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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.

 
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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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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,

 

Andrew

Tags:  Diversity  Elections  Inclusion  International Education  Study Abroad 

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Racisim in Teach Abroad?

Posted By Chris LeGrant, Thursday, October 20, 2016

Demand for English Teachers Abroad  


As English becomes further entrenched as the global language of business, popular culture and technology, the market for English teachers around the world has skyrocketed over the past 20 years.  According to The British Council, by 2020 there will be 1.9 billion people who will be actively learning English.  In China alone, there are currently 300 million people learning English.  Indeed, a deeper look into the statistics reveals a truly staggering amount of demand for native English teachers in foreign countries.  According to the International TEFL Academy:

  • An estimated 250,000 native English speakers work as English teachers abroad in more than 40,000 schools and language institutes around the world.

  • In major European cities like Prague, Madrid and Rome, approximately 3,000 – 5,000 native speaking English teachers are working at any given time.

  • In both China and South Korea, approximately 1,000 new English teachers are hired each month.

  • Because nearly half of all English teachers abroad will leave their position and return to their home country each year, more than 100,000 positions for English teachers abroad open each year.


This incredible demand has all contributed to the creation of an industry that’s worth an estimated $63 billion per year.  The appeal is also understandable from the perspective of the teacher.  These positions are essentially recession proof and in addition to being a great resume and career builder, represent a transformative personal and cultural experience.  The work is also meaningful and for many people around the world, English is an important vehicle to improve their economic and social prospects.  However, all too often these life changing teaching opportunities are being withheld from many on the basis of race, nationality and/or disability.  



Is Teach Abroad Inherently Racist?  


The Open Doors report is an invaluable resource for those of us that work in international education.  It represents a window into the demographics of study abroad programs within higher education. In contrast, the teach abroad industry is mainly for-profit and most programs are not accredited making general oversight almost non-existent and demographic data very hard to come by. Therefore, the assessment below relies on this author’s seven years of personal experience within the teach abroad industry as well as conversations with several teach abroad providers.


As of 2016, the demographics of teach abroad programs are closely aligned with those of traditional study abroad programs.  According to one teach abroad provider interviewed for this article, 80 percent of their teachers identified as caucasian and female.  Another provider mentioned that 75 percent of their teachers came from the same group.  As in study abroad, part of the reason for this stems from a lack of outreach to people from underrepresented groups.  However, unlike study abroad, many qualified teachers are not placed in a position based solely on their race and/or nationality.  To understand why this is so, we must dive further into the how teach abroad programs are generally set up.


Normally, a teach abroad provider will partner with a local for-profit, nonprofit or governmental organization within the host country.  This organization will provide access to local schools, Universities, and host families and in many cases the schools and families have an understandably great deal of control over who they accept as their teacher/tutor.  Unfortunately, this too often leads to discrimination from the local institutions, regardless of the native English fluency of the teacher.  Of course, this type of discrimination is illegal in most countries and almost all teach abroad organizations accept applications from all candidates.  However, there are countless examples of people of color being rejected by local schools for not being a “true American” and for most people this insinuates being caucasian.  For example, in East Asian countries, this discrimination is often directed toward people of East Asian ethnicity, who grew up in English speaking countries.  In these circumstances, the teach abroad provider usually tells the teacher that they cannot be placed and will continue to look for other positions in vain or, in many cases, the teacher is placed in a sub-optimal institution that has been passed over by other candidates for one reason or another (such as an extremely remote location).  


This reality creates a great deal of tension within the teach abroad world, as the vast majority of organizations/providers want to place diverse and underrepresented people on their programs.  Unfortunately, the resistance to accepting people of color from local institutions and families suppresses the motivation to actively recruit teachers from diverse backgrounds as well as developing the resources needed to support them while abroad. These tendencies and the local bias/discrimination that drive them must be confronted if we are to succeed in making teach abroad programs more diverse and inclusive.



The Path Forward


If discrimination is so deeply ingrained within the teach abroad system, what are some ways that we can begin to change and challenge it?  The first step is for teach abroad providers to actively declare their commitment to improving access, diversity and inclusion for underrepresented populations on their programs.  The next step is for these same providers to begin looking for in-county partners that will accept people from underrepresented groups, such as young people of color.  Despite the discriminatory tendencies described above, there are many institutions who will place non-caucasians and it is important for teach abroad providers to identify these entities and make a commitment to work with them.  It is then crucial that these partnerships are highlighted to serve as successful models for the industry, both in the sending and receiving countries.  


