PROFILE: LILLIAN AND EMANUEL SLUTZKER CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES Interview with Patricia Burak
The Slutzker Center for International Studies offers a variety of services and programs to serve international students and faculty. Expert advisors are available to assist international students and scholars, and their families, in matters related to their immigration status, employment, health insurance, social security, com- munity organization and personal concerns. The Center has been working to meet the specific needs of students and scholars from the Middle East since its establishment.
Burak, the Director of the Slutzker Center with thirty-one years experience in the office from 1977, explains the political causes behind changing patterns in the numbers of people coming to the United States from different Middle Eastern countries. The number of students coming to the U.S. from Iran has decreased substantially since the 1980s. Burak says that Syracuse University welcomed many students from Iran in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of the Shah of Iran’s enormous investment to encourage Iranian students to come and study in the United States. These numbers of course shifted dramatically after the Iranian Revolution. At the same time, the Turkish government started investing in sending students to the United States to study after the 1980s. She also recites the experience with students and scholars from Lebanon: “Of course the politics feeds in. When Lebanon was stable, we had lots of students from Lebanon... That doesn’t happen anymore.” Burak also notes that it is extremely difficult for Palestinian students and scholars to get visas and come to study in the U.S. This barrier is the chief reason that SU has no more than a couple of Palestinians on campus each year.
The Slutzker Center has undertaken a reconciliatory role in its involvement with students from the Middle East. Patricia Burak remembers two major incidents in the late 1970s and the 1980s. “At that time, we had several interesting aspects of life with students from the Middle East. I think the predominant political factor was the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We had a student publication called ‘Intertwined.’ They came out with one issue that was very politically oriented towards one side. Students who felt very strongly against that side picked up all of the copies and burned them and that really exacerbated negative feelings between the two camps of the students. There was also a time period when the situation in Lebanon was so difficult. There were physical confrontations between the students who felt differently. At one point, we had to take three students away from campus and house them in a hotel off campus so that they would be safe because they had been threatened. We had that between the students from Taiwan and China, within Soviet Union, and we had it with students from Latin America. There has been very little animosity between the students from the Middle East and any other populations outside of the Middle East.”
The Slutzker Center has indeed historically assumed a very important role in resolving conflicts on campus and bringing groups of students from different backgrounds together for dialog and communication. The Center has played a major role for international students and scholars in assisting their cultural adaptation to American society and to Syracuse. Burak states that the major role of the center has recently changed. “Our major role really is immigration compliance now.... Prior to September 11, in the 1960s when our office was just getting built, in 1970s up until the 1980s really, our role was much more cultural adaptation, orientation and crisis management. Those were our major roles. But gradually as politics has changed and the world environment has changed, especially after 2003 when the SEVIS was introduced and with the PATRIOT Act, we have become much more like registrars and data management officials. We have to record in the SEVIS database every time a student changes address, changes major or gets a different kind of financial support, drops a course or takes a leave of absence. Our role has become much more regulatory; therefore, some of the trust, and some of the kind of simpatico relationship that used to exist, is not really as strong as it used to be. I can say this because I was a foreign student advisor then and I am a foreign student advisor now.” “Not that students don’t necessarily trust us, but [they] view us in a different way,” she added. “We have become a new animal in our relationship to our international students.” She hopes that a future shift in government policy could help facilitate a less intrusive role for the Center.