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Straddling Two Worlds

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2016

Guest Blogger: Myla Harris 

I belong to a small (but growing) group of people around the world who can call themselves expatriates.  I’ve often lingered over the term, wondering if it suits my particular journey. After all, I have never rejected my country of origin, quite the contrary in fact.  I’m probably more American now than when my family left in 1999 for Germany.  Yet, leave the US my family and I did: experience has shown most people can’t (or maybe even, won’t) understand the reasons behind our choice. Truth be told, we had momentary crisis of faith in our personal experiment, only achieving validation some 17 years later.

           My husband and I were proud parents of one beautiful two and a half year old.  While he garnered unwanted attention almost everywhere we went, his true beauty was/is always in his spirit.  From the moment he would awake until the time he collapsed into bed, he had a question on his tongue.  Books were already his best friends and when he smiled, the whole world smiled with him.  His birth coincided with disturbing reports and statistics about African-American boys.  Could he REALLY grow up and not be defined by race?  He had already entered the world surrounded by people with opinions about whether or not his parents should even be together.  After recovering from giving birth, my obstetric nurse actually refused to come to my aid and made it clear all patients in her eyes were not considered equal.  My husband and I got our first lesson in what awaited for us in our new identity as a family.  We lived in a fairly diverse, yet segregated North Eastern section of the US.  During daily outings, we were either the main attraction at what felt like the zoo or made to endure a grand inquisition of inappropriate questions:

“How did your son get BLUE eyes?!”

“Is he yours?”

“What nationality is his mother?” (when I was not present)

“Does his father have blue eyes too?” (when my husband wasn’t present)

“My friend has a colored child, don’t they look really cute?”

We increasingly wondered how one very small boy would be able to grow and even thrive under the weight of the importance placed on all things related to race in America.  We wanted our son to grow into whomever he chose to be without having to check a box or choose one aspect of his ethnicity over the other.  We didn’t want his potential stunted or his opportunities reduced and above all, we knew we had the option to make life affirming changes not necessarily available to everyone else.  When the opportunity to move to Europe arose, we jumped.

           Our son is now 19 years old and has an 8 year old sister who has joined us on this amazing journey.  For the last 14 years, we have lived in the South of France.   Neither he nor his sister have ever  had to check a box indicating their race; they enjoy a position of privilege that comes with being dual French /American nationals.  They’ve been raised speaking three languages: French, German (my husband’s first language) and English.  Every chance we get, we travel within France and Europe to expose them to different cultures and ways of life.  We can do this fairly easily, even with modest means, given the proximity of other European countries.

           The choices to be here were difficult and involved many sacrifices on all of our parts.  We first arrived with only suitcases and have had to carve out new lives for ourselves.  Having an ocean separate us from friends and family has meant we missed weddings, births, and even funerals.  We often struggle with having a coherent sense of place and struggle with how to best define ourselves.

We haven’t outrun racism or discrimination and ignorance can be found in equal abundance but some things have changed.  Our children entered a world of privilege the moment we left the US.  We are no longer identified uniquely by our race but are now AMERICAN first.  When our children speak French (better than their parents by the way), they are simply viewed as being French.  Leaving the US has provided them with opportunities they could never have attained had we remained within the United States.

Our son entered University last year and returned to the US for the first time without his parents in toe.  While he has thrived academically and even enjoyed learning his fourth language while studying in Italy for a semester, he has had a harder time adapting to the racial climate in the United States.  Our weekly chats are often full of stories trying to understand segregation on campus or the awkward encounters with fellow students who simply ignore him.  I’m afraid our talks regarding how to conduct himself as an African-American young man in the community and if stopped by the police may have instilled some fear. We haven’t had a need for those talks in France, though racism exists, it inhabits a very different space in the collective French consciousness.  Our son has recently revealed he understands the decisions we made more than ever and validated those choices.  It was a bittersweet moment.

While we have been fortunate in having the opportunity to call two countries our home, this journey really started through two people exposed to international education opportunities.  I met my husband in high school when he moved to the US from Germany.  I fell in love with all things French as a French immersion student in primary school and study abroad alumni.  After all this time abroad, raising my children, navigating different cultures and academic systems, I can think of no other way to empower students, especially students who are of color, than the opportunity to step outside of our American context and challenge the status quo.  My children have gotten a chance to experience what it means not to be defined by their race.

