By Asher Lubotzky, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2022, Doctoral Student, History
Part I: The Rise of International Students at IU 1950s-1970s
The 1950s and the following two decades signified Indiana University’s transformation into a cosmopolitan hub.
IU became a home for a broad and diverse population of international students from all over the world. The international community at IU until the 1940s consisted of no more than a few dozen students but reached the 500 mark in 1957; the 1,000 mark in 1965; and reached the 2,000 mark in 1977.
This significant increase was also evident in their presence within the general student population: from a marginal 0.2% of the total admissions at IU in 1944 to almost 4.5% of the total student body in 1973. These numbers have continued to increase consistently since then, reaching about 9,000 students or 9.5% of the total student body today.
During these decades, the international population also diversified immensely. Europe and South America, which traditionally were important suppliers of international students, reduced in size.
On the other hand, the share of South and East Asia nationals rose from 31.3% of the total international student body in 1949 to 42% in 1965. MENA (Middle East and North Africa) nationals increased from 19% in 1949 to 29.1% in 1977.
Numbers of students from African countries increased more than 10-fold, from only 0.65% of the total international student body in 1949 to 9.8% in 1965. In 1965, around 70% of the total international student population at Indiana University were either from Asia or Africa.
The growing presence of international students on campus during 1950s-1970s coincided with major domestic and external issues in American history: namely, the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.
IU’s policy, as well as the international students’ experiences, were both shaped by these domestic and international events and at the same time embodied some of the same issues surrounding the political climates.
The history of international students at Indiana University during that turbulent time period was to some extent a microcosm of the broader zeitgeist in the United States. In addition, this historical setting contributed to IU’s motivations to support and enhance the increase in international students.
However, it also created challenges for all sides involved: the university’s administration, the Bloomington community, and for the international students themselves.
Part II: The Cold War and International Education: The University as Part of the National Security Effort
The beginning of the Cold War and the coinciding dissolution of West-European colonial empires had a major impact on American higher education policies. Recognizing the global race to expand influence over the so-called New Nations, the US Department of State saw the realm of higher education as a geopolitical tool of soft power.
Providing higher education for a large number of students, who originated from new American Allies or Third World countries, could create future generations of US influenced educated elites and thus boost American global standing and prestige. It was believed that new international graduates would further pull their home countries toward democracy in general, and the United States in particular.
In 1950, a publication by the US based Committee on Friendly Relations among Foreign Students claimed that “a stockpile of international friendships is worth far more than a stockpile of bombs.”
This policy encouraged American universities to admit more international students. The US government supported this by allocating federal funding for tuition and scholarships, as well as facilitating practical training and internships at government agencies for students from Third World countries.
At Indiana University, this federal policy was widely recognized.
A report titled “Indiana University in Relation to World Affairs,” written in 1960 by the General Committee at IU, recognized that there was a “need to help [the emerging nations]” in the realm of higher education, and that…relating mainly to the ideological conflict of the Cold War, cultural relations between people have become a direct object of governmental policy…the American university finds itself in new kinds of governmental relationships and in the front line of our foreign relations. 
Another internal IU report from 1961 noted that “international education has become highly politicized, linking the national interest of the United States with education policy in a way hitherto unknown.”
The federal policy to promote international education was more than just abstract instruction. Federal funding actually assisted international students at IU.
For instance, 25% of the international students at Indiana University were funded by the US government in 1957. By 1965–a record year in this regard–as much as 33% of the international students at IU were funded by federal agencies. This figure has declined since the 1970s.
It is important to note that the federal policy did not emerge tabula rasa at IU, rather it reinforced an existing strategic decision to expand the university’s appeal to international students.
This international direction was promoted vigorously by President Herman Wells (1937-62), who appointed Leo Dowling to the new position of Counselor for Foreign Students in 1943. Proof of this commitment to enhance international presence on campus on the part of IU leadership can be seen in the gradual improvement of IU’s ranking at a national level.
In 1950 IU was ranked nationally at 24th for its international student population; by 1977 the university climbed to the 4th rank for the largest international student population in the United States (IU kept this placement only for 1977, but generally achieved a top 20 school status until present day).
As a result of federal encouragement, as well as the commitment and enthusiasm by IU leadership, IU’s international student population soared and diversified between 1950 and 1970.
Students from Asia and Africa—the major arenas for Cold War politics targeting the newly independent nations—increased both numerically and proportionally. The share of South and East Asia nationals rose from 31.3% of the total international student body in 1949 to 42% in 1965. MENA (Middle East and North Africa) nationals increased from 19% in 1949 to 29.1% in 1977.
