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Inclusive Language in the field of International Education

Posted By Trixie Cordova, Monday, December 1, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2016

As the Student Outreach Coordinator at Diversity Abroad, my primary role in our organization is to travel to colleges and universities throughout the country promoting study abroad for students of varied backgrounds. Whether I’m speaking in front of a group of first-generation college students, or tabling at a large-scale study abroad fair, I answer questions on everything from finding the right program, to identifying relevant scholarships. Students approach me with concerns while at various stages of the study abroad research process, and when all is said and done, I invite them to sign-up for our listserv to stay in touch and receive more information.

In most cases, completing the form happens seamlessly. For the majority of students filling out this form, they circle their responses and move onto the following questions without a second thought. However, on a few occasions, I’ve gotten some pushback for two self-identifying questions. When we ask students about their gender and ethnicity, they are asked to choose from one of the following choices:

Gender: Male / Female
Ethnicity: Asian / Black / Latino / Multi-racial / Middle Eastern / Native American / White / Other

I’ve gotten feedback from students such as:
“So, are these our only options?”
“Do you guys write these forms yourselves?”
“Can I write-in how I prefer to identify myself?”

While only a handful of students expressed concern over these choices, it left enough of an impression on me that I felt it was necessary to re-examine the questions we ask, and how we opt to phrase them. At Diversity Abroad, our work in the field of International Education is ultimately a mission of inclusiveness. By only providing a limited number of choices, are we failing to practice what we preach by limiting the ways in which we allow students to identify themselves?

On the one hand, it is both valuable and necessary to streamline the information we collect in order to identify trends in study abroad. The ability to produce clear statements about the percentage of Latino students studying in Europe, health majors interested in internships, or male students worried about financing their trips allows us to improve our outreach efforts. We can only identify which groups lack representation in the field if we collect clear and accurate information.

On the other hand, it is extremely important to support college students as they build their own identities, especially given our understanding about how transformative living abroad can be. Students are growing and changing through their experiences in college and abroad, so who are we to ask them to narrowly define who they are?

I will admit that the quantitative researcher in me understands the push for narrowing the choices that students can make. The argument that this form isn’t intended to reduce student populations to one common denominator stands true, although the pushback from students will continue to happen unless more options become available.

So where do we go from here?

In trying to provide some recommendations, I found a resource titled, “How you can make the gender question on an application form more inclusive1?” which provides concrete alternatives on how to pose questions -- specifically concerning gender. One common thread among all alternatives, was that the question begins with the statement, “I identify my gender as _____________”. This prompt allows students to choose from a variety of responses (i.e. male, female, trans*, etc.) as with other traditional questions – albeit with a broader range to choose from.

When it comes to identifying one's ethnicity, the challenge in creating enough alternative options on a form seems impractical and unrealistic. While both gender and ethnic identity can be politically and socially charged, the history of race relations in the United States makes it impossible to develop singular terms intended to identify large groups of people. According to this article on the U.S. Census finds2, Americans are increasingly declining to identify themselves according to the limited categories listed. Similarly, this New York Times Op-Ed points out3 that the changing “face” of America into a nation of cultural and ethnic hybrids is impossible to capture accurately and effectively.

As young adults continue to examine their identity throughout the college experience - both on-campus and while abroad - I believe it is important for educators to actively support this personal growth by engaging students in meaningful conversations and creating spaces where students can express who they are on their own terms. Giving students the option to write-in how they identify, in addition to choosing a category that allows us to collect data would be an ideal compromise. Providing this space “begins the action as a form of empowerment, instead of other options that often take the power to decide away from the individual answering the question.”

While each institution and organization will ultimately determine what is most practical based on what information they collect and why, the conversation regarding self-identity is one that continues to evolve. It is our responsibility as educators to recognize this expansion, and to regularly question ourselves and our practices to meet the needs of a growing and changing population.



Tags:  Education Abroad Diversity  identity  inclusion  language 

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Having the Right Skills

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

International education is increasingly becoming the primary means by which societies will bridge the cultural and linguistic divides not only in the United States, but globally. With the challenges shared by societies being global and interdisciplinary in nature, and so too are the solutions.  The world demands a competent workforce able to integrate, and thrive in different societies through experience.  To achieve this demand, professionals in education must overcome the issue of lacking awareness of an international education in every class room and campus. Lack of knowledge in the opportunities to learn about and experience other cultures stifles the abilities of this generation to embrace the world of tomorrow.

On May 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary-General Angel Gurría stated that skills have become the global currency of the 21st century. Without proper investment in skills, people languish in the margins of society where technological progress does not translate to economic growth, and the countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. A globally influenced education allows students to cultivate and harness a unique set of skills to compete globally.  It calls on educators to uphold the highest educational standard, challenging growing leaders by instilling best practices of disciplined learning, consistency in excellence and appreciation for the diversity we all embrace.

