This open letter from Earlham College is intended for international students only. If you are a domestic athlete or you are allergic to tobacco smoke, congratulations, you can stop reading.

By Bilan Elmi

Dear International Students,

What an exciting time to be at Earlham! So many changes are happening, I bet you’re struggling to keep up. Don’t worry, these changes are going to happen regardless of any student opinion so you might as well enjoy the ride! These changes are probably especially difficult for international students. So you’ve come straight from a village in Tanzania (Or was it Kenya? Whatever, let’s just say Africa) and you’re confused about a lot of things. Well, part of what makes Earlham special is that our community is inclusive and sensitive to the problems of all our students, and so we decided to find different ways to help you conform to the cultural norms here in the U.S.A.

We have always loved the diversity that international students bring to our community, and in an increasingly globalized world, it is very crucial to our Principles and Practices and pockets that we continue to posit our institution as a mini United Nations. Where is this going? Well, let us reiterate, we love diversity and bringing different cultures together and what better way to watch this unfold then on the aptly named Heart that holds our campus together? Therein lies the problem.

Earlham College’s smoking policy clearly states that smoking is prohibited on the Heart. Since we have made contact with the non-whites, we’ve noticed that the exotic culture of (International students, I guess?) isn’t what it ought to be. It’s been shrouded by a disgusting cancerous cloud of smoke. We don’t care if that smoke is from a hookah pipe (we think hookah is essential to one of the cultures we are referring to), a cigarette, or a regrettably burnt s’more (Wait, never mind that’s an American thing, right?), it is absolutely forbidden on our precious Heart.

We’re not angry. We understand there are language and cultural barriers that you need to overcome to make us feel more comfortable around you. As an institution that has vast experience with people from all around the world, we’re pretty sure we’ve got a good grasp on other cultures and what’s acceptable and what isn’t. So we think it’s safe to say that international students love puffing on cigs, man! If you leave SAGA and hear a foreign language outside the door, chances are it’s a Bosnian having a post-meal cigarette. Seriously, “Hookah on the Heart”? Y’all are starting to take Earlham for granted, even your events are smoke-themed! “However, we feel that if Earlham students are expected to honor the customs and cultures of other nations where they study, it creates something of a double standard to allow international students to violate what has become a cultural norm in the U.S.”2 Now we’re not blaming anyone at all. If anything, it’s our fault for not letting you know during New Student Orientation that smoking is not a cultural norm in the U.S the way it is back home for you (wherever that may be). Yes, the U.S has over 300 million people, but only like 30% of the population smokes (yes we’re aware of the irony that out of the 30%, 25% can be found here in Richmond). We understand that many of you internationals come from conflict zones and the need for a cigarette in times of stress is higher. But a cigarette after a stressful essay? We’re not buying it.

We don’t want you to feel like you can’t express your culture–by all means, show me how to make sushi and jump like a Maasai. Those are cultural moments worthy of the Heart! More importantly, they make for great photos for us to use to attract more of your country mates! Honestly, that’s been the main issue for us this entire time. How are we supposed to use photos of you in your cultural element for our new website when you all insist on having a cigarette or five in your hand as you lounge on the Heart? So as an institution that effectively manages to represent all cultures, we cannot leave out our very own culture (American, come on keep up) and cigarette smoking is in no way part of our culture. International students need to stop being partially present and embrace our multicultural, but smoke free community. Furthermore, it is well known that cigarette addiction is simply international propaganda and that the real problem is breaking a cultural habit. As a globally engaged community, we promise to be fully present as we help you assimilate in a more healthy way to Earlham and America’s culture.

Note: 

1) This article is in response to an Alumni Council email that was sent last year asking Earlham to review the smoking policy. The email claims “international students” are the main perpetrator’s of smoking on campus and makes claims regarding “cultural norms”. I do not purport to know the reaction of the administration to the email, whether it was one of anger or agreement. However, the email was insulting and the recent smoking survey that asks students if they identify as an athlete, international student, or a person who is allergic to tobacco seems to be working within the same logic of identification. Why does it matter whether or not I’m an “international” student or athlete when forming a smoking policy?

2) This is a direct quote from the Alumni email.

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