After a Month of Silence, a Response

ConU Speaks Up About Chinese Homestay Student Situation

For weeks, several members of the Concordia Student Union, the Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank, Advocacy and Support Services and the CSU Legal Information Clinic have been meeting.

For weeks, several members of the Concordia Student Union, the Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank, Advocacy and Support Services and the CSU Legal Information Clinic have been meeting.

They’ve been discussing the situation surrounding international student recruitment, specifically Chinese students, and the questionable living conditions of the university’s homestay program.

On Sept 25, The Link published “Taken for a Ride” [Vol. 33, Iss. 06], a story about questionable recruitment practices and poor housing some of its international students within the homestay program were having to endure.

The story prompted reactions from administration, staff, students and the public, and at a Board of Governors meeting a few days later, Concordia President Alan Shepard assured fellow governors that the wellbeing of students was of utmost importance, and that an investigation was being undertaken to look into the issue.

Over the following weeks, however, the lines dried up.

Too Quiet

“We were getting a bit concerned because media attention had died down,” said CSU VP Clubs and Internal Nadine Atallah. “Nobody was asking any more questions, and we still hadn’t received any answers.”

With the help of HoJo, Advocacy and the LIC, Atallah and several other members of the CSU began trying to dig up their own answers.

“We were doing our own research, we were trying to figure out what was going on so that we could get down to the bottom of this,” said Atallah.

In early October, Atallah approached Shepard about getting involved in the investigation, but didn’t get far.

“When we asked if we could be on the committee looking into this, he said that he’d consider it, but he basically told us no,” said Atallah.

On Oct. 24, after two hours of closed session at a regular council meeting, the CSU came to a decision that would see the union put together a task force comprised of two CSU executives along with coordinators from Advocacy, HoJo and the LIC, while mandating the union to request that Concordia create an external review to look into the situation and present the findings to the CSU and the BoG.

The following day, Atallah and CSU President Schubert Laforest met with Concordia VP Services Roger Côté for a meeting that shed light on some interesting possibilities.

“What came from that meeting was that we clearly had different views of the situation, so we were going piece by piece through every element of what we thought seemed to be true, and what they thought was true,” said Laforest.

“We came to an agreement that something had to be done, and it would be beneficial for us to move hand in hand.”

The weekend passed, and on Monday morning, Laforest received a message.

The Doors Open

“I got a text asking if I could make a meeting for 10:00 a.m. to talk about the [Chinese student] situation,” said Laforest.

“We’d already scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, so I thought it was pretty interesting. When I got to the meeting they provided me with a briefing document.”

“It’s good to have this kind of communication from the university, but it seems like something sketchy is going on, and it’s unclear what it is, and who is involved. That needs to be clarified. Until it’s clarified, we’re going to have to use whatever tools are available to us.”
-CSU President Schubert LaForest

Several hours later The Link was called into a meeting with Côté and other student media to discuss the situation and what developments had been made.

Côté went on to explain six main steps that the university intends to take in addressing the issues and questions brought up surrounding Concordia’s recruitment policy, its relation with consulting firms and the recruiting agent in question, Peter Low.

The plans include the implementation of annual interviews done of a random sample of students within the Concordia China Student Recruitment Partnership Program to learn about their experience, and creating virtual orientation sessions for new students in their own language, as opposed to publishing only in English.

The university also intends to create a Mandarin version of the International Students Office pre-departure guide—a document, which is currently only featured in English, that helps ease the immigration process for international students.

Though Laforest is excited by the change in the administration’s handling of the situation, he thinks there is still a lot of work to do.

“They’ve reacted, so we have an engagement with the university. They’ve started to talk,” said Laforest. “There are a lot of key elements that we need to take care of. As soon as possible, we need to get an accurate understanding of the students that are in this situation right now.”

Despite the university’s sudden response, the CSU’s mandate hasn’t necessarily changed.

“Until council says otherwise, we’re going to keep asking for an external review,” said Laforest, explaining that the decision can be debated by council.

“It’s good to have this kind of communication from the university, but it seems like something sketchy is going on, and it’s unclear what it is, and who is involved. That needs to be clarified. Until it’s clarified, we’re going to have to use whatever tools are available to us.”

Ultimately, Laforest believes immediate action is most important, and is something that has taken too long.

“I really think that our priorities should be on the people who are in this right now,” said Laforest. “We should be focusing our resources on outreach. If someone else is in this situation right now, and we’re not doing something about it, it’s a mistake on our part.”

According to Atallah, the university’s suggestions are good and collaboration is welcome, but the union is still willing to go above and beyond them if they need to.

“We’re hopeful that things can work out with the university, but should they not, we’re prepared to take alternative routes, to move forward in a different way,” she said. “We’re hopeful, but we’re not dependent.”

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