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#Studyabroadsoblack has been successful – now we must #StudyAbroadStrong

The field of international education has been flipped on its head due to the coronavirus pandemic. Uncertainty about all matters global vibrates viciously throughout every institution of higher education as well as the study abroad provider organisations that serve and support them.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

"I am witnessing the layoffs of respected and cherished colleagues at an unsettling rate"

From my perspective at Howard University, a Historically Black University (HBCU) where 100% of the students I serve check the box as being “underrepresented” in study abroad, I am concerned about the continuation of work related to equity and access in the field of international education.

“I am concerned about the continuation of work related to equity and access”

I am concerned it will be overlooked or placed on the “back burner” as the field works to rebuild itself.

The #studyabroadsoblack movement has been successful at ensuring that students of color see themselves in the world and I hope that PWIs [predominantly white institutions] and MSIs [minority serving instiutions] will remain fully supported on initiatives that draw power from an unwavering commitment to diversity by study abroad partners, even in times of restructuring.

From my corner of the world, I am witnessing the layoffs of respected and cherished colleagues at an unsettling rate.

Of the eight most utilised study abroad providers that partner with my institution, 50% of them have laid off valued staff members who helped diversify their organisation and/or held the responsibility of doing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) related work full-time.

As these partner organisations continue to fight to stay afloat as summer programs are cancelled, refunds are issued and the question of whether fall study abroad will run remains unanswered, I cannot help but question whether the financial aid resources that the majority of my students qualify for and utilise will be the next vital resource to be cut back.

I am also greatly concerned that the talented professionals of diverse backgrounds who were recently laid off will be forced to pursue work outside of international education, thus leading to a significant loss in experienced professionals, especially those who may have been already far underrepresented.

We (yes, you too!) as a field, must collectively agree that organisational re-development post Covid-19 will only be successful if DEI practices remain central and not ancillary to the work.

Having representation of underrepresented professionals at all levels can no longer be an “optional” component of a study abroad organisation’s business model – nor can underrepresented students be seen as a way to check the “diversity box” within the context of the study abroad cohort.

Our field has a HUGE opportunity to do exciting and innovative work now due to the increased use of technology and the reality that providers’ search for sustainability should now require an heightened marketing approach to “new” and under-tapped markets, aka non-white students.

Institutions must lead with their values at board meetings and in working groups

To this end, MSIs, HBCUs and the PWIs that are committed to diversity and inclusion and the wellbeing of underrepresented students on their campuses must exercise their voices, share their scary big ideas and lead with their values at board meetings and in working groups.

These are the spaces in which we can ensure that the re-development of our field is more inclusive of diverse peoples’ participation and perspectives than ever before.

At this point, we are entering a new social era in which all that we have learned from our collective experiences “navigating differences” around the world and “developing resilience through overcoming challenges” needs to leap off the pages of our resume and become visible outcomes of our collective post- Covid-19 recovery work. Now we must prove that we are #StudyAbroadStrong.

I invite the international education community to engage in conversations around the thoughts shared and others related to the future of DEI work as a community priority during this state of crisis. Sign up to be part of a future community discussion:​ #StudyAbroadStrong​.

Maraina Montgomery works to enhance the reach and scope of the field of International Education as the Assistant Director for Study Abroad at Howard University in the US. She is an active contributor to the work of NAFSA, the Forum on Education Abroad and on the Diversity and Inclusion working groups for multiple study abroad providers, as well as on the Academic Advisory Board for AIFS.

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2 Responses to #Studyabroadsoblack has been successful – now we must #StudyAbroadStrong

  1. What a wonderful piece Raina! It’s important that momentum of decades of work on diversity, inclusion and equity is not lost at this crucial time of rebuilding. Thank you for writing this piece.

  2. Timely. Thank you so much. DEI is relevant more that ever before. The work should should continue to avoid the world being caught off guard like it has been now. DEI should not be used to tick off the boxes and receive financial support but if we are to address the challenges of the world that has no boundaries now, DEI is the way to go in everything we do.

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