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Exploring the Role of Allies: Step Up, Step Back, and Listen

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Wednesday, May 3, 2017

By: Erica Ledesma

Today’s current political climate is rife with conflict, finger-pointing, and suspicion as discussions related to race, diversity, social justice, equity, and inclusion dominate our newsfeeds. Throughout the education sector, this tone is equally as present as we critically examine the opportunity gap & institutional demographics, campus climate (especially at PWI’s), and balancing free speech while ensuring all students feel a sense of belonging where they can thrive both academically and personally. Within this context, prioritizing diversity & inclusion at the core of our education structures -- including global education -- is more important than ever and requires commitment from all of us, not just those who identify personally with marginalized communities. As allies who work in diversity & inclusion, how can we maximize our contributions within this complicated landscape where  “political-correctness” often impedes honest interactions? For someone like me, a white woman, what should we be thinking about in order to effectively engage in diversity and inclusion work? I’ve given this some thought and have articulated my reflections below.


Know when to “step up” and when to “step back”

The first question that might come up is whether or not a heterosexual, middle class white woman should even be engaged in diversity and inclusion work. This is a fair question and worth considering (some thoughts here and here). In short, my answer is “yes”....but, not always. Working as an ally alongside colleagues from marginalized communities to advance equity and social justice requires a degree of self-awareness and humility. In truth, I’ve spent most of my life working within systems and structures that elevate my voice and experiences at the expense of others. To counteract this pattern, it is essential to acknowledge its existence, look for opportunities to take a step back and simply listen in order to center diverse voices in these discussions. At the same time, diversity and inclusion is all of our responsibility and should not be delegated to members of marginalized communities, an oft-employed tactic that usually ends in exhaustion and burnout. So, how do we balance our responsibility to provide leadership and advocacy as allies with the need to take a step back and listen? There is no formula; however, I would argue that as allies the core of our work to support and lead diversity and inclusion efforts is an awareness of positionality. In order to understand our positionality (and the associated power dynamic) within certain structures, conversations, groups, etc, we need to take time on a regular basis to reflect on our own identities and areas of unconscious bias (these exist for all of us). Distinct from the tacit notion of “checking one’s privilege”, this exercise requires both introspection and action in order to have lasting impact.

Be Authentic

This can’t be overstated. In our quest to “relate” to others, it may be tempting to over-emphasize our points of connection with marginalized communities; however, this approach will serve only to erode credibility. My identities as a white middle class heterosexual woman, raised in the midwestern region of the United States, have provided me with innumerable “unearned” societal advantages over the years. At the same time, I’ve also had significant personal and professional experiences engaging with diverse domestic and global communities that have contributed to my current worldview and perspectives. These experiences, in many ways, reinforce my commitment to equity, social justice, confronting structural oppression, and cultivating empathy. They do not, however, allow me to understand from the perspective of individuals who belong to marginalized communities, like people of color or LGBTQI+ individuals, etc. For me, this is an essential distinction.

All of us embody multiple intersecting identities that locate us within or without institutional power structures (read here for more on intersectionality). As a female professional raising 2 daughters, I am in-tuned on a personal level with the patriarchal hierarchies that impact persistent realities like the gender wage gap, disproportionate expectations for men & women in the academe, and the prevalence of rape culture on our college campuses. When I was younger, I was one of only two girls who played on our middle school’s boys soccer team because there wasn’t a team available for the female athletes. While a lot has changed in this regard due to Title IX and other efforts, gender-based discrimination is still alive and well today as we regularly witness in the continued objectification of women through media & public discourse. And yet, despite my personal connection to gender discrimination, my experiences as a white woman are qualitatively different from the experiences of women belonging to other marginalized communities. For women of color and transgender individuals, for example, gender-based discrimination will undoubtedly intersect and overlap with other forms of oppression related to race, sexuality, and gender-identity. In our work with diversity & inclusion, it’s important to embrace our own backgrounds without making assumptions about how we can relate to or understand other experiences of oppression.

Mistakes Will Happen

Sometimes we’ll make mistakes, and it’s important to learn from them and incorporate these insights into our work. Being transparent about our own missteps can create space for others to learn and grow as well. In order to be an effective ally for diversity and inclusion, it’s not necessary to be an expert on all marginalized communities or to understand all of the relevant terminology right away. In fact, this approach may be perceived as disingenuous and arrogant, “If a white person comes to D&I with a purely intellectual mindset or a goal to change or help someone else, they might miss the mark” (more on this here). That said, expanding our perspectives is an important aspect of developing as an ally for diversity and inclusion. Accessing news sources, entertainment, books, etc that showcase a diversity of  perspectives is a starting point and will provide opportunities to deepen our understanding of the way our own backgrounds have shaped our perceptions. The options are endless, but here are just a few suggestions that I’ve enjoyed:

  • Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Banaji & Greenwald

  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

  • The Danger of a Single Story - Ted talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In summary, there is an important role for allies to play in diversity and inclusion work. Within our sphere of influence as global educators, we can collaborate with colleagues from marginalized communities, learn to listen and to lead effectively, and acknowledge our own shortcomings as we support students from all backgrounds.