 

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Diversity Network Member Highlight: University of Connecticut

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2016

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Institution Name

University of Connecticut

Location

Storrs, Connecticut

Institutional Profile

Large (over 15,000)

How long has your organization/institution been a member?

3 years

What Diversity Network resource has been most useful for you and your colleagues in advancing diversity & inclusive excellence in global education?

The annual conference has been extremely helpful, bringing different constituents at the university together at the conference.

How has membership with the Diversity Network helped your institution make global education more accessible to students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds?

While serving on the Diversity Abroad Board and in his position as Vice Provost for Diversity, Professor Jeff Ogbar brought focus on first generation college students to the greater UConn community. He was also able to use his position to help disseminate important data concerning high graduation rates among SSS students who studied abroad. During the last two years, the work of the Diversity Network has provided resources that support and inform ongoing endeavors on campus. We are also sending two undergraduate students to the Leadership Conference in Atlanta .

Please describe any innovative initiatives related to diversity and inclusion in global education that your institution is currently undertaking. 

We are building new study abroad components into several initiatives and grants that target first generation college students, under represented and/or low income students. We will be sharing information about some of these initiatives at the 2016 Diversity Abroad Conference.


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Diversity Network Member Highlight: San Diego State University

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2016

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Institution Name

San Diego State University

Location

San Diego, California

Institutional Profile

Large (over 15,000); Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI)

Why did your institution join the Diversity Abroad Network?

The Diversity Abroad Network continues to provide excellent opportunities to examine best practices for diversity and equity in international education. The Network has helped our university move forward in developing an inclusive hub for valuable dialogue, action and cross-campus collaboration.

How long has your organization/institution been a member?

N/A

What Diversity Network resource has been most useful for you and your colleagues in advancing diversity & inclusive excellence in global education?

The conferences have been the most valuable resource. They provide an excellent space for various professionals from across our campus to learn and plan strategically. We realize that it takes the effort of our entire campus to make a difference. Although some of the participants from our campus may not work in our Study Abroad Office, their commitment to making a difference in our strategic efforts is embraced across campus.

How has membership with the Diversity Network helped your institution make global education more accessible to students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds?

The Diversity Network has helped our campus community to better understand the needs of diverse and historically underrepresented student populations. By highlighting the unique need of various populations of students, the Network has helped us to prioritize our goals and focus our resources. The results has been positive for students, faculty and staff. Beyond simply increasing the numbers, we have moved into an inclusive excellence model for study abroad where the diverse perspectives of students are valued as an asset in the learning of all participants.

Please describe any innovative initiatives related to diversity and inclusion in global education that your institution is currently undertaking. 

We have created a short term summer study abroad program titled Leadership Identity and Diversity. The course is held in the Dominican Republic. The curriculum focuses on the unique needs of first generation, and historically underrepresented students. The cost of the program is affordable for most students. Additional scholarship support is provided. The activities and course material validate the identities of the program participants before, during and after their study abroad.

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Study Abroad for Student Athletes

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 29, 2016
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2016

Contributed by: Devin Walker - University of Texas, Austin (on behalf of the Task Force on Male Students)

While Black male student-athletes are only a small percentage of the overall student body at institutions of higher education (IHEs), they are often the faces that represent their respective school, locally and nationally, through their over-representation in the televised and revenue-producing sports of college football and basketball. While these IHEs benefit a great deal from the physical exploits of their male student-athletes, researchers and practitioners have questioned if these athletes are getting a fair deal. In his book, The New Plantation, Hawkins (2013) argues the current structure of college athletics leads to the institutional and ideological control of Black student-athletes. Black bodies produce a product, however, they do not get paid for their work. Instead, the money goes to figurative ‘overseers,’ who are coaches, athletic directors and departments, colleges, universities, and the NCAA. With millions at stake annually, researchers and practitioners must continuously examine institutional practices that lead to the exploitation of Black male student-athletes for the financial gain of such ‘overseers.’


Colleges and universities have initiated support programs that emphasize the development of alternative, salient identities to being a student-athlete, however, most programs have not been able to consistently enrich student-athletes academic outcomes and personal development (Harrison and Comeaux, 2011). Instead, many student-athletes suffer from identity foreclosure as they fail to develop other aspects of their identity due to their over-identification with their athlete role (Brewer et al, 1993; Beamon, 2012). Athletic identity foreclosure is especially problematic among Black student-athletes, as the role of athlete “may dominate their alternative social and personal identities” (Bimper and Harrison, 2011, p. 278). A critically important step in developing the student-athlete holistically is providing them with diverse psychosocial experiences to explore and learn about other aspects of themselves (Henry & Closson, 2012), which is often challenging in the high-stakes world of collegiate athletics.


