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Deadly Gun Violence on American College Campuses: UCLA International Student Perspectives


American colleges and universities attract nearly one million international students each year to their higher education institutions. Reasons for the high demand of American degree and certificate programs include a major boost in one’s social, cultural, and economic capital. Expansive alumni connections, world-class skills training, and enhanced job prospects and opportunities, both domestically and internationally, are made accessible to graduates from American institutions of higher education (IHE). At the same time, choosing to enter a new foreign environment in the United States involves major social and cultural changes as well as financial demands. Universities are at the nexus of marketing to, accepting, welcoming, and providing education to this invaluable part of American campus communities.

International students who choose to make the trek to the United States enter a new foreign landscape that includes concerns of safety, and more specifically, fears and concerns of America’s prevalent “gun culture.” Utilizing Dewey’s theory of experiential learning and a Freirean critical approach, I will use a communication studies approach to examine the lived experiences of Indian and Chinese international students at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Mass media, social media, and face-to-face intercultural interactions will be examined to construct a clearer picture of international student educational experiences. While examining general perceptions of safety in America and its college campuses, special emphasis is placed on international student perspectives of the June 1st, 2016 murder-suicide that took place on UCLA’s campus. As false rumors of a coordinated terrorist attack and reports of mass casualties were spread on campus, an already tragic event was amplified into a global one.

In-depth interviews and focus groups are used to gain insight into the world’s two largest overall global and American higher education populations. Detailed qualitative analyses reveal international students’ day-to-day interactions with mass media, social media, and face-to-face intercultural interactions as well as the part these modes of communication play in international students’ visceral thoughts and concerns on gun violence, a prevalent gun culture, and their experiences within American IHE.

Findings show that international students at UCLA see their campus as a “protective bubble” which appears to temporarily assuage safety concerns. On the other hand, they often display contradictory actions and feelings which point to their local environments on and off campus as places that are sometimes safe and predictable and at other times filled with danger and uncertainty. A discussion of salient themes related to their perceptions of safety demonstrate a direct impact on their educational experiences and daily lives on and off campus.

It is my hope that by documenting and exploring the day-to-day thoughts and feelings of these international students in regard to their perceived safety while studying at UCLA, university and governmental leaders alike can better understand and support the needs and

concerns of the United States’ vital international student populations. Policy, practice, and future research recommendations are offered.

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