Tags:  allies  diversity  inclusion 

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Meet the Team: Community Engagement Coordinator

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Daneen Johnson - Community Engagement Coordinator


Tell us about yourself:


As a Student Affairs Professional, I have worked with student-athletes, first generation, STEM, honors, low-income, and international students. I have also worked within a university career services department where I assisted both undergraduate and graduate students with career readiness and employability skills. Prior to joining the Diversity Abroad team, I was as an Advisor at Seminole State College of Florida where I worked within a grant program that sought to assist and increase underrepresented minority students pursuing STEM degrees.


As a two-time Alumna of the University of Central Florida, I completed my undergraduate degrees in Hospitality and Restaurant Management. During that time I studied abroad in Italy with an Italian Culture and Cuisine program-- which was the experience that changed my future career trajectory. I continued my education at UCF completing an M.A. in Educational Leadership with a specialization in Higher Education. My global experience extended into graduate school when I participated in a mission trip with my church to Cape Town, South Africa.


Why did you join Diversity Abroad?


In my role at Diversity Abroad, I am able to give back to the local and global community that inspired my career. I studied abroad because of scholarships that were awarded to me. Knowing that someone else invested in my future reminded me of the continued generosity (both tangible and intangible) that has been granted to me throughout my educational journey. We know that education is the gift that can’t be taken away, therefore the opportunity to provide students with resources to expand their knowledge and experiences in our globally interconnected classrooms is my way of “paying it forward”. Diversity Abroad allows me to do that in a very unique way.


What do you do at Diversity Abroad?


I facilitate outreach for the Passport Tour which is a nationwide campus-based initiative designed to introduce study abroad resources and opportunities to students, faculty and administrators, particularly from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. Additionally, I write content for both the Diversity Abroad Network and our student site DiversityAbroad.com.


Where do you see global education going in five years?


Global opportunities have progressively expanded for students allowing institutions from all around the world to connect and build relationships. Despite challenges in our society, I am optimistic about the future because technology is advancing and accessibility to knowledge about various cultures is rapidly growing. College students now have access to information about their counterparts across the globe, and they’re tenacious enough to be active about building communities that expand across both our similarities and difference. Growing acceptance of diversity gives me hope for the future of global education.

Tags:  community  Diversity  Diversity Abroad Staff  Underrepresented Students 

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Meet the Team: Manager of Learning & Assessment

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 21, 2016

Pamela Roy - Manager of Learning & Assessment


Tell us about yourself:


I have been engaged in international higher education for more than 12 years and have published and presented on a wide range of topics in this field.

My transnational story began with my birth in Calcutta, India as I traveled back and forth between India and Toronto, Canada where I was raised, learning to speak Bengali and training as a classical Indian dancer and singer. After high school, I spent 16 years studying and working abroad in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Michigan where I developed a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion work.


In 2009, I engaged in an international professional development collaboration with faculty and administrators at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Port Elizabeth, South Africa) which sparked a long-term commitment and passion for work on/about the African Continent. I spent the next five years building networks, making lifelong friends, guest lecturing and collecting data in South Africa which resulted in a published thesis on the lives and narratives of Black African, Indian, and Colored academic women in post-apartheid South African higher education.

More recently, I founded the Consultancy for Global Higher Education which offers personalized project management and strategic leadership to universities, non-profit philanthropic, and non-governmental organizations. Some of my clients have included the Global Internship Conference, the POD Network in Higher Education, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and The MasterCard Foundation, one of the largest independent foundations in the world providing access to education, skills training, and financial services for people living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Why did you join Diversity Abroad?


I was thrilled to learn about Diversity Abroad’s tremendous efforts in raising the profile of diversity and inclusion within global education during my tenure as a research and scholarship associate for Michigan State University’s Office of Study Abroad.

In 2016, while guest speaking on the best practices and ethical considerations for engaging with host communities in the Global South at the annual NAFSA Association for International Educators Conference I was introduced to Andrew Gordon, the Founder and President of Diversity Abroad. We spoke about the organization’s mission, goals, and strategic plans for assessment and learning. There was a direct alignment with my professional interests, expertise, and aspirations so I was keen on contributing to the organization’s successful legacy.