Thus, if student-athletes were offered study abroad scholarships and opportunities as part of their collegiate experience like so many other students, would they take advantage of the opportunity? Studying abroad has been widely regarded as a collegiate experience that positively impacts identity development and negotiation (Wick, 2011), academic self-concept (Paige et al., 2009), career readiness and maturity (Preston, 2012), and critical consciousness (Wick, 2011), all of these aforementioned characteristics counteract athletic identity foreclosure. However, it appears that these opportunities are not readily available to student-athletes. In fact, some argue that student-athletes are discouraged and intimidated from participating in study abroad activities from athletic departments and influential university personnel. Why are the most valuable assets to so many universities (Black male student-athletes) denied some of the most valuable opportunities (studying abroad) in college? Even more, the potential benefits of studying abroad suggest an interruption in the process of athletic identity foreclosure.


Studying abroad offers an intervention into the prevalent athletic identity foreclosure that affects so many Black male student-athletes which commences as early as the teenage years but becomes particularly apparent on collegiate campuses. Additionally, studying abroad provides students with a global mindset necessary to be competitive in the 21st century global market.


International educational programs rooted in a critical pragmatic approach, would challenge students to re-negotiate their identities and subjectivities as they relate to: race, nationhood, Americanness, oppressor, privileged and oppressed. Education abroad can impact student-athletes personal, academic, and professional development all while helping student’s gain a greater critical consciousness of the world in which they live.

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Why Student Leadership in a Global Context Matters

Posted By Carla Sinclair, Monday, February 15, 2016
Updated: Friday, December 30, 2016

One of the goals of the annual Diversity Abroad Conference is to share best practices and resources on engaging the next generation of students in international education opportunities. But another key component of the three-day long program is harnessing the experiences of those who have done it already — and pushing them further. The Global Student Leadership Summit, which runs simultaneously to the conference, is a program packed with workshops, networking events, and opportunities for students to put their skills to the test.

The Summit is chaired by a committee of three international education professionals. One of these planners is LaNitra Berger, Director of Undergraduate Fellowships at George Mason University, who said she got involved with Diversity Abroad's Annual Conference and Global Student Leadership Summit due to its approach to diversity and international education.

“The conference is so unique in terms of what it provides for professionals, I felt like providing something for students would be a natural next step,” she said. “It’s very quickly becoming one of the most important conferences in the study abroad field. It’s important for practitioners to be connected in the conference community, but it’s also really important for students to tap into some of these resources. My colleagues are some of the most talented, educated, well-traveled people around, and I think students need to start making these connections and meet those people.

The Summit, in its second year, gives students the chance to take the first step in using their international experience to focus on leadership in a global context. Or, as LaNitra described it, towards more proactive solutions.

“It’s becoming more and more clear that most of these global problems aren’t going to be solved just by people dropping bombs on each other. The more people who have had on-the-ground experience in other countries, the better we are as a country, the stronger we are, the stronger the planet is,” she said. ”Diversity of students, different backgrounds, having that one-on-one time and seeing other students that went through the same thing, that’s important.”

The committee has set up a variety of different activities at the conference for study abroad alumni to explore their skills. “We’re having some networking opportunities to meet each other, there’s going to be a keynote speaker to energize the group,” she said. “We’re doing a career session so they get a feel of using their study abroad experience in a career context, and a fellowship session to talk about postgraduate opportunities.”

“There’s also chances for them to network with the professionals in the conference, as well as a case-study opportunity where students work together to tackle a problem related to the field,” she said. “They won’t only be working on something, but they’ll be working together.”

The case challenge entails groups of students coming together and examining the obstacles that face underrepresented demographics in study abroad, and brainstorming ways to improve both participation numbers and the experiences of these students during their programs abroad. They will then have the opportunity to present their findings at the closing plenary to professionals on the last day of the conference.

“The conference is a really great opportunity for them to realize the significance of what they have done as students who have studied abroad. They’re significant statistics, and students need to understand that they’ve managed to pull off this great thing, that they’ve been able to study abroad,” she said. “But there’s also an expectation that they take that, and make it into something that’s meaningful for them professionally and academically.”

“That’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

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