This is no easy task. What should all U.S. students be expected to know and understand about the world? What skills and attributes will students need to confront future problems, which will be global in scope? What do scholars from international relations disciplines and experienced practitioners of global education believe students should know and how can these insights be best incorporated into existing standards? For those who have studied abroad or had any resident international experience, how can those lessons learned and experience be harnessed and reinforced as students return to their respective home, professional and professional communities?  The solution includes but by any means is not limited to duties of professionals in education across disciplines to:

  • Increasing capacities of schools and colleges by improving access to high-quality international educational experiences by integrate internationally focused courses within the current learning curriculum.
  • Increasing the number and diversity of students who study and intern abroad and encouraging students and institutions to choose nontraditional study-abroad locations.
  • Help under-represented U.S. institutions offer and promote study-abroad opportunities for their students
  • Actively promote study abroad and encourage students, teachers, and citizens at all levels to study within the U.S. and vise a versa

We must be aware of the opportunities in order to take advantage and utilize them to maximum capacity by introducing international relations, languages and cultural studies to the classroom and reinforcing that teaching with firsthand experience through study, volunteering and teaching abroad.  Enhancing the abilities and skillsets of a generation of individuals to dispel preconceived notions about any culture and society, effectively communicate and appreciate diversity moves this generation closer to tackling global challenges. 

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Zubida Bahkeit for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  Diversity  education abroad  global education  inclusion  International Exchange  language  professional skills  research  underrepresented students 

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Keys to Success as an International Student in the United States

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been a longtime advocate of international student exchange, a proponent of international student–friendly visa policies, and has made a push to emphasize the importance of diversity within America’s higher education institutions. But with rising homeland security tensions following September 11th, it has been increasingly more difficult for international students to pursue an education in this country. Not only are there external obstacles inhibiting the success of foreign students in our universities, there are also internal challenges that inherently impede these students as they attempt to assimilate to the North American culture of education. 

Just as American students face adversity when traveling and studying in foreign countries, there are many difficulties that must be overcome by international students in the United States. The language barrier may be the most intimidating and difficult to conquer, but basic communication skills that many American students take for granted can be a cause for concern, and it is imperative that international students learn to vanquish these barriers in order to be successful.

In one case, a twenty-five-year old graduate student who has the English skills of an eighteen-year-old freshman may feel downtrodden by his inability to communicate with American students at the level that he would in his own country. Although it may be frustratingly difficult to make friends, persistence is the key to success. The more that international students can teach Americans about their own culture, American students, in turn, will be more open and willing to exchange the same.

International students are sometimes less likely to ask for help when in need, and tend to be more reserved or modest due to the communication divide. In most American universities, assistance and academic guidance are available, but a student that is unfamiliar with the accessibility of these resources may not be able to capitalize. 

Other subtle nuances such as the way in which Americans say hello can be alienating to some foreign students. Simply asking, “How are you doing?” to a stranger is unorthodox in some East Asian cultures for example. The sooner an international student can master the basic etiquette of day-to-day interaction, the easier it will be for that student to feel comfortable and blossom in the American higher education system.

Most students, after being away from home for a long time, can begin to feel homesick. However, activities and on-campus exposure to other students will aid by increasing morale and self confidence, and will eventually lead to the international student finding his or her own niche in the student population.

Integration, assimilation, self-pride, and a general sense of belonging on campus can be the most beneficial ways to succeed as an international student. As globalization and diversification are key to growing a strong and stable economy, it is imperative that our universities continue to empower international students to succeed alongside their American counterparts.

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Riley Sklar for sharing his thoughts on the challenges facing international students in the US.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members(at)diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  culture shock  International Students  language 

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Language Matters

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Over the last several years, the discourse about the availability of language proficient professionals in the U.S. workforce has expanded beyond the international education community. Congressional members, heads of multinational corporations, and foreign policy experts have joined the dialogue giving a sense of urgency to a matter that has traditionally been viewed as an education issue, not a question of foreign policy. Where the conversation was once defined in terms of student learning and cultural competence, we now hear about language acquisition as an issue of national security and U.S. economic competitiveness. The challenge, though, has not necessarily been about getting the public to buy into the idea that these issues are important (“seventy-five percent of Americans believe all students should know a second language”). One of the most immediate issues in increasing the availability of language training opportunities is turning rhetoric into policy and providing funding to support those policies.

The Council on Foreign Relations recent Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 24 and their March 2012 report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security state the need for making these issues top priority on the U.S. policy agenda. They also offer a host of recommendations for how to implement reforms needed to train young people in less-commonly taught languages and issues of global importance. Funding for any reform, however, will rely heavily on congressional action in favor of internationally focused programming. Unfortunately, the most recent cuts to Title VI programs within the Department of Education demonstrate how steep the climb will be to get federal funding to support existing language programs let alone funding for new initiatives.

Creating a space for multiple stakeholders to strategize how to change the landscape of language education will be important. Generating the momentum that presses Congress to act will, however, be the only way to ensure there is a long-term commitment to making these opportunities available across the U.S. 

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Lily Lopez for sharing her thoughts on language education.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  career  language  professional skills 

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