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Unconscious Bias in Education Abroad?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

There’s a buzz in private industry about how unconscious bias is preventing more diverse and traditionally underrepresented professionals from accessing top level leadership positions within corporations. The case for having a diverse team of employees has been well documented (see Resources below), but it appears that when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and promoting we (humans) are hardwired to prefer those who look, think, and act more like we do (here’s a quick video that breaks down what unconscious bias is). As many industries are dominated, particularly at the top levels of leadership, by a fairly homogenous group of professionals (straight, white men), diversifying those who are hired and promoted at all levels appears to be more complex than changing a handful of policies (though that can be a great way to start!).

For many reasons, it makes sense that private industry is taking a serious look at how their current hiring and internal promotion practices might be limiting access to professionals who represent diverse backgrounds. One of the biggest driving factors for this may be that a company’s ability to compete in their field requires that they think innovatively to develop new solutions and create new products. Research has shown that diverse groups, when managed effectively, are more creative and productive.

While the business case for private companies might appear to be more explicit (more diverse teams leads to more sales), higher education could also benefit from exploring how unconscious bias may influence the recruitment and selection of diverse student populations as well as the subsequent services that all students receive once they are enrolled. Like so many other industries, higher education administration has not traditionally reflected the diversity of the student body on campus, and as a result institutions may have embedded and esoteric policies and practices that create unnecessary barriers to recruiting, hiring, retaining, supporting, and engaging diverse faculty, staff, and students.

Education abroad and international programs offices are not immune to these challenges, and must, if the commitment to diversify the student participation in education abroad programming is real, consider how unconscious bias might be impacting both student recruitment and engagement as well as hiring and promotion practices.

How do the learnings from corporations influence how we think about advising bias in education abroad?

Relying on study abroad office networks may not be reaching diverse and underrepresented students

Some of the most compelling findings from research done on unconscious bias in private industry is that while companies require that new positions be announced publicly and broadly, many hiring managers depend on personal networks and current employees to attract candidates for positions. Considering that our unconscious selves automatically think of people who think, act, and look like us, relying on who we know to recruit students and employees may actually be undermining our efforts to diversify those students we’re reaching.

One way we can begin to address this is to reach out to those on campus who may have connections with diverse students to not only get the word out, but to also collaborate to better understand how to connect with diverse students. This can include reaching out to other student services/affairs offices (e.g., multicultural/diversity, financial aid, Trio) as well as diverse faculty members.

These efforts can help us in not only reaching a wider audience, it also has the potential to expand our own networks so that when we do rely on who we know to spread the word, that audience is also more diverse.

Assumptions about certain student populations may be undermining the advising process

The implications for unconscious bias reach beyond recruiting and hiring; they also have the potential to undermine our interactions with diverse students as we prepare them to go abroad. Before students have the opportunity to tell us what their interests or concerns might be, many advisors may already assume they know what challenges students face (see an earlier blog about moving beyond what's wrong). We may assume that our Pell-eligible students want short-term programming and only present short-term study options in our advising session. Or we might start our conversation with a Latino student with a discussion about the Gilman scholarship. While students might take such advice in stride, students may also opt to move forward with their planning without re-engaging with the education abroad office, leaving the chance that they may miss important deadlines and information that otherwise would have been relevant to their experience.

We can begin to move beyond our assumptions by allowing the students to drive the conversation, taking note of their needs and interests, and providing information accordingly. We can also ask probing questions along the way to help them think about all of their options and consider all of the information and resources they have available to them.

It’s also important to engage students at all points in their experience with the office. Offices could include questions in existing pre-departure and re-entry surveys that ask students about their experiences with unconscious biases, or perceived barriers or challenges they may have had in their interactions with the office/organization. Involve the students in the process!

Hiring practices and ‘requirements’ may be undermining intentions to hire more diverse staff

Many of us in international education find a particular affinity with the idea that those in the field all share the common experience of having spent some time abroad during their lifetime. When it comes down to the type of job that you’re asking someone to do, though, is having an international experience really required to do the job well? This is just one example of how our expectations for job candidates may already be working against our interests in diversifying our staff (remember, those who have and do study abroad still reflect a fairly homogenous population). There, of course, may be positions that do depend heavily on an education abroad advisor’s own experience abroad. There are likely many positions, (e.g., accounting, office management), though, that rely more heavily on functional skills rather than the experience of going abroad.

Just as with our students, it’s important to engage current and former employees to better understand what the issues/concerns and strengths of our offices are. It may be helpful to survey current and former employees about their experiences and suggestions for improving the hiring/recruitment process.

It may also be worthwhile to explore how the current hiring and promotion process weighs certain experiences/skills over others to create a rubric that considers a wide range of talents that candidates bring to the table (e.g., add points for candidates who worked in college). It’s also important here to explore the full hiring cycle (e.g., screening resumes, interviews, onboarding, assignment process, performance evaluation) to assess potential unconscious bias. One good short-list for other suggestions is Diversity Best Practices “Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace” (pg. 15).


