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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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Professional Development Opportunities to Learn More about Advising and Diversity

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 15, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

As we aim to increase access, inclusion, and diversity in international education, professional development is critical. Our offices and organizations can only be as successful as the level of training that has been provided to our staff who are directly supporting and indirectly impacting the students we serve. To this end, it is important that we begin to identify professional development opportunities to assist us in these endeavors. Although international education conferences are able to briefly touch on subjects of diversity and advising, the wide variety of topics that are discussed do not leave a lot of room for deep exploration of these specific areas.

Here are five conferences (in addition to the Annual Diversity Abroad Conference) to consider adding to your professional development plan to enhance your knowledge of diversity and advising in higher education.

NACADA Annual & Regional Conferences
NACADA is the Global Community for Academic Advising and is focused on building skills, knowledge, and awareness around topics of academic advising. Most study abroad advisors don’t view themselves as academic advisors, which can feel like a disconnect for the student. Consider attending this year’s NACADA conference, themed “What happens in advising, stays with students” to gain theoretical insight and practical tools for advising.
Annual conference typically held in October (though state drive-ins and regional meetings are held throughout the year)

NCORE - National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education
NCORE is a great opportunity to explore issues of race and ethnicity in American Higher Education. With sessions like “Stereotype Threat: A Threat in the Air, Mind and Body,” “Exploring How Faculty in Higher Education Respond to an Assessment of their Intercultural Competence,” and “How to Have Successful Classroom Discussions on Diversity Issues,” it’s clear that this conference can benefit everyone working to improve access, inclusion and diversity in international education from pre-departure to on-site and reentry.
Typically held in May

National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Annual Conference
Although NADOHE is geared toward campus diversity officers, the rich discussion can also benefit those of us working in areas of diversity in international education. This year’s theme was “Getting It Done: Rising to Opportunities and Challenges in Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education.”
Typically held in March

Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) Annual Conference
Although some study abroad offices consider themselves an academic unit and not as part of student services, there is a lot to be learned from the student engagement of student services professionals on our campuses. Since we are all interested in a common goal of crafting a valuable and enriching student experience, NASPA may be an opportunity to connect with your colleagues who work across campus and better understand their practices and learn from their experiences.
Typically held in March

Association for Orientation, Transition, & Retention in Higher Education NODA Annual Conference
NODA can provide insight into one of the key components of serving our diverse students well - preparation and orientation. With topics like “Online Orientation Trends: How To Measure Learning Outcomes & Assess Program Success”, this is sure to be a valuable event for the person responsible for orientation programming.
Typically held in late October/November (regular online learning and regional state workshops are held throughout the year)

We hope that you will consider adding one of these conferences to your professional development plan this year. There are many more conferences in higher education that can help you build knowledge, skills and awareness around topics of advising and diversity. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but hopefully this gives you somewhere to start. Have you participated in other conferences outside of international education that have been valuable? Which conferences would you add to this list?

Tags:  advising  diversity  Diversity Abroad Conference  professional development  professional skills 

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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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Does Diversity Have a Place in the Health and Safety Conversation?

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 20, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Does Diversity Have a Place in the Health and Safety Conversation?

At initial glance, it may seem that student’s health and safety considerations may have very little to do with their personal identity. All students, after all, should be prepared for the physical, emotional, and mental strain related to acclimating to a new environment. All students should be briefed in the potential safety and security concerns of the country in which they will be living. So how exactly would a student’s identity influence this conversation? The short answer is in ways that we as international educators may not have considered before. The longer response is that it depends.

Mental Health

This is an area of health and safety that has grown significantly in the previous decade, not only in education abroad, but also in higher education more broadly. Going abroad can be a major life event for many of the students who are able to participate in an activity like study abroad. The experience of adapting to a new environment, a new group of peers, a new system of coursework, and managing relationships back home can be stressful for many students who go abroad. For students from racial and ethnic minority groups, first generation college students, and low-income students these stressors have the potential to be compounded.

Isolation is a frequently cited experience for students from diverse racial and ethnic populations as well as those from lower-income households. Being “the only one” (e.g., African American, Native American, Latino) on the program has the potential to create an environment where students who identify as the only one of their background on the program may not feel comfortable discussing particular challenges they may be experiencing while abroad. Similarly, students from low-income backgrounds may feel more isolated if they are not able to participate in excursions that come at an extra cost or travel regionally as some of their peers may. Often times, situations that arise as a result of a student’s background have the potential to fester, as many students may not see such incidents as worthy of reporting. Students from underrepresented backgrounds are often taught to manage these challenges independently, and support staff may not hear about situations (e.g., faculty member calls on only Asian American student in class when discussing Chinese culture, African American student is the only one in the group who is searched upon entry of a local club).

