116 flags raised for international students at a time when the population’s enrollment is on a decline

Bridging Our World is a display of 116 flags at the IMU to signify the role of international students on campus. This comes at a time when international student enrollment at the UI is declining.


Thomas A. Stewart

Over 100 flags are on display on the Iowa Memorial Union Pedestrian Bridge to recognize the international students on campus.

Andy Mitchell and Aadit Tambe

The University of Iowa kicked off a new event on Monday morning to celebrate the university’s international students — a population of students that has declined in recent years not just at the UI, but across the U.S.

Throughout Homecoming week, a flag for every country represented by UI students will fly from the bridge.

The nearly 120 flags are installed by faculty and student members of the UI Army ROTC every morning at 7 a.m. and taken down every evening at 5 p.m. by members of the Veteran Student Association.

The flags will be removed at the end of the day on Friday and will be reinstalled for five to-be-determined days during the spring semester.

The dedication ceremony was led by a number of speakers, including UI President Bruce Harreld, UI Student Government President Hira Mustafa, and Graduate/Professional Student Government President Dexter Golinghorst.

“Starting a new tradition I think is something special,” Harreld said. “We’re open to the world. Always have been and always will.”

Harreld said the idea to use the flags in celebration came from his wife.

Mustafa spoke on the how having an international student body was a benefit to her as a student of public policy. When she was writing a paper on gun-control policy, she said, she spoke to an Australian classmate to learn more about their country’s approach.

“I feel overwhelmingly lucky to attend a school where I can bring a global perspective to class every day,” she said.

She said she was also able to learn more about international politics by speaking to fellow students including ones from Brazil, a country nearing a controversial election.

Currently, 3,665 international students are enrolled at the university in the 2018-19 academic year, according to the UI.

“Their presence makes us richer, deeper, and broader that they bring another part of the world to the heartland,” Harreld said. 

RELATED: Where have international students gone? 

Despite efforts made by the UI to create a more inclusive environment for university students, enrollment of international students is declining.

According to a document from the state Board of Regents, the UI had a decrease of 516 students from fall 2016 to fall 2017, a 14.2 percent drop to 3,124 students.

International students at public universities in the state of Iowa decreased by 2.1 percent from fall 2015 to fall 1016.

Downing Thomas, UI associate provost and dean of international programs, said that the decline in enrollment was seen in the last four years.

This decline is mainly due to the increased competition for international students in in the U.S, he said. International students have several colleges to choose from in the U.S., so fewer may be choosing the UI.

International students have the option of studying in several different countries —  something that was not seen a few years ago, he said. Other countries, such as Canada, have been promoting diversity by welcoming international students.

He said that, despite the decline in numbers seen in recent years, there are more international students at the UI than there were in the past.

“If we look at the larger framework, we have twice as many international students as we did a decade ago,” he said.

In the last few years, there have been concerns about immigration policies in the international-student community.

The UI has recruiting staff working abroad in numerous locations who work with international students in order to make the application process easier.

“It has raised concerns about if the U.S. remains to be a welcoming country,” he said. “There has been political turmoil.”

But, Harreld told The Daily Iowan on Oct. 12, the Bridging Our World display was a way to remind the campus of the diversity in the community of international students.

“With all the confusion and frustration of international students across the United States, we thought it’d be a wonderful idea to actually put a flag up for each country that’s represented in our community,” he said. 

RELATED: UI enrollment for international students drops