Africa nationals increased from only 0.65% of the total international student body to 9.8% in 1965. In 1965, around 70% of the total international student population at Indiana University were either from Asia or Africa.
The other side of the coin was the meager number of students originating from the so-called Second World, namely, the Communist bloc. The number of students from Eastern Europe and Central Asia never exceeded 2% of the total international student body until the end of the Cold War (and some of those students were refugees).
The first students from China (PRC) arrived at IU in the mid-1970s, and only started to arrive in big numbers after 1981 following the American-Chinese Exchange of Scholars and Students Agreement in 1978.
Under the guidance of Leo Dowling, the accelerated growth and the relatively successful absorption of international students at IU have endowed the university with a national reputation in international education.
In 1970, the International Student Services wrote in their annual report, that “our office is regarded nationally as a model shop.” One example of that was the requests made by other universities to learn from IU’s remarkable experience in international education.
International Students as Consumers
In accordance with the broader Cold War economic discourse, national geopolitical justifications for enhancing the international student body were coupled with a strong economic rationale. International students helped the national and local economies (by paying for tuition, housing, health care, etc.) and therefore strengthened businesses, the free market and the United States.
This sentiment was manifested by a growing view of higher education as an exported American product, and international students as consumers. At times, administrators contemplated whether international students could substitute a decrease in American enrollment.
Reports by the university started to emphasize the international students’ economic contribution to the local communities and the state of Indiana. In the beginning of the 1980s, IU president, John Ryan (1971-1987) petitioned Congress and asked them to decline initiatives for harsher immigration regulations that might harm international students.
In his petition, Ryan described education as a lucrative export industry, benefiting both state and federal government. International education contributes to American interests, in regards to international prestige or the economy.
Advocates of international education also addressed businessmen directly. In 1967, a brochure was distributed nationally as well as to Bloomington locals, outlining the link between national security, business, and international students:
“The businessman is truly a salesman of the United States way of life when his customer is a foreign student. If he succeeds in this selling job, he will have made a lasting contribution to his country and to international understanding. If he fails, he has lost his opportunity forever. Never in history has the individual has the individual citizen had such an effective influence on human history as he does today face-to-face contact with foreign students across the counter. When the foreign student is your customer, you are telling a story that is heard around the world–it should be a satisfying one.”
Skepticism and Reform
Despite the university’s achievements in international education during this time period, some prominent IU faculty were skeptical about the impacts of the accelerated increase in international students at the university.
Some thought that the university was under pressure to accept as many internationals as possible and that would lead to severe problems with academic standards and administrative efficiency. In 1963, an internal report defined “the foreign student problem” as:
“The pressure which is brought to bear on the university to admit foreign students who do not meet the requirement ordinarily expected of students in an American university…The result of admission under these conditions is failure, disappointment, and loss of face on the part of the foreign student and/or erosion of standards of graduate work.” 
Skepticism was prevalent in internal correspondence and reports and can be traced up until the end of the 1970s. Responding to the new challenges, IU leadership initiated major reforms and reorganization. These reforms helped overcome many of these challenges and placed Indiana University in a national leading role as a successful integrator of large numbers of international students.
Part III: International Students and the American Domestic Situation: From Foreign to International
Cold War politics, the dissolution of the West-European empires, and the independence of the so-called New Nations brought about demographic shifts in the international student population at IU, which became more diverse in terms of race, culture, and education.
After World War II, most of international students at IU were Asian, and many were African, Hispanic or Middle Eastern. Expanding diversity was not necessarily the initial motivation for the dramatic increase in international students at Indiana University in the 1950s. At first, the new international demographic composition was actually looked upon with suspicion. The Advisory Committee on Foreign Students 1963 report stated that:
“In the past, [international] students have come typically from homes of relative wealth and cultural opulence and they have fitted easily into the pattern of American higher education. In fact, we have hardly thought of them as foreign.”
But the case for diversity soon came to play a major role during this transformative time period. The civil rights era affected both international students’ experiences and IU’s realization that international students pose an opportunity to teach and promote diversity.
Gradually, the potential contribution to diversity and intercultural exchange became the main justification for admitting growing numbers of international students.
The university administration addressed these benefits in rhetoric as well as practically. When needed to advocate and promote the international growing presence on campus, arguments about the necessity of diversity in a global economy and society were made.
Experiencing different cultures, minimizing isolation, and establishing new friendships were values that IU wanted to instill in its students. IU harnessed the growing international population to this end.
For instance, the official Foreign Student Advisory Committee stated in their 1969 report, that the growing international presence on campus will benefit both the students and the Bloomington local community by “widening horizons, helping break down provincialism, and making new experiences.”