Seeking Out Resources and Local Diversity

We hear often of students from diverse backgrounds looking for specific products, services, or venues that are connected to their identity. It may be African American students looking for hair products or barbers/stylists who have experience with their hair type, or Latino students looking for cooking ingredients that remind them of home, Jewish students looking for Kosher-friendly stores, or students of a particular faith seeking out a place of worship. At first glance this may seem related to local culture more than safety, however, if we consider that students may be finding these resources by searching online and heading to a part of town they may not be familiar with, what was initially an effort to find relevant resources could turn into a potentially complicated excursion. There is, of course, a need to balance encouraging independent exploration with health and safety concerns. However, students can be encouraged to engage in “exploration within boundaries.” If we as international educators provide some of these resources in advance about a variety of places where they can find these products and services, students will have reliable information with the option to explore these venues independently.

While these are but two examples of how identity intersects with health and safety, there are certainly other ways in which students from diverse backgrounds may have unique health and safety considerations that all students could benefit from hearing about as they prepare to go abroad. Students from diverse backgrounds certainly benefit from having information and support as it relates to these topics, but students who may not initially identify with an underrepresented group also gain from engaging in these conversations. After all, students’ health and safety is a group responsibility, and it benefits all education abroad students to know how identity intersects with their experience on the ground.

Suggested Resources for Students

  • List of local resources related to health and beauty that includes venues that provide products and services for diverse populations (e.g., general drug stores, drug stores that carry ethnic beauty supplies, barbers, salons).
  • Pre-departure discussion and on-site orientation that addresses current climate of diversity of the city/town (e.g., address what local “diversity” means).
  • List of places of worship for diverse religious groups.
  • Super market or store recommendations that include more affordable grocery options, ethnic cuisine and ingredients, and Kosher and halal options.
  • A “staff picks” list of diverse restaurant options.
  • Recurring conversation group (middle and end of the semester or program) for students on the program to discuss their experiences, how they’ve adapted, challenges, and highlights.
  • Frequent messages either via email or social media that remind students to share their experiences with staff.

What other strategies has your organization or institution undertaken to address diversity and identity in health and safety discussions?

Tags:  Diversity  education abroad  Education Abroad Diversity  health and safety 

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Future Leaders Summit on Culture Participants Announced

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Diversity Abroad and CIEE are excited to announce the second cohort of professionals who will participate in a day-long Future Leaders Summit on Culture! We received applications from professionals around the country interested in addressing the barrier of culture to diversifying the students who participate in education abroad programming.

The 20 participants selected to participate in this Summit will travel to San Diego, CA on Sunday, March 30th prior to the Diversity Abroad Conference. They will engage in dialogue focused on identifying the barriers that culture creates to attracting diverse and underrepresented students to education abroad, developing strategies to address these barriers, and creating action plans to take back to their campuses. 


Future Leaders Summit - Culture Participants

Ahaji Schreffler Drexel University Study Abroad
Ann Lutterman-Aguilar Augsburg College
Carol Larson University of Pittsburgh
Christina Dinges Susquehanna University
Darielle Horsey University of Southern California
Frank Biafora University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Jay Minert University of California San Diego
Jeffery Collins Oglethorpe University
Jessica Francis Wake Forest University
Kate Regan University of Portland
Kenya Casey Emory University/CIPA
Krista Johnson Howard University
LaNitra Berger Honors College, George Mason University
Mandy Brookins Blinn DePauw University
Melody Stratton University of Kansas Office of Study Abroad
Rebecca Bergren Gettysburg College
Robert Bennett III The Ohio State University
Russell Brodie Saint Augustine University
Thandi Dinani University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Torian Lee Xavier University of Louisiana
Uttiyo Raychaudhuri Clemson Study Abroad
William Smith University of Georgia


This is one of three Future Leaders Summits that Diversity Abroad and CIEE have partnered to implement in order to address three institutional barriers to diversifying student participation in education abroad. In November, we hosted the first Summit focused on Curriculum and later this year we will implement the third Summit focused on Cost.

For more information about the Future Leaders Summit, please visit the Future Leaders Summit page.

Tags:  Diversity  Education Abroad Diversity  Outreach  Resources  study abroad 

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