What do you do at Diversity Abroad?


Learning and research are key aspects of the work undertaken by Diversity Abroad. As the Manager of Learning & Assessment I ensure that the organization maintains its leading voice on access, diversity, equity, and inclusion in global education. Some of my responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • Guiding and managing curricular developments and ongoing improvements for Diversity Abroad’s eLearning trainings, short courses, regional workshops, and the Access Inclusion & Diversity Roadmap

  • Developing and administering surveys of Diversity Abroad members and other stakeholders in higher education

  • Analyzing organizational and survey data resulting in scholarly and non-scholarly articles

  • Leading educational initiatives and conference management for the Global Institute for Inclusive Leadership, the annual Diversity Abroad Conference, and the Minority Serving Institution Summit.

  • Co-planning strategic initiatives and identifying research priorities of relevance to the field of global education and diversity/inclusion


Where do you see global education going in five years?


The next generation of young people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds in the United States will need the skills and experience to compete in the 21st century global marketplace. One way of doing so is through equal access to meaningful international education programs and adequate support from culturally competent professionals before, during and after their participation in these programs. Diversity Abroad has a major role to play in serving these populations through our advocacy, trainings, programs, and initiatives.

Diversity Abroad is also committed to supporting international students to North America; one such population are students from the African Continent which is home to approximately 600 million people under the age of 25, the world’s youngest population. By 2035, Africa will have the largest labor force in the world and the education sector will continue to grow exponentially. By educating young people in Africa, enabling them to become entrepreneurs, and by building ethical and sustainable partnerships in communities facing challenges, we can all help ensure that these young people lead the transformation and growth of their respective communities and nations.

Tags:  assessment  diversity  Diversity Abroad Staff  learning 

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A Message to the Diversity Abroad Community

Posted By Andrew Gordon, Friday, November 11, 2016

Andrew GordonTen years ago when I founded Diversity Abroad it was based on the notion that all students should have equitable access to global educational opportunities. Over the last decade, Diversity Abroad has grown into a vibrant community of students and professionals from all racial, national, economic, ability, sexual, and religious backgrounds. We’ve come together, behind this movement, because we share a common vision for the future; one of mutual understanding and one in which all young people have equitable access to the type of educational experiences that will help them appreciate other perspectives, develop empathy, and be prepared to take on the global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.


There is concern in our community, across the U.S. as well as throughout the world, for what the future holds. Based on the tone of the presidential campaign and the climate on our campuses, even before a single vote was cast, many of our colleagues and students expressed concern and fear. These feelings are real and should not be cast aside. Regardless of one's politics, as professionals we have chosen to work with and support students, domestic and international, from all backgrounds and walks of life. If we are to build trust and credibility with the students we serve we must be there to support our students during challenging times. We cannot hide behind the shield of international education and think that we do not have an important role in supporting our domestic students from diverse and marginalized groups. We all have a role in fostering an inclusive climate where students are able to thrive and succeed. Further, we work with colleagues from marginalized groups who share the same fear and concern that many of our students have. Being an ally and supportive of our colleagues will foster the kind of inclusivity that makes an office or an organization truly great.


It is abundantly clear that now more than ever our work is needed. There is a need to engage with those who hold different perspectives and beliefs and to develop mutual understanding here and abroad. There is a need to renew our commitment to partnering in support of marginalized communities and for self examination as we ask ourselves,“How can I be an ally to my colleagues and students who are from traditionally marginalized groups?” More than anything there is a need to recognize that the work we do isn’t just about student mobility. It never has been. The work we do has the power to change lives. It opens minds and can help young people develop an appreciation for difference and empathy, qualities that are essential if they are to become positive agents of change. This type of understanding is crucial for our society to be one where everyone can feel included, prosper, and be successful.


For Diversity Abroad nothing changes. We will continue to do the following:

  • Lead the field of international education and exchange toward diversity and inclusive excellence and ensure that our policies and practices equitably support all students.

  • Advocate for equitable access to global education at the local, national, and international level

  • Support marginalized groups, domestic and international, before, during, and after participating in an international education or exchange program

  • Provide resources, training, and guidance to the thousands of students, young people, and professionals who are part of our community


One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill who says, “The pessimist sees the challenge in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every challenge.” Yes, we face an uncertain future and challenging times may lie ahead. However, we can choose to remain optimistic and not allow the negative tone to dampen our spirits or our resolve. In doing so, whether we work with education abroad students or international students coming to our campuses, we will find the opportunities to support our students and continue the movement to develop the next generation of leaders by making international education diverse, equitable, and inclusive.


