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US gun violence: What do international students think?

US Gun Violence
People react during a prayer and candle vigil organized by the city, after a shooting left 20 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall WalMart in El Paso, Texas, on August 4, 2019. Source: Mark Ralston/AFP

International students are increasingly concerned about the state of US gun violence, a new survey has found.

The results reveal that for this student demographic, gun violence is a growing concern, according to credential evaluation organisation World Education Services (WES), which conducted a survey of current international students and recent graduates that garnered 1,921 responses.

One international student from Mauritius, who is studying health behaviour, said: “One thing which troubles me is that anyone can have access to a gun in the US, and […] that I could be a potential victim of a shooting.”

The survey found a general sense of security reported by international students, with nine in ten (88 percent) reporting they feel “safe from physical harm or acts of violence at their institution”. Similarly, 79 percent said they feel safe in their local community. When it comes to verbal harm and harassment, international students reported similar feelings of general safety.

However, more than a third of respondents answered they “Strongly agree or agree” with the sentence “I am worried about gun violence” in the local community. A quarter said they are worried about gun violence at their institution.

us gun violence

People gather near the ‘El Paso Strong’ mural painted by artists Gabe Vasquez and Justin Martinez following the mass shooting at Walmart, which killed 22 people, on August 9, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white male suspect remains in custody in El Paso which sits along the US-Mexico border. Source: Mario Tama/AFP

International students at universities located in rural areas are more worried about gun violence compared to their counterparts at suburban institutions. WES notes this may stem from the fact that rural communities tend to own more guns, as the findings of a 2017 Pew Research Center survey shows that more than half of adults in these areas report at least one person in their household owning a gun.

US gun violence: different countries of origin, different levels of fear

Students from Southeast Asia as well as South and Central Asia reported the highest level of concerns about gun violence at their institution and local community. WES explains this could be due with the sharp contrast between the US and their home region, which experiences considerably lower rates of homicide and civilian gun ownership, for which numbers are among the lowest in the world.

Middle Eastern and North African students reported similar high levels of concern for gun violence. With the majority of them Muslim, this is understandable, considering they belong to the same group making up 25 percent of all religion-based hate crime in the country, despite only making up around one percent of the US population.

These concerns are not new. Last year, the University of Buffalo’s Vice Provost for International Education, Stephen Dunnett, told student newspaper The Spectrum that in addition to rising tuition fees and the rise of other study abroad destinations, the perceived risk of gun violence is an issue dampening the school’s international recruitment efforts.

us gun violence

Lynda Miller (L), Soona Buchanan and her son, Shadi Buchanan, attend a memorial service at Pine Trails Park for the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2019 in Parkland, Florida. A year ago on Feb. 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 14 students and three staff members were killed during the mass shooting. Source: Joe Raedle/AFP

“However, in our marketing, messaging and conversations with international students, UB actively seeks to inform prospective and current students about how welcoming and safe UB and our surrounding communities are,” Dunnett said in an email to UBSpectrum.

“Also, many members of the university faculty are very involved, through their research and scholarship, in responding to issues of school violence and gun laws.”

Celaster Denisraj, an industrial engineering graduate student, said: “There is always going to be a focus on [violence] in America. America is such a big country, with such a strong economy, everyone always is going to want to find its flaws, and they’re going to focus on what’s going wrong.

“They don’t focus on that in India because something goes wrong every day. But when you think of America, despite all the hundreds of good things that are happening here, there’s a psychological tendency to focus on what’s going wrong.”

Higher education institutions should take steps to counteract these negative perceptions of safety, WES research associate, Chris Mackie, wrote in WENR.

“Many of the measures long in place to protect domestic students will be effective in increasing the safety of international students. However, international students often possess a number of intersecting characteristics, such as gender and nationality, that make them more vulnerable than domestic students to acts of physical and emotional harm,” wrote Mackie.

“This heightened vulnerability justifies support measures specifically targeted at the international student population”.

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