies. We can have hundreds of publications and accolades. However, if we fail to support our students in this time of global pandemic, none of it matters.

There are a few things we can do right now to assure our international students that we are all in it together. We can create culturally safe and inclusive spaces for them to tell us how to support them best in this situation.

We can continue to offer spaces for them to express themselves, acknowledge their hardships, offer mental and financial support.

Additionally, we can offer peer-support, such as establishing opportunities for them to work at food banks where they access free food without feeling humiliated.

This pandemic has made it very clear that compassion and pragmatic actions are required to support our students.

The onus is on us to communicate with our international students who are extremely worried about their families back in their country.

South Asian communities are communal, welcoming, and collective by nature. We need to make these students feel included in our Australian academic community.

These students are integral part of our academic community. We need to lend our ears to hear them, hands for them to hold when needed, and our hearts to empathise.

Dr Nira Rahman and Dr Wajeehah Aayeshah are academics in arts teaching innovation at the University of Melbourne.

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