Many study abroad offices and organizations have recognized the value of having the diverse student voice represented when trying to connect with diverse students across campus. But aside from using students to speak on study abroad panels, how can we as a field, work with students more intentionally to help us reach the goal of diversifying study abroad? Here are 3 ways you may be able to use students in your office.
Hire diverse student workers as part of your staff (and that includes attendance at staff meetings!)
If your office already has a peer advisor or ambassador program, it is important to make sure that the diversity of those students represent the diversity of the campus. Many times, we require peer advisors to have previous study abroad experience, which is not a very diverse pool to begin with. However, some of the work that student workers do, does not require previous study abroad experience. Additionally, student workers should also be included in your staff meetings as they are part of your office. When deciding what types of activities to do and how to reach the most students, the student perspective can save your office time, energy, and money by letting you know if the proposed idea is something that resonates with students. Students can also tell you what else is happening on campus that your event would have to compete with or what days and times would work better. If you don’t have the budget for a peer advisor program, you can also use federal work study funds to hire student workers into your office.
Invite students to your diversity planning meetings.
When making decisions about how to reach diverse students, it’s critical to have the diverse student voice present. If there is not a diverse student that works on your staff, this is an opportunity to connect with a diverse student who may work in a partner office such as Student Life or the Multicultural Office - offices that have experience working with diverse student groups. Many times study abroad offices want the diverse study abroad alumni to provide feedback in these settings, but there is also value in having a student who has not studied abroad present at these meetings. The student who has not studied abroad can provide more insight about what barriers still remain while the student who studied abroad has likely already overcome their barriers. You may need more than one student present to reflect the various identities you are trying to reach. The students can provide much more insight into why current efforts are not effective and how study abroad offices can reach their particular groups. Focus groups are another way to get this insight if students are not available during the time of the meeting. In order to show that you value the student voice, it may be more beneficial to plan the meeting around the students’ class times.
Allow students to plan and host study abroad events.
Creating a committee of students to plan and host study abroad events is one of the best ways to have effective events. Many study abroad offices have gone to great lengths planning information sessions to only have a handful of students attend; while the student-run event across the hall is standing room only. When students are responsible for planning events, they are able to capitalize on their existing networks and communities to ensure the success of the event. Moreover, the students know what type of event they would want to attend - and that’s the type of event that they will plan. The students know the ins and outs of campus activities so they know when not to schedule an event and they also know what type of information will draw their peers out. Allow students to be creative (within time, purpose, and budget constraints) and you may recognize a different outcome when an event for students is run by students.
Providing students with the opportunity to have a valuable impact on study abroad not only benefits the study abroad office, but it also provides skills to the students and could potentially show them the possibility of study abroad as a career option. We are all working for students, so let’s include them in the process!