Unconscious Bias in Private Industry

Unconscious Bias in Higher Education

Testing Unconscious Bias

Case for Diversity



Tags:  advising  Diversity  Education Abroad Diversity  Underrepresented Students 

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Meet the Summer 2015 DiversityAbroad.com Scholarship Winners/Video Bloggers

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Friday, May 8, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

Diversity Abroad is happy to announce the winners of our DiversityAbroad.com and Diversity Abroad Network Scholarships. Each year, we aim to help meet the needs of students from diverse academic, economic, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Many thanks to our partners CEA Study Abroad and the Intern Group for their partnership and support in making international opportunities possible for these students.

Please join us in congratulating the following students and supporters:

Diversity Abroad Network $500 Summer Scholarship 
for students at Network Member Institutions
(Name, Major, University, Study Abroad Country)
Ashley Young, Broadcast Communications, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, India
Ardilla Deneys, Interior Design, Virginia Commonwealth University, Denmark
Sarah Swaney, Early Childhood Education, University of Georgia, Costa Rica
Estrella Quiroz, Public Relations, University of Florida, Italy
Jamie Pearson, Special Education, University of Illinois, Australia

CEA & Diversity Abroad $1,000 Scholarship
(Name, Major, University, Study Abroad Country)
Tatiana Gheybi, Human Biology, UC San Diego, France
Julianne Capati, Marketing, University of Arizona, Czech Republic

The Intern Group Diversity Abroad Full Summer Internship Scholarship 
This full scholarship covers the full cost of participating in an internship this summer in Medellin, Colombia (including transportation, housing, and tuition)
Luis Sosa, Double Major: Diplomacy & International Relations + Latin American Studies, City Hall University, Colombia

Our scholarship recipients will be blogging about their experience and sharing photos and videos on the DiversityAbroad.com blog. Check out their first posts to see what their biggest concerns are as they prepare for their upcoming semester abroad experiences by visiting the blog at blog.diversityabroad.com.

We hope to see more of your students applying for future scholarships with Diversity Abroad! To learn more about our scholarships, please visit http://diversityabroad.com/study-abroad-scholarships.

Tags:  Education Abroad Diversity  Funding  Scholarships  Study Abroad 

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First, But Not Alone

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Friday, May 1, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

As many organizations and institutions align with the Generation Study Abroad Initiative to double study abroad participation over the next 5 years, it is imperative that the international education community continue to reach out in effective ways to the student groups who have traditionally been disproportionately underrepresented in study abroad, such as first-generation college students (first-gen students). Study Abroad participation statistics nationwide, while slowly shifting, continue to mirror socioeconomic and racial disparities also present in the US higher education system. While not always the case, first-generation college students often identify as racial/ethnic minorities and/or with low income backgrounds.

For the purposes of this blog post, first generation college student, in line with the  federally-funded TRIO programs definition, will refer to a student whose parent(s) (adoptive/birth/custodial) did not complete a bachelor’s degree. Much of what we already know about increasing access to college for first-gen students is also applicable when addressing education abroad opportunities for these students. As we consider new strategies to increase involvement in education abroad among first-gen populations, both access and support are crucial factors. 

Often, although not always, finances are a big concern for first-gen students. Despite the availability of funding options for education abroad through a student’s home institution, the Gilman Scholarship Program, among many other funding sources, the belief that education abroad is out-of-reach financially still persists for many first-gen students. Maintaining a job (or several) while pursuing a college degree, and sending money home to the family, are often of primary concern for first-gen students. A study abroad experience may be perceived as a luxury or an expensive “vacation” that doesn’t fit into a first-gen student’s budget or tight academic plan. What strategies and policies exist within education abroad offices to address these concerns? How might education abroad offices adjust messaging campaigns to more effectively communicate with first generation college students? How is the value of a study abroad experience, especially as it relates to future career plans, demonstrated in campus outreach efforts? Where, on campus and beyond, would messaging reach first-gen students?

In addition to finances, first-gen students are sometimes hesitant to leave the “comfort” of the college community to embark on an overseas experience. The New York Time’s recent piece entitled First-Generation Students Unite, describes a national movement, primarily among the more elite US institutions of higher education, where first-gen students are “coming out” on their college campuses to create communities of belonging. On many campuses across the country, institutional culture assumes that students understand how to navigate the college environment. For first-gen students who may not have been previously exposed to college life through family members, navigating the college environment and its many unspoken norms can be overwhelming and even isolating. Programs such as the federally-funded TRIO program and the POSSE Foundation are including community-building components into the college experience for first-gen students in an effort to address this. These efforts often include intensive summer pre-seasons for incoming first-years to build a cohort of student and staff support that can be accessed throughout a student’s college career. As demonstrated in the New York Times article, first-gen students are also forming their own student groups, even across campuses, to create this needed community. With this in mind, education abroad can seem like a step in the opposite direction, potentially severing ties with a close-knit community on-campus. Study abroad can be intimidating and possibly even threatening, especially when time and effort have been invested in cultivating a supportive community on-campus.