The same report also lamented that not enough friendships are formed between the American and international students, a problem that the university should work to actively solve. American students, so the report stated, were not curious or aware of different societies and cultures.
In addition, the university also conducted surveys and promoted a policy to enhance academic and social contact between American and international students.
The Cosmopolitan Club, a national student organization with a strong chapter at IU since 1916, was adamant in promoting motifs of diversity and inclusiveness in its events and publications. The Cosmo Reporter, the organization’s newspaper, published a letter in 1949 written by an American student named Hansen, who was active in the club. Hansen revealed that the most significant benefit that he gained from his activities in the club was that he:
“Saw for the first-time people of all religions, races, and nationalities having a good time together. Yes, real fun, not just on the surface. With all hatred today, the Cosmopolitan Club stands like a shining star showing the way to a better and happier life.”
Similarly, in October 1949, the newly elected president of the club, Robert B. Lennox, stated that:
“We in our club believe that understanding among people of all races, creeds, and nationalities is an essential condition for peace. And that is what we attempt to do here: to understand each other better. In our conversations we learn the viewpoints of others; hear what they think of us; they start us on the way to understanding ourselves. Nosce te ipse – know yourself – is an underlying condition of any endeavor to know and understand others.”
The club’s newspaper was also one of the earliest platforms that discussed the terminology used to refer to international students. Until the 1970s and 1980s, international students were commonly as well as officially referred to as “foreign students.” As early as November 1957, an article published in the Cosmo Reporter questioned the benefits of the word foreign, stating that “the term ‘foreign’ as regards to students from other countries is looked upon with a frown…it connotes strange and not belonging to the community.”
The Cosmopolitan Club also organized annual international dinners, events that occurred from the 1950s-to the 1970s. These forums advocated for coexistence and friendship between nations and races.
In 1956, at their annual dinner, the club used the motto of “Here [at IU] many live together in harmony, working for common goals.” In the 1950s and 1960s, interactions with international students was considered to be the easiest way to break the common racial segregation in student life prevalent at the time in colleges across the United States.
Being a member of the Cosmopolitan Club was repeatedly marketed as an opportunity to meet other students from different “colors, races and culture.” To some extent, for many white American students, it was easier to socialize with African nationals rather than black Americans.
While official policy and intentions clearly aimed to promote diversity and coexistence, international students often faced negative everyday realities when coming in contact with the local community and students.
Most of the bitter experiences were a result of unawareness, suspicion or timidity. But racism and xenophobia also existed, especially towards international students of color.
Evidence of that is found in personal experiences of international students, as well as in reports produced by officials in the university. Ikot Alfred Ekanem, a Nigerian prince who attended Indiana University in the end of the 1960s, expressed his social miseries in a 22-page letter addressed to the university’s administration.
Ekanem described the loneliness and social antagonism he experienced, “Constantly left alone, one cannot help but come to feel alienated and unwelcome.” Such “social emptiness” caused African students to isolate in close groups with their African peers. Ekanem also highlighted the alienated relations between international students and the local Bloomington community.
The police frequently harassed international students on the weekends and were unjustifiably called by locals to halt social gatherings and mute their international music. He also criticized local landlords, who “refuse to rent apartments to foreign students (Africans mostly).”
Ekanem suggested that the university conduct a special orientation for African students who were not fully aware of the racial strife in American society and did not know what to expect.
Such an orientation, according to Ekanem, “would necessitate great frankness from the university,” and should include information about “the establishments in the community which prefer not to serve [the African student], landlords and landladies who will not rent to Africans, organizations which they might find antagonistic.”
Acrimonious actions by some locals are also evident in other sources.
The Foreign Student Advisory Committee report of 1969 mentioned incidents of local Bloomington landlords that refused to lease apartments to international students, after their foreign background was revealed, for example after hearing foreign accent or foreign, non-white appearance. The 1969 report concluded that
“Racial and national bigotry, it seems evident, are still widespread among Bloomington landlords, and are doing considerable damage in determining the picture of American life that foreign students carry away with them… a dark-skinned student, they say, will inevitably have some unpleasant experience in Bloomington, for which his official orientation has not prepared him, and which may embitter him.”
International Students at IU at Times of Change
This series of blog posts have explored the motivation for the historical and remarkable growth in the international student population at Indiana University which has contributed to IU’s reputation as a cosmopolitan hub.
This transformation included many challenges: social, academic, financial and administrative. There were both supporters and skeptics in the university and in the local community. Despite the challenges, tensions and suspicions, Indiana University has become one of the leading schools in the nation in welcoming thousands of international students into their classrooms.
The historical context of this story shows how IU managed to turn what was a political burden in the shadow of the Cold War into an empowering and learning opportunity to promote diversity and tolerance on campus.
C11, Box 4, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C47, Box 19, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C181, Box 11, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C181, Box 144, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C213, Box 319, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C237, Box 1, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C237, Box 4, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C268, Box 12, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C268, Box 117, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C268, Box 77, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C268, Box 307, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C459, Box 163, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C459, Box 40, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C459, Box 70, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
C459, Box 71, IU Libraries University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
Open Doors Magazine, 1985-1998
OVPIA Archive. Schoch, Lynn. International Students Files.
The Unofficial Ambassadors, Committee on Friendly Relations among Foreign Students, New York, 1950.
Bu, Liping. “Educational Exchange and Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War. Journal of American Studies 33, no. 3 (1999): 393–415.
De Wit, Hans. Internationalization of higher education in the United States of America and Europe: A historical, comparative, and conceptual analysis. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.
Spilimbergo, Antonio. “Democracy and Foreign Education.” American Economic Review 99, no. 1 (2009).
Watanabe, Yasushi, and David L. McConnell, eds. Soft power superpowers: Cultural and national assets of Japan and the United States. ME Sharpe, 2008.
 Historic data on numbers of international students is scattered. My research gathered figures from different publications, most notably the historic OIS annual reports and surveys, which were produced regularly by the mid-1980s and the Open Doors magazine (a national magazine that deals with annual numbers of international students in the US). Most of the material is located at the OVPIA Archive; See also: C47, box 19; C213, box 319; C459, box 117, all in: Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 “Foreign Student Survey – Indiana University – 1973-1974”, p.6. OVPIA Archive.
 The share of Asian nationals at IU has been gradually further increased since the mid-1970s and the 1980s, due to the so-called Oil Boom of 1973 and the global rise of China and India. In 2018, around 85% of the international students at IU were nationals of Asian countries (including the Middle East).
 For general scholarship on American higher education policies during the cold war, see: Hans De Wit, Internationalization of higher education in the United States of America and Europe: A historical, comparative, and conceptual analysis. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002; Liping Bu, “Educational Exchange and Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War.” Journal of American Studies 33, no. 3 (1999): 393–415; Watanabe, Yasushi, and David L. McConnell, eds. Soft power superpowers: Cultural and national assets of Japan and the United States. ME Sharpe, 2008.
 Antonio Spilimbergo, “Democracy and Foreign Education.” American Economic Revie 99, no. 1 (2009): 528-43.
 “The Unofficial Ambassadors”, Committee on Friendly Relations among Foreign Students (New York, 1950), p.2.
 C211, box 1, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 “Indiana university in relation to world affairs”, November 1960. C213, box 319, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 C304, box 71, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Indiana University, “Annual Report for International Education Services 1957-1958 – Foreign Students”. C213, BOX 319, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Indiana University, “Summary of Foreign Student Survey”, 1965-1966. Located at OVPIA Archive.
 Based on the annual Open Door Magazine publications. Located at OVPIA Archive and OIS offices.
 The share of Asian nationals at IU has been gradually further increased since the mid-1970s and the 1980, due to the so-called Oil Boom of 1973 and the global rise of China and India. In 2018, around 85% of the international students at IU were nationals of Asian countries (including the Middle East).
 Indiana University, “International Services Report, 1970-1.” OVPIA Archive.
 For example, in 1968 the University of Kentucky requested IU’s help in formulating a policy regarding international students. C304, Box 70, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 C459, box 117, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 “The Foreign Student as Your Customer,” Oregon State University, April 1967. C304, Box 70, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Indiana University, “Report of the Advisory Committee on Foreign Students,” 15 December 1963. C181, box 11, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Indiana University, “Report of the Advisory Committee on Foreign Students,” May 1979. C47, box 19, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Indiana University, “Report of the Advisory Committee on Foreign Students,” 15 December 1963. C181, box 11, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
Foreign Student Advisory Committee 1969-70, “Interim Repot”. C268, box 12, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 See reports from the end of the 1970s, in: C47, box 19, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Cosmo Reporter, March 14, 1949. P. 3. C237 box 1, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Cosmo Reporter, October 19, 1949. P. 5. C237, box 1, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Ibid, November 15, 1957. P. 2. C237, box 1, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Cosmopolitan Club International Dinner–October 28, 1956. C213, Box 144, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Cosmo Reporter, January 31, 1958. C237 box 1, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 The letter was sent in 1967. C11, box 4, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Foreign Student Advisory Committee 1969-70, “Interim Report.” C268, box 12, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.