Reframing Equity in Higher Education: The Link between Education Abroad, Racial Equality, and Black Social Citizenship Rights

February 21, 2023

ABSTRACT: 

As articulated by W.E.B. DuBois, full citizenship rights and equality for Black people hinge on educational opportunity and experiences.  This work reframes the discussion on racial equality in higher education by exploring the link between study abroad, Black liberation and the current and historic systemic exclusion of Blacks in higher education.

AUTHORS:

  • Linda D. Smith, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations, American University in Dubai
  • Karen E. Clay, Ph.D. | Director for Semester Study Abroad and Cultural Orientation, Spelman College

The focus on access to higher education is part of a larger struggle for achieving racial equality for Black Americans. As universities attempt to be on the forefront of the growing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) movements, often absent from national discussions is the role of international education. This further highlights the elitist and exclusionary nature of university education. Without drastic measures to improve current disparities in access to higher education and education abroad, racial inequality which has been perpetuated throughout the history of higher education in the United States will be exacerbated. 

 W.E.B. DuBois modeled over a century ago that access to higher education and learning abroad are the impetus to solutions for racial inequality. “[B]etween the time that I graduated from college [PhD, Harvard, 1895] and the day of my first experience at earning a living, there was arising in this land, and more especially within the Negro group, a controversy.”(1) The controversy dealt with what type of education Blacks and the formerly enslaved should receive in a country that prioritized the standing of White men. DuBois underscored an approach to Black liberation which requires education. According to Beck, DuBois’ three years abroad in Germany were crucial to DuBois’ development of inquiries on racial inequality, expansion of social citizenship, and the role of educated elites and government interventions in framing solutions to the Negro Problem (2). Higher education and more specifically education abroad has historically played an instrumental role in shaping the country’s leadership which created persistent institutionalized exclusion of Blacks from higher ranks in politics, government, and industry.

 From the mid- to late 1800s, the greatest beneficiaries of higher education and education abroad were the sons of White wealthy elites (3). This cadre of Americans incorporated and completed education abroad through “grand tours” as a mark of sophistication, eruditeness, and access to international circles with social and political reach (4). Progressive Era politics and its ethos of social citizenship rights led to government reforms expanding access to higher education for middle- and working class Whites while often excluding Blacks. The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 (Land Grant Acts) resulted in a proliferation of public flagship universities while requiring states that practice segregation to create separate institutions for Blacks. Additionally, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, or GI Bill, proved instrumental to the expansion of access to higher education by equipping White veterans and simultaneously denying Black veterans funding to support educational opportunities (5). The relationship between expansion of access for Whites and exclusion of Blacks in higher education and its link to education abroad are illustrated in the case of University of Delaware (UD).

 Founded in 1743, UD is credited with establishing the country’s first wide-scale study abroad program in 1923 by World War I veteran Raymond W. Kirkbride (6). As Black students were denied admissions to UD, to comply with the second Morrill Act 1890, the Delaware Legislature opened Delaware State University in 1891 as the state’s college for Blacks. Because historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) quickly became overcrowded and under-resourced, this inequity served as the basis of several civil rights court cases that targeted segregation in public schools, especially institutions of higher education. In Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948), the court held that colleges offering coursework and degrees not available at Black colleges must permit Blacks to apply and enroll into those programs at the segregated White institutions. It was only then that UD and other land-grant universities admitted Black students into programs not offered at HBCUs. 

 These universities continued to exclude Black people from admissions and subsequently opportunities and resources these institutions provide, such as education abroad. During the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, several land-grant universities in the South were placed under federal court order to demonstrate action plans to address Black exclusion. However, these plans which came to be termed affirmative action were not enforced and were swiftly challenged in federal courts starting in the 1970s, a battle which continues presently (7) (8). In fact, research clearly illustrates that Black enrollment rates, particularly at public elite universities, continue to decline as Supreme Court decisions, state ballot initiatives, and legislative acts restrict the use of race-conscious admission strategies (9). Further, these larger trends of declining Black enrollment must be central to discussions on low participation rates of Black students in education abroad.

 As of 2021 Black participation in study abroad is at its lowest in years. According to the Institute for International Education (IIE) Open Doors Report 2022 Fast Facts, Black represented 4.1% of students who studied abroad compared to 68% White in 2020-2021 (10). Whereas participation increased by other ethnic groups including Asian/Pacific Islander 10%, and Hispanic/Latino(a) 12% (11). Only Blacks’ (4.1%) and Native Americans’ (0.4%) rates decreased during the pandemic years of 2020-2021 (12). These participation figures in isolation provide an incomplete illustration. Participation rates must be considered in the larger context of declining Black enrollment rates at more resourced land-grant universities under affirmative action bans (13).

 As the world becomes more interconnected, preparing Black graduates for the globalized workforce and opportunities that maximize their earning potential is clearly an issue of equity and access. However, those concerned with racial equity in higher education must not only recognize the material and monetary impact Blacks suffer when denied opportunities for access to higher education and education abroad, but importantly they also should recognize the loss of intangible and intellectual opportunities. Consider DuBois. Recall that it was during his education abroad when he formulated liberation theories and action plans that had an incalculable impact on Blacks throughout the world.

