This blog was written for Diversity Abroad, as part of the Diversity Abroad Task Force on Race & Ethnicity (2016). Here I provide an overview of some of the issues that students of color face when they are abroad and somethings that we can do to prepare and address these issues.
Introduction to Race Matters in Education Abroad Blog Series
Over the past year in particular, colleges around the country have grappled with how to respond and address student protests and concerns about police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and racial tensions that exist on their campuses. Some observers have called attention to a root issue related to the unrest: the fact that many university communities do not know how to constructively talk about racial differences and inequalities that affect their students. Of course, this absence of effective dialogue and hesitancy to engage and be honest about the continued role of racial privilege and disadvantage is not unique to higher education. In the U.S. we struggle with talking about race and this uncomfortable reality affects everyone, regardless of background. People in privileged racial positions (such as Whites) tend to either deny that race still matters and shy away from engaging on the topic, or feel guilty and defensive about their own privilege, leading to a paralysis that prevents any truly productive action. As a result, marginalized races are often denied recognition of their continued experiences of microaggressions as well as very real discrimination that still exists. Additionally, minorities are frequently told that race “does not matter”. This approach denies an integral part of people’s identities and the human experience and prevents any progress towards significant social change. However, despite these difficulties, we believe that college campuses are the perfect place to start building effective and transformative conversations about race because of their stated commitments to diversity and inclusiveness.
So what does this have to do with study abroad? Our Race and Ethnicity Task Force has been charged with composing a series of articles over the next year related to support for racially and ethnically diverse students. When we came together this fall the racial tensions on our university campuses were very much on our minds. We have been discussing how the same lack of dialogue and unpreparedness in handling racial differences is likewise present in many education abroad offices and programs. While we as a field are making incremental changes, and organizations like Diversity Abroad have brought us together and advanced much of the conversations around diversity, much work remains. In the upcoming year, our Task Force will be writing about the various dynamics that prevent us, as a study abroad field and as professionals, from authentically discussing and addressing the role of race and ethnicity in study abroad programming and student and staff experiences.
We begin our four part blog series by discussing the first dynamic of colorblindness, a mindset that we view as detrimental to advancing conversations about race and the related support that we can provide to racially and ethnically diverse students.