Confronting Systemic Racism As International Educators
Monday, June 1, 2020
To the Diversity Abroad Community:
We are a diverse and global community that promotes the value of connecting different people across borders, virtual or physical, so that they can thrive as individuals and promote a more equitable and just world. However, we have once again been reminded how unjust our society can be. The past 12 weeks have without question lay bare the unceasing inequities Black Americans face from inadequate healthcare and economic insecurity to lack of educational opportunity and unfair policing. While the horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor - to name a few - have rightfully angered so many of us and have been the catalyst that unleashed a series of protests in the U.S. and around the world, the intensity of the response is not only because of their deaths but also the ongoing systemic racism that Black Americans and other Americans of color face.
Broadly speaking, conversations of systemic racism have not been considered a traditional aspect of the dialogue within the field of international education, however it is very much connected with our work. First, the ongoing racial trauma that particularly Black Americans but also other Americans of color face directly impacts the students we pledge to support, our colleagues of color and their families. Many students and professionals of color may not openly express the frustration, anger, fear, and exhaustion they feel but do not be mistaken, it is there. We cannot truly support the success of our students or colleagues of color without identifying and addressing how systemic racism impacts our field. Secondly, systemic racism is not limited to the United States, it is a global reality. It influences how our countries as a whole and the communities of color within our countries are viewed by international students and their families. It also impacts how students, staff, and faculty of color are treated in different parts of the world as they engage in study, intern and research abroad or other global programs. As international educators, for us to live up to the values we espouse, it’s critical to recognize and address how systemic racism impacts each aspect of our field from education abroad and international student and scholar services to global learning at home and the cultures of our workplaces.
How does the field of international education address systemic racism and its effect on the ability for professionals and students of color to thrive in our interconnected world? In higher education and in the field of international education we extol the virtues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We read well-crafted diversity statements from institutions and organizations. We promote carefully developed diversity scholarship programs and we infuse inclusive language and images in our marketing materials. These are all good practices, practices Diversity Abroad celebrates. However, neither diversity statements, scholarships, nor inclusive marketing materials in and of themselves are sufficient to address the systemic racism that creates barriers to our students and colleagues truly being able to thrive. To address this, we must examine what our individual role is in uprooting systemic racism in our work and assess the systems and structures that guide the field of international education that, if left unchecked, will contribute to the effects of systemic racism.
As individual professionals we have the opportunity to ensure our work is breaking down systemic racism and structures of inequity versus perpetuating them. From CEOs of provider organizations and Senior International Officers to education abroad advisors and faculty, each one of us can examine ourselves by asking questions such as:
Have I ignored systemic racism because I don't see how it directly impacts me?
Am I willing to listen and not be defensive about how racism impacts my students and colleagues?
Do I at times invalidate or diminish the lived experiences of students or professionals of color because they don’t align with my worldview?
Do I work to support the advancement of Black and professionals of color in our field?
These questions and the answers to them are personal but important as we examine our roles as individual international educators in addressing the role of systemic racism in our field.
COVID-19 has disrupted our field and we are at the dawn of reimagining how the field of international education and cultural exchange operates. That said, our goals have not changed. We still aim to support the success of all students through global education and we strive to be a sector that helps professionals of all backgrounds thrive. Thus, as we re-envision our field we must do so through an equitable lens if we are to root out the systems and structures that would otherwise prevent our colleagues and students of color from fully benefiting from the educational and professional opportunities available through our work. This will take intentional and ongoing assessments of everything we do, from educational programming and advising to staff development and building internal cultures of belonging. Taking an operational approach to addressing systemic racism fosters accountability and positions us to build the practices and policies within our offices and organizations that promote equitable access to the benefits of global education for our students of color. It also positions us to ensure our field is one where our colleagues of color can thrive in their careers.
For 14 years Diversity Abroad has been at the forefront of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of international education and cultural exchange because we truly believe in the power of global education and its ability to prepare students to thrive in our interconnected world. Our community is diverse. We consist of collaborative, caring, and thoughtful professionals from all over the world. We remain steadfastly committed to rooting out inequities to ensure the field of international education - and higher education as a whole - and our work supports the success of Black and students and professionals of color as well as those from other marginalized backgrounds. There isn't a panacea for the challenges we face with systemic racism and its impact on our field. However, by critically examining ourselves and the systems and structures that guide our field we position ourselves and our field to be part of the solution to uprooting the effects of systemic racism. As we do this Diversity Abroad will continue to lead our field toward its highest ideals through equity and inclusion and be a space for learning, growth, mutual accountability, and community.
Keep yourselves safe and well.
Founder & CEO