 

Notes:

(1) DuBois, W. E. B. 1932. “Education and Work”. Journal of Negro Education 1 (1): 60–74.

(2) Beck, H. 1996. “W. E. B. Du Bois as a Study Abroad Student in Germany, 1892-1894”. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 2 (1): 45–63. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v2i1.25.

(3) Hoffa, W., and Forum on Education Abroad. 2007. A History of US Study Abroad: Beginnings to 1965. Carlisle, Pa: Forum on Education Abroad.

(4) Cleveland, H., Mangone, G., & Adams, J.  1960. The Overseas American. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Hibbert, C. 1969. The Grand Tour. Weidenfeld and Nicolson; Hoffa and Forum on Education Abroad. 2007.

 (5) Katznelson, I.  2006. When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. New York: W.W. Norton.

 (6) University of Delaware. (2023).  “Our Study Abroad History.” Website https://www.udel.edu/academics/global/study-abroad/history/

 (7) Saul, Stephanie. 2023. “If Affirmative Action Ends, College Admissions May Be Changed Forever.” The New York Times, January 15, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/15/us/affirmative-action-admissions-scotus.html.

(8) Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy. 2023. “Supreme Court Justices Question When Race-Conscious College Admissions Can End.” Higher Ed Dive. October 31, 2023. https://www.highereddive.com/news/supreme-court-asks-when-race-conscious-admissions-ends/635394/.

(9) Smith, Linda. 2021. “Discourse, Threats, and Affirmative Action:  A Comparative Analysis of Race-based University Admissions Programs in Brazil and the United States.” PhD diss. (Florida International University, 2021).

 (10) Open Doors Report 2022 Fast Facts. n.d. Institute for International Education, Inc. The Institute of International Education. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://opendoorsdata.org/fast_facts/fast-facts-2022/.

 (11) Open Doors Report 2022 Fast Facts. n.d. Institute for International Education, Inc. The Institute of International Education. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://opendoorsdata.org/fast_facts/fast-facts-2022/.

 (12) Open Doors Report 2010-2021 Fast Facts. n.d. Institute for International Education, INC. The Institute of International Education. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://opendoorsdata.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Fast-Facts-2010-2021.pdf.

 (13) Smith, Linda. 2021.

 


 

References:

Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy. 2023. “Supreme Court Justices Question When Race-Conscious College Admissions Can End.” Higher Ed Dive. October 31, 2023. https://www.highereddive.com/news/supreme-court-asks-when-race-conscious-admissions-ends/635394/.

 

Beck, Hamilton. 1996. “W. E. B. DuBois as a Study Abroad Student in Germany, 1892-1894.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 2 (1): 45–63. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v2i1.25

 

Bista, Krishna and Anthony L. Pinder. 2022. Reimagining Internationalization and International Initiatives at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Springer Nature.

 

Cole, J. B. 1991. “Black Students and Overseas Programs: Broadening the Base of Participation.” Proceedings of CIEE 43rd International Conference on Educational Exchange: International Education: Broadening the Base of Participation. Charleston, South Carolina: Council on International Educational Exchange.

 

Cleveland, Harlan, Gerard J. Mangone, and John C. Adams. 1960. The Overseas AmericanMcGraw-Hill Book Company.

 

DuBois, W. E. B. 1932. “Education and Work”. Journal of Negro Education 1 (1): 60–74.

 

Hibbert, Christopher. 1969. The Grand Tour. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

 

Hoffa, William W. 2007. A History of U.S. Study Abroad: Beginnings to 1965 (Volume 1). TheForum on Education Abroad.

 

J. W. Thompson Education, J.W. n.d. “An Exploration of the Demand for Study Overseas from American Students and Employers.” IIE: The Institute of International Education, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the British Council, and the Australian Education Office. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://www.iie.org/en/Research-and-Insights/Publications/Demand-for-Study-Overseas-from-American-Students-and-Employers

 

Katznelson, Ira.  2006. When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. W.W. Norton and Company.

 

Open Doors Report 2022 - Fast Facts. n.d. Institute of International Education. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://opendoorsdata.org/fast_facts/fast-facts-2022/.

 

Open Doors Report 2010-2021 - Fast Facts. n.d. Institute of International Education. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://opendoorsdata.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Fast-Facts-2010-2021.pdf

 

Preston, K. (2006). “Recent Graduates Survey Graduates.” https://www.iesabroad.org/system/files/resources/recentgraduatessurvey_0.pdf.

 

Saul, Stephanie. 2023. “If Affirmative Action Ends, College Admissions May Be Changed Forever.” The New York Times, January 15, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/15/us/affirmative-action-admissions-scotus.html.

 

Smith, L. 2021. “Discourse, Threats, and Affirmative Action: A Comparative Analysis of Race-based University Admissions Programs in Brazil and the United States.” PhD diss. (Florida International University, 2021).

 

Trooboff, Stevan, Michael Vande Berg, and Jack Rayman. (2007). “Employer Attitudes toward Study Abroad.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 15 (1): 17–34. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v15i1.214

 

University of Delaware. (2023). “Our Study Abroad History.” Website https://www.udel.edu/academics/global/study-abroad/history/


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