Eight graduate workers filed a discrimination complaint May 17 against IU through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to a press release from the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition.
The EEOC is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against employees, including based on national origin.
The complaint alleges that IU discriminated against international students when the Office of International Services sent international students an email the first week of March 2021 that spoke of consequences, including unenrollment, for not paying their mandatory fees on time, according to the release.
IGWC alleges the email, which was not sent to U.S. citizens “amounts to ‘national origin’ discrimination.” If an international student was unenrolled their visa status could be violated, leading to deportation, according to the release.
IU Spokesperson Chuck Carney said the purpose of the email was to ensure international students didn’t put their visa status in jeopardy by taking actions that affected their enrollment status. This is an issue that affects only international students and the discrimination complaint is without merit, he said.
Domestic students received no warning or email about potential consequences, Valentina Luketa, an international graduate student in the Department of Anthropology and Maurer School of Law, said. She said she believed the email was vague in that it didn't reference specific policies and misleading in that it indicated withholding fees could lead to unenrollment.
“This is threatening, it's intentional and it is very much so intended to discourage international students from participating in their right to stand up for themselves as graduate workers,” Luketa said.
Luketa said being deported would uproot her entire life in the United States. The idea was particularly alarming during March, when some countries had closed borders, meaning some students wouldn’t be able to return to their home countries, she said.
More than 750 graduate workers withheld their 2021 spring semester fees, according to a March 4 press release from IGWC. The mandatory fee for full-time IU students was $703.19 for the spring 2021 semester. International students were charged an international student fee of $357. Some graduate workers said low stipends and high mandatory fees put them in precarious financial situations.
Simon Luo, an international student and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science said he believed the email was used to discourage or scare international students from participating in the fee strike. During a time when some international students were facing heightened discrimination, the email was shocking, Luo said.
“This is a scare tactic. This is a sort of method IU employed to intimidate international students who are participating,” Luo said.