Additionally, teach abroad providers must conduct outreach to underrepresented students, graduates and professionals.  This can be accomplished by creating available funding such as grants or scholarships and working with organizations like Diversity Abroad to help promote these opportunities to underrepresented populations.  Providers should make an effort to share successful stories from diverse and underrepresented teachers as well as attend career service and study abroad fairs at domestic minority serving institutions and HBCUs.  As this blog has noted, there is a difference between diversity and inclusion and it is important that teach abroad providers focus on both.  Where diversity is dedicating energy and resources to increasing access to teach abroad programs for historically underrepresented individuals, inclusion is ensuring that people who choose to participate receive equitable support while overseas and upon their return home.  It is important that teach abroad providers engage with organizations like Diversity Abroad to ensure that they are involved in conversations around diverse identities abroad and to make sure that their staff have the knowledge to engage and advise individuals from underrepresented groups before departing.  


The approach outlined above is certainly easier said than done but it represents concrete steps most teach abroad providers can begin to implement immediately.  That being said, it will take the concerted, conscious and sustained leadership of organizations committed to increasing the access, inclusion and diversity of their programs to succeed.  


Tags:  diversity  inclusion  racism  teach abroad 

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Beyond the Rhetoric: What’s Required for Systemic Change?

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Tuesday, September 27, 2016

For institutions serious about examining campus climate, listening to student concerns, and mobilizing lasting change, what exactly is needed? How do we go beyond the rhetoric around diversity & inclusion and get to the heart of the very real issues that afflict our institutions? As global educators, what is our role in ensuring that we do our part to create a welcoming climate for students from all backgrounds? We have come along way in articulating the benefit of global experiences. For many of us, the battle is no longer limited to convincing administrators that global competencies are key to success in the uber-competitive 21st century job market. This campaign has produced champions and the statistics demonstrate that participation is on the increase. So, if we believe that thoughtful cross-cultural experiences are an integral aspect of a high-quality education, then we have an obligation to ensure that all students have equitable access to global experiences and are provided with inclusive support from pre-departure through returning home.


Instead of envisioning efforts to improve access and foster inclusive support in global education as yet another initiative, let’s consider aspects of a systemic approach. Mobilizing change from the inside out requires dedication, transparency, and much more. By no means a panacea, here are five things that global educators can implement from the ground up.

1) Honesty and Humility


When we look at the Open Doors Data for study abroad participation, we need to be honest about the disparities. Women are taking advantage of these opportunities at significantly higher rates than their male counterparts. Why? Statistics for race and ethnicity further demonstrate the pervasive nature of the problem. In 2013/2014, non-white students constituted only 25% of the 304,467 students who received credit for study abroad. Now, there are many reasons why historically underrepresented student populations may choose not to study abroad. Whether it’s our outreach practices, staff demographics, financial aid policies -- to name only a few -- it is imperative that we recognize that institutional practices and policies have a role in influencing a student’s decision to go abroad or not. What efforts are being undertaken to assess our office’s practices and policies? When results are received -- even if they aren’t glowing -- can we set our perceptions aside, engage honestly with the feedback, and develop a meaningful plan to move forward? For more information regarding guidelines for inclusive excellence and assessing progress, check out Diversity Abroad’s Access, Inclusion, and Diversity (AID) Roadmap.


2) Differentiate Between Inclusion & Diversity


There is an important distinction to be made between diversity and inclusion. Often times we focus our energy on diversity without fully addressing inclusion. While it is important to dedicate energy and resources to increasing access to education abroad for historically underrepresented students (diversity), ensuring that students who choose to participate receive equitable support (inclusion) is key to systemic change. Incorporating conversations about health and safety abroad that address considerations for LGBTQ students, students of color, and various religious identities in countries throughout the world may provide a starting point but is certainly not sufficient. Inclusion is more than numbers on a page, it must be at the core of our institutions: “each person and culture that composes the institution’s demographic makeup should be able to see themselves prominently reflected in the fabric of the institution in meaningful ways” (Desegregation Not Same as Diversity and Inclusion, Diverse Issues in Higher Education). Education Abroad Offices may want to reflect on the following questions. Who should be involved in discussions around identity abroad? Can we leverage expertise and relational capital of other campus offices, such as Multicultural Student Life? Is the advising staff trained and comfortable engaging in discussions around identity?


