FAQs for International Students About the Current Movement for Racial Equality in the US

The United States is in the midst of a difficult time as we grapple with violence by police against Black Americans and the protests in response.

We want to start the conversation responding to concerns we have heard from international students and scholars, please see the FAQ below.

We also invite you to watch the video recordings of our recent presentations:

To learn more about the topics discussed in the presentations you can find recommended articles, films, Instagram handles and more in the further resources: Context of the Protests (PDF) and How To Be An Ally (PDF).


I’m frightened, confused, angry…what are the recent protests about?

These are unparalleled times and it is OK to feel confused, overwhelmed, sad, angry and/or scared. There are protests in St. Louis and around the world right now. Most protests are peaceful. Protesters are asking for: justice for Black men, women and children that have been killed, reforms to police tactics and training, and an end to racial discrimination.

Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, has said that at the core of what protesters across the country are demanding is accountability. “They want to see the arrest of all the officers involved [in the murder of George Floyd]. They want to have no more terror, no more police terror in their communities…Everybody wants to be apologized to. Everybody wants to be told, ‘I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. It was unacceptable. We won’t do it again and, in fact, this is how we change.’ […] But grieving communities don’t often receive that kind of apology and acknowledgement,” she said. “We barely get a sorry, we rarely get accountability and we never get change. So what are people to do?” (Source: ABC News)

Protesting is a protected right in the US, and has been a primary way that Americans have stood up against injustice and unfair treatment since the founding of the United States.

We understand that you, like us, are experiencing the stress of both a pandemic as well as political upheaval in the same space and time. Please know that OISS is here and available for virtual “walk-in” advising appointments to discuss your feelings and concerns during this difficult time. In addition, Habif Health and Wellness Center continues to provide support to students through virtual counseling appointments.

Do international students with F-1 and J-1 visas have the same rights to freedom of expression as US citizens?

Everyone in the US has the right under the US Constitution to free speech and freedom of assembly. This includes citizens and foreign nationals. That being said, as an international student you have potentially more to lose if you end up in an altercation with the police. If you engage in a protest and consequently something happens where you get arrested, it could lead to serious immigration consequences. For example, the police say that everyone needs to disperse and instead you stay and get arrested. The consequence would depend on the charge; in some cases, your student visa could be revoked or you could be permanently barred from coming to the US.

It is up to you to decide whether or not to take part in the current protests. If you decide to do so, it would be very important to think about safety. Have a plan on how to get there and how to get home. If you sense any escalation or threat of arrests starting, you should leave. (And don’t forget about the global pandemic as well – wear your mask).

How can I be an ally in the fight for racial equality?

An ally is someone who stands up for others. An ally recognizes that though they are not a member of a marginalized group(s) they support, they make a concerted effort to better understand the struggle. Because an ally might have more privilege, they are powerful voices alongside marginalized ones. For example, an ally could be a Korean person who works to educate others about racism against Black people.

There are many ways to be an ally, it’s important to find a way that feels safe and appropriate for you.

  • Some are posting on social media​
  • Some are protesting in the streets​
  • Some are donating silently​
  • Some are spending money at Black-owned businesses and restaurants
  • Some are educating themselves​
  • Some are having tough conversations with friends and family

I want to learn more…

Get your news from a variety of sources, including Black-owned newspapers and minority staffed websites:

Editorially independent radio and podcasts: