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Harvey Postpones First Week of College on Texas Coast

Grant Lu (L) and Naomi Pringle stand in a flooded parking lot on the campus of Rice University afer it was inundated with water from Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas.
Grant Lu (L) and Naomi Pringle stand in a flooded parking lot on the campus of Rice University afer it was inundated with water from Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Flooding in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey has forced several universities to evacuate their students or cancel classes in the first weeks of the new school year.

Colleges and universities in southeast Texas, where the storm has dumped more than 50 inches of rain, were set to welcome thousands of students — including international students — back to the coastal Houston and Galveston areas, as well as the inland cities of Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

“This continues to be a difficult and challenging time for us all,” said University of Houston President Renu Khator in a statement.

“Houston bayous have crossed their borders, water has entered homes and roads have become unfriendly,” said Khator.

The University of Houston, 50 miles north of the storm’s landfall along the Gulf of Mexico coast, has been severely impacted by high winds, rainfall and flooding.

Housing, food service overwhelmed

University housing and food services have been overwhelmed in the relief effort as the storm affected those on campus and in the surrounding area. The opening of classes has been postponed until September 4.

However, schools have opened their dining facilities during the storm at no charge. Kitchens have been operating 24 hours a day to accommodate incoming students who moved in before Harvey made landfall in the Houston area, according to the university’s webpage.

VOA speaks to University of Houston student

Harvey Forces Delay for Texas Colleges
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University of Houston "dining halls were open to all students whether you had a meal plan or not," student Sunny Gotewal told VOA. That included free food to those in the community who were displaced, he said.

Classes at Texas A&M’s coastal campus in Corpus Christi — nicknamed the “Island University” because it sits on a peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico — are postponed until at least September 5, officials said.

Most students had not arrived on campus when the storm hit, said university spokesperson Luisa Buttler, but eight students and three faculty members were evacuated to Laredo, about 150 miles to the west.

Rice University in Houston said it is not evacuating students despite heavy flooding, spokesperson B.J. Almond said.

“All of our students are safe,” he said.


University of Houston students have also stepped up to help with storm rescue efforts. Before the National Guard arrived, four students waded through floodwaters to aid elderly residents of Beall Village, a nearby community, reported The Cougar, a student newspaper.

Moved to higher ground

Hadley said he and three other students moved residents to a parking garage on a higher level of the residence.

“The first room that I saw had a lady in a wheelchair," Gotewal told VOA's Student Union. "Water was up to her knees and she couldn't move, and she was just sitting there."

The students helped whom they could, Gotewal said, but couldn't lift the motorized wheelchairs through the high water.

The National Guard arrived and removed other residents, Hadley said.

The University of Texas-Austin is also offering shelter to those affected by the hurricane, said Cindy Posey, UT’s director of internal and safety communication. “UT Austin is honored… to provide the space.”

Students at the University of Texas-San Antonio (UT-SA) have donated more than 50 units of blood in a drive arranged by the student health department. The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, which is also holding a blood drive on UT-SA’s campus, said it had sent 350 units to the Houston and Gulf Coast area.

The university will host several other events in the coming weeks, including food and clothing drives.

Lorenzo Sanchez, director of UT-SA’s emergency management, said that he is thrilled with cooperation between the university and the San Antonio community.

“We want to make sure we’re doing our part in helping our neighbors in Houston,” Sanchez said.

All students, including international students, are eligible for assistance even if they are not permanent residents of the affected area, said Troy Christensen, external affairs officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Christensen said FEMA is coordinating with the Department of State to offer assistance to international students.

Save documentation

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website urges international students to save documentation to prove their non-immigrant student status, including a passport, visa and I-20 form to provide documented proof of their immigration status. DHS also advises students to have emergency-preparation kits and monitor FEMA’s website.

International students whose visa status could be affected by Harvey must apply for an extension or change of status waiver, if needed, according to the U.S. Department of State’s website.

“Your safety is important to us as well as out commitment to the mission of education. … Please know that we are all in it together — as a family and as a community,” said Khator. “We hope to get back on our feet, help each other and help our community in its rebuilding efforts.”


Zach Rayment and Max Cotton contributed to this report.

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Tips for first-year international students in the US

FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo, people walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif.
FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo, people walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif.

Book your flights right away, get a U.S. phone plan, make sure you have linens for your dorm and attend orientation – that’s some of the advice international students have for first-year college students coming from abroad.

U.S. News & World Report compiled helpful tips for students studying in the United States for the first time. (July 2024)

Survey: Social integration, career prep are important to international students

FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

A recent survey of international students in the United States found that before starting school, they were concerned about personal safety, making friends and feeling homesick.

Inside Higher Ed reports that international students want specialized orientations, peer connections, career preparation and job placement to help make their college experiences successful. (July 2024)

US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.
Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council's effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatted with members of the U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they toured a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council's three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council's effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

"They're doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria," said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. "This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they're really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional."

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Udoji, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit.

"We're happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility," Udoji said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria's University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council's top priorities.

"In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she's also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities," Laurent-Mantey said. "And I think for us it's very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans."

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

American Academy of the Arts College announces closure

FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.
FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.

The American Academy of Art College in Chicago announced it would be closing after 101 years of preparing students for careers in art and illustration.

WTTW news reported that like other art colleges, the academy saw enrollment drop after the pandemic, and officials made the decision to close the college last month. (July 2024)

update

5 killed, dozens injured in clashes over Bangladesh jobs quota system

Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.
Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.

At least 5 people were killed and dozens injured in two separate incidents in Bangladesh as violence continued Tuesday on university campuses in the nation's capital and elsewhere over a government jobs quota system, local media reports said quoting officials.

At least three of the dead were students and one was a pedestrian, the media reports said. Another man who died in Dhaka remained unidentified.

The deaths were reported Tuesday after overnight violence at a public university near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The violence involved members of a pro-government student body and other students, when police fired tear gas and charged the protesters with batons during the clashes, which spread at Jahangir Nagar University in Savar, outside Dhaka, according to students and authorities.

Protesters have been demanding an end to a quota reserved for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, which allows them to take up 30% of governmental jobs.

They argue that quota appointments are discriminatory and should be merit-based. Some said the current system benefits groups supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some Cabinet ministers criticized the protesters, saying they played on students' emotions.

The Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily newspaper reported that one person died in Dhaka and three others, including a pedestrian, were killed after they suffered injuries during violence in Chattogram, a southeastern district, on Tuesday.

Prothom Alo and other media reports also said that a 22-year-old protester died in the northern district of Rangpur.

Details of the casualties could not be confirmed immediately.

Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.
Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.

While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh's private sector, many find government jobs stable and lucrative. Each year, some 3,000 such jobs open up to nearly 400,000 graduates.

Hasina said Tuesday that war veterans — commonly known as "freedom fighters" — should receive the highest respect for their sacrifice in 1971 regardless of their current political ideologies.

"Abandoning the dream of their own life, leaving behind their families, parents and everything, they joined the war with whatever they had," she said during an event at her office in Dhaka.

Protesters gathered in front of the university's official residence of the vice chancellor early Tuesday when violence broke out. Demonstrators accused the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student wing of Hasina's ruling Awami League party, of attacking their "peaceful protests." According to local media reports, police and the ruling party-backed student wing attacked the protesters.

But Abdullahil Kafi, a senior police official, told the country's leading English-language newspaper Daily Star that they fired tear gas and "blank rounds" as protesters attacked the police. He said up to 15 police officers were injured.

More than 50 people were treated at Enam Medical College Hospital near Jahangir Nagar University as the violence continued for hours, said Ali Bin Solaiman, a medical officer of the hospital. He said at least 30 of them suffered pellet wounds.

On Monday, violence also spread at Dhaka University, the country's leading public university, as clashes gripped the campus in the capital. More than 100 students were injured in the clashes, police said.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked railways and some highways across the country, and in Dhaka, they halted traffic in many areas as they vowed to continue demonstrating until the demands were met.

Local media said police forces were spread across the capital to safeguard the peace.

Swapon, a protester and student at Dhaka University who gave only his first name, said they want the "rational reformation of the quota scheme." He said that after studying for six years, if he can't find a job, "it will cause me and my family to suffer."

Protesters say they are apolitical, but leaders of the ruling parties accused the opposition of using the demonstrations for political gains.

A ruling party-backed student activist, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the protesters with the help of "goons" of the opposition's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party vandalized their rooms at the student dormitories near the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University.

The family-of-the-veterans quota system was halted following a court order after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh's High Court nulled the decision to reinstate the system once more, angering scores of students and triggering protests.

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court's order for four weeks and the chief justice asked protesting students to return to their classes, saying the court would issue a decision in four weeks.

However, the protests have continued daily, halting traffic in Dhaka.

The quota system also reserves government jobs for women, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, but students have protested against only the veterans system.

Hasina maintained power in an election in January that was again boycotted by the country's main opposition party and its allies due to Hasina's refusal to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the election.

Her party favors keeping the quota for the families of the 1971 war heroes after her Awami League party, under the leadership of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the independence war with the help of India. Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.

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