3) Acknowledge the Past


On campuses across the country, protests are illuminating student concerns, especially in regards to race. With the inception of social movements like Black Lives Matter, among others, students are voicing dissatisfaction with the campus climate and treatment of students of color and other marginalized groups. While it’s tempting for institutions to be defensive, this moment in history provides us with an opportunity to critically examine our policies and practices. Part of understanding what’s happening today on our campuses requires acknowledging the complicated history of race relations in the United States, and higher education is no exception:


As we witness racial strife on our campuses, we might begin to acknowledge how the academy’s legacy of bias continues to reverberate. Only then can we hope to honestly face America’s longtime resistance to racial reality and equality, and understand the basis of lingering attitudes today (Academe Must Confront its Racist Past, Chronicle of Higher Education).


Even for the most well-intentioned and educated among us, unconscious bias is a reality that impacts our everyday interactions. Furthermore, our work is carried out within larger systems such as offices, institutions, communities, etc, that contribute to our perceptions of how things “should” be done. As global educators, what steps are we taking to critically examine our own perceptions and perspectives to identify areas of bias? How might the campus climate shift if our office made this is a priority? How is institutional and systemic bias addressed honestly and openly in our work (see #1)?


4) Acknowledge the Present


Many marginalized young people, including students of color, have developed their own support networks as a means of thriving on-campus despite our institutional failings. As global educators, understanding the specific experiences and concerns of these students will lay the groundwork for developing more inclusive support structures. In his recent piece Black Lives Matter Abroad, Dr. Aaron Bruce provides insight on his experience working with African American male students in global education. Among other recommendations, Dr. Bruce encourages Education Abroad Offices to hire more black males and incorporate a cohort model that maintains a student’s support network when developing new international programs. How are we educating ourselves to understand the unique concerns for all student groups, such as LGBTQI+ identifying students and DACA-mented students, to name only a few? How might the present political climate, national discourse, and other factors impact these students within the context of our global education outreach and programming options?


5) Develop a Vision for the Future


In our efforts to move beyond the status quo, let’s consider the future of global education as more historically underrepresented student groups increasingly choose to participate in global opportunities. Thoughtfully designed international experiences provide unique spaces to encourage cross-cultural understanding. Similar to college admission discussions, however, that challenge the notion that a more diverse student body will automatically result in increased intercultural learning (see Admissions is Just Part of the Diversity Puzzle, Chronicle of Higher Education), it is incumbent upon global educators to reimagine an off-campus learning environment that would support mutual understanding and collaboration among diverse learners. What conversations can we incorporate into pre-departure discussions with students that would encourage learning and cooperation among diverse cohorts? How can these conversations continue upon return to campus? How are we preparing faculty to facilitate positive group dynamics and collaborative learning within the cohort? What best practices already exist as models for inclusive program design?

 

Global educators can implement meaningful change on our campuses to promote a positive climate for all students. While the five principles mentioned above only scratch the surface, a systemic approach is required if we truly want to move beyond the rhetoric.

 

Tags:  diversity  education abroad  global education  inclusion  systemic change 

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Diversity Network Member Highlight: University at Albany - SUNY

Posted By Administration, Monday, September 12, 2016

Institution name

University at Albany, SUNY

 

Location

Albany, NY

 

Institutional Profile

Large (over 15,000) 


Why did your institution join the Diversity Abroad Network?

Initially we became members when SUNY Global became a member covering the whole SUNY System. After a few events were held in New York and we attended the inaugural conference, we quickly realized that the Diversity Network was something we wanted to remain part of. We particular value the way the Diversity Network has facilitated cooperation between campus stakeholders who are usually not involved in education abroad, such as Multicultural Affairs, Financial Aid, and Student Affairs. 

 

How long has your organization/institution been a member? 

4 years

 

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

The conference, the publications, and most recently the webinars have assisted in training new staff. 

 

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

The many ideas and strategies we've picked up from conferences, webinars, and just talking with Diversity Abroad Network staff has offered more tools to better recruit students and has also heightened the interest and excitement of staff in undertaking this challenge. 

 

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

We are working closely with our Freshman Experience program to prepare students for education abroad and also offering unique alternate spring break and winter sessions education abroad programs for underclassmen, especially freshmen.  

Tags:  diversity  inclusion  members 

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