Onwards and upwards.


All my best,



Tags:  Diversity  Elections  Inclusion  International Education  Study Abroad 

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#UnlockYourPassport: Highlights of The Passport Tour

Posted By Daneen Johnson, Monday, November 7, 2016

The Passport Tour (TPT) has traveled to more than 20 institutions across 6 states; impacting more than 1,000 students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. TPT is one of Diversity Abroad's (DA) initiatives to engage students, staff, and faculty with the ultimate goal of "preparing the next generation of global leaders.” This national outreach effort is eminently rewarding and enables us to spark an interest among students who have not considered studying abroad before, and to connect students to Diversity Abroad’s resources.


Each campus visit is unique and tailored to reach as many students as possible. This year our student events have included:

  • Study Abroad Fairs

  • Study Abroad 101 Information Sessions

  • Resource tabling in Student Unions

  • Classroom Presentations

  • Open advising sessions in Multicultural Student Centers  

  • Recording student interviews

  • Leading diversity and inclusion discussions for staff and graduate students

  • Moderating a panel consisting of students who have studied abroad


Upholding our Commitment


We meet students where they are-- on campus, in classrooms, and within inclusive academic spaces. TPT has visited a diverse array of locations and institutional types such as colleges and universities in rural and urban areas, ivy leagues, and institutions with limited access to global opportunities. The diversity of campuses may vary considerably, but the commonality is all institutions have underrepresented students who are not studying abroad. Students are seeking diverse perspectives on the personal (career) significance and overall community impact of this educational endeavor. That’s what makes Diversity Abroad’s impact on campus so unique.


Additionally, we are upholding our commitment to increase visits to Minority Serving Institutions, and during this semester alone, almost half of all TPT visits have been at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).


Memorable Moments:


Open group discussions with students about their excitement, and conversely their barriers to studying abroad create our top memorable moments of the tour. These conversations that we facilitate on campus not only allow students to hear from each other and help their peers critically think through topics of concern, but they also allow faculty to understand their students' needs. This is why we encourage faculty members to also review study abroad resources to prepare students who seek their advice.


Likewise, one-on-one conversations with students are just as valuable as the group discussions. In conversing with students, many have told us that they see a reflection of themselves in the DA team. May it be that we share the same race/ethnicity, religious identity, passion for travel and food, immigration story or ambition to thrive in life, students quickly open up and share their thoughts. For example, I recently shared a meal with a student who promptly connected with me based off of physical identity. With much excitement, she recommended we eat at the best new restaurant near campus where she anecdotally walked me through her recent semester abroad in South America. Giving students undivided, unadulterated attention, be it in a group or individualized settings, helps them to reaffirm and improve self-efficacy, which is the desire of all educators.


Also, while visiting campuses we are able to meet a few of our Diversity Abroad scholarship recipients. Seeing them glow with joy as they share their memories of the “best experience of their lives” is always a lasting memory for the team.

Shift Perspective


Build authentic connections with students and don't assume that a student knows how study abroad is defined or it’s permanent impact on their personal and professional lives. Therefore an attentive ear is essential. If a student says “I can’t study abroad”, perception can lead a professional to believe the student isn’t interested, when in reality they may be concerned about the multitude of valid reasons that, unbeknownst to the student, can be overcome. Just this week while on a campus in Florida, a student walked past our resource table and mentioned that she would love to study abroad but has a child and can not be gone for a long duration of time. I countered by explaining to her that her school’s study abroad office offers short-term, week long programs. In that moment, her perception of study abroad shifted from completely unrealistic to possible and her perspective on the opportunity was more optimistic.


Our challenge to you: listen with intentionality, connect with integrity, educate with care, engage in critical conversations, and challenge students to pursue a global opportunity. It’s a straightforward and healthy reminder for all of us to better refocus our students perceptions to help them have a clearer view of reality.


The Passport Tour will be on back on the road visiting campuses across the country in spring 2017! If you are interested in hosting Diversity Abroad on your campus, please contact Daneen Johnson, Community Engagement Coordinator at djohnson@diversityabroad.org.


Also, celebrate International Education Week with Diversity Abroad and IES as we host Embark to Excel: A Virtual Student Conference on Study Abroad and The Socially Conscious Global Citizen! Reserve your virtual seat here: http://bit.ly/e2econference2016


Tags:  diversity  iew  international education  TPT 

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