These represent only a few things international educators may consider as we work to provide access and support to the first-gen communities on our campuses. How are we adjusting our messaging and support to address implicit bias? What do we currently understand about first-generation college students? Where do we need to invest in further research? What cohort or other community-supportive models for study abroad may appeal to first-gen students?

Tags:  Education Abroad Diversity  first generation students  inclusion  Study Abroad 

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Community Colleges and Access to Study Abroad

Posted By Trixie Cordova, Friday, April 17, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

It’s extremely important that students of all backgrounds and life experiences have access to information about going abroad. During the Go Global Tour, I travel across the country visiting colleges of different sizes, in rural and urban areas, with diverse student populations.

I am so grateful when I have the opportunity to visit community colleges. Unlike some larger 4-year colleges or universities, community colleges don’t necessarily have the same resources, professional support (for example, a study abroad office or advisor), or program options. And of course, students continue to cite financial constraints as the primary barrier, either real or perceived, to considering study abroad as an option.

The 2013 IIE Open Doors Report shows that the majority of community college students going abroad are still overwhelmingly white and female. The Institute for International Education further verifies what we all know to be true of the community college experience:

Community college populations are historically comprised of non-traditional students, including minority students, those with high financial need, and first-generation college students, all populations that currently are largely underrepresented in study abroad. If this trend is allowed to continue, these underrepresented groups will remain on the sidelines and will not have equal access to the life-changing opportunities that will prepare them for today’s global society.1

Additionally, community college students are sometimes older, work full-time to support their families, and in part choose to attend community college due to its affordability. For this reason, it isn’t necessarily a surprise to know that very few students are going abroad at the community college level.

So what kind of real solutions currently exist to support increased funding opportunities and program options that are both realistic and affordable for community college students? There are lots of state and nation-wide consortia committed to making education abroad opportunities feasible for community college students. Some examples include the California Colleges for International EducationCommunity Colleges for International Development, and the Washington Consortium of Community Colleges for Study Abroad.  

But with initiatives such as Generation Study Abroad, coupled with President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative, in which he proposes making community college tuition-free for two years, it is my hope that more programs and funding opportunities with specific regard to the needs and concerns of community colleges become available.

If you work at a community college and have a success story about students from your campus, please tell us!

1Expanding Education Abroad at U.S. Community Colleges:

Tags:  community colleges  education abroad  Education Abroad Diversity  Study Abroad 

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Learning and Sharing about Diversity and Inclusion in International Education

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 10, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

In 2012, the Diversity Abroad staff set off on a track to develop a national conference that would allow international and diversity educators a space to talk specifically about how to increase access to and improve services in international education for diverse and underrepresented students. Some three years later, the Diversity Abroad Conference is going strong and provides a space to speak candidly about the challenges and opportunities related to diversity and inclusion efforts in international education programming.

The Third Annual Diversity Abroad Conference took place on March 22-24 and saw an unexpected increase in participation with a more than 60% increase in registration from the inaugural conference in 2013. With professionals representing various institutions, departments, organizations, and providers, this year’s conference was abuzz with conversations addressing challenges and sharing good practices related to access, inclusion, and diversity in international education. Sessions represented a wide range of topics that included addressing the needs of specific student populations, developing collaborative partnerships, developing inclusive advising strategies for all students, and more. The conversations didn’t stop in the sessions, though. Those who were in attendance can attest to the fact that participants carried the dialogue into the hallways and beyond the conference space!

There was also an addition to the conference this year that added an element of insight we haven’t seen at other events. The Global Student Leadership Summit, a student track to the Diversity Abroad Conference, brought 23 students from around the country together to participate in the inaugural summit. Students did not only participate in sessions focused on building up their skills, they also engaged with professional conference goers during several all conference events. They added an energy to the conversation that reminded many of us why we do what we do.

The conversations from the Diversity Abroad Conference didn’t stop after the closing reception on Tuesday, though. Many of the conference participants continued on to participate in the Forum on Education Abroad Conference just down the street, where the topic of diversity and inclusion seems to have also grown. Just since last year, the Forum’s conference schedule included an expanded offering of sessions focused on diverse student populations and institutional diversity and inclusion efforts in international education. For many of us whose work centers on the intersection of these issues, it was refreshing and exciting to see the field take a leap forward in increasing the national dialogue happening around inclusion in education abroad.

To those who weren’t able to join the conference, fret not! Resources and presentations are available in the Resource Library on the site so that you can take a look at some of the conversations that happened in March! And don’t forget, our call for proposals for next year’s conference happening in Atlanta, GA (April 3-5) will be open in May!

Tags:  Diversity  Diversity Abroad Conference  Education Abroad Diversity  global education  inclusion  Study Abroad 

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