Reflections on “Unsettling the University” and Its Call to Responsibility 

by Dr. Sharon Stein

Last month, my book Unsettling the University: Confronting the Colonial Foundations of US Higher Education was published by Johns Hopkins University Press. The book traces how US universities were built on and continue to reproduce settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy, in material and epistemic ways. The common rituals of a book release tend to center and celebrate the individual author, which is something that makes me extremely uncomfortable in general, but especially so in the case of a book like this. I recognize the tensions of writing about the persistence of racial and colonial violence as a white settler. When I name these things as a white person, I tend to get a very different response than my Black and Indigenous colleagues, who are often silenced, ignored, or punished when they do so. When I receive negative responses, not only are they generally less intense, but my systemic advantages also buffer me from the labour and exhaustion of facing this vitriol on a daily basis. In some cases, I even receive praise for being a “champion” of justice.

As Sara Ahmed (2012) observed, those who name the problem of racism are often treated as if they themselves are the problem – especially when those doing the naming are not white. Thus, as part of our colonial debt, white settlers have a responsibility to take on much more of the labour of identifying and interrupting harmful colonial patterns as they manifest in ourselves and in our institutions. When we don’t do this work, it falls on Black and Indigenous people who are already exhausted from fighting these battles for over 500 years. White people will also need to figure out how to do this work in ways that do not centre ourselves, nor attempt to speak on behalf of Black and Indigenous people, but instead attempt to amplify their concerns, interrupt ongoing harm, and enact repair and restitution for the harm we have already caused. 

With Unsettling the University, I have tried to write a book that invites white settlers like myself to face and accept responsibility for the fact that, as Nelba Marquez-Greene famously said, “White supremacy is not the elephant in the room, it is the room.” Only if we confront our colonial past and present will we have a fighting chance for shifting our course toward futures that are not premised on colonial harm. This is a lot to ask of a book, of course, and I do not mean to overstate its potential impact or suggest that I have succeeded in this intention. In fact, I know that failure is inevitable in this kind of work. Yet we cannot allow fear of failure to immobilize us. Instead, we must learn to see it as an opportunity for further learning and unlearning, following the principles of honesty, humility, and hyper-self-reflexivity. At the same time, we must be aware of and accountable to those who pay the costs of our learning.

Confronting the colonial foundations of US higher education

What I want to do for the remainder of this piece is clarify the invitation of the book, so that those who are looking for it–like I was as a graduate student–might find it. One book cannot do everything, and this book certainly does not pretend to be a definitive account of US higher education; it is as provincial as any other. What it does do is invite readers to consider that many of the most celebrated moments of higher education history were not only accompanied by but were actually enabled through racial, colonial, and ecological violence. Specifically, it focuses on three moments: 1) the founding of the original “colonial colleges,” 2) the Morrill Act of 1862 that founded “land grant” universities, and 3) the so-called “Golden Age” following WWII.

Despite its focus on the past, the book emphasizes that these violences are not just historical or mere “traces” of the past that will inevitably recede with time; they are stubborn and enduring, constantly shapeshifting into new formations in response to changing contexts and resistance to these violences. These violences continue to structure and subsidize everyday life in US higher education institutions. This is true even in an era of growing commitments to “equity, diversity, and inclusion” (EDI), especially given that EDI initiatives often mask the underlying continuity of inequity and oppression, a phenomenon known as “equity-washing.”

It’s important to note that while this book is grounded in decolonial critiques, it is not a book about “decolonizing” higher education. I do not know if it is possible to decolonize existing universities, which would require them to paradoxically “right the wrongs that brought them into being” (Belcourt, 2018). In any case, we are a long way away from this. White settlers continue to overestimate our preparedness to address racism and colonialism, and underestimate the magnitude and complexity of the work that needs to be done. We still haven’t learned to sit with the truth about our individual and institutional complicity in systemic, historical, and ongoing harm. We might listen, we might nod, and we might even take a few steps to address what we have heard. Ultimately, however, for many white people, there is a strong enduring investment in the continuity of colonial business-as-usual – specifically, an investment in the promises that we are entitled to moral and epistemic authority, to unrestricted autonomy, and to serve as arbiters of universal justice and common sense (Machado de Oliveira, 2021). In other words, white settlers maintain an indulgent and harmful fantasy that we can transcend colonialism without giving anything up (Jefferess, 2012).

Although the focus of the book is on higher education “at home,” the implications exceed national borders and have significant relevance for contemporary forms of internationalization. Indeed, white supremacy and coloniality are global phenomena (Shahjahan & Edwards, 2022), although they manifest differently depending on the particular context. True to their colonial roots, US universities are increasingly looking abroad for new sites of expansion, extraction, and exploitation. 

Recently, I learned that Vanderbilt University is collaborating with American University in Baghdad to create a US-style College of Education on the palace grounds of Saddam Hussein. In a press release, Vanderbilt stated, “Through the partnership with AUIB, Peabody College hopes to contribute to rebuilding the education system in Iraq. Conflicts and severe teacher and school shortages, compounded by the difficulties from COVID-19, have reduced the amount of time that Iraqi children spend in school to just four years by the time they reach age 18. Iraqi educators are in urgent need of training and support to promote student engagement, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and community building.” The layers of coloniality here are many–from the vague and euphemistic description of the US invasion and occupation and their long aftermath as “conflicts,” to the paternalistic imposition of US-style education in another nation being framed as a form of benevolent aid. 

This example illustrates that whiteness and coloniality continue to live and thrive in US higher education not only “at home”, but also in our operations abroad. And these local and global colonialisms are entangled. As Jodi Byrd (2011) has observed, “The continued colonization of American Indian nations, peoples, and lands provides the United States the economic and material resources needed to cast its imperialist gaze globally” (p. 58).

Developing stamina for the long haul

By tracing the origins and endurance of racism, colonialism, and imperialism at US colleges and universities, the book also reminds people that things can always be otherwise. But this is not guaranteed, and it won’t be easy or painless to get there. Hence, apart from examining the past, the book also invites fellow white settlers in the university – students, staff, and faculty – to accept our responsibilities in the present, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. This is not the usual work of “fixing” things with simple, feel-good solutions; the layers of coloniality in higher education are entrenched, complex, and multi-layered and therefore, largely immune to these kinds of solutions. Rather, it is the life-long work of learning to identify and interrupt the violence of colonial domination within and around us, especially when this is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and challenges our benevolent self-images, and our investments in progress and the continuity of existing systems and privileges. 

For white settlers, just confronting the truth about our institutions and ourselves is difficult, and that is only the first, baby step in a lengthy, complex, non-linear process of repairing harm, including through restitution for stolen lives, lands, and livelihoods. Thus, we will need to develop stamina and endurance for the long-haul, while continuing to ask: What is the next, small, most responsible thing I can do in my own context to reduce harm?

The book also invites US colleges and universities themselves to go beyond the pattern of tokenistic apologies and conditional forms of inclusion toward deeper institutional commitments to material restitution and relational repair, including reparations for the descendants of peoples enslaved by universities (Garibay, Mathis, & West, 2022), the rematriation of the Indigenous lands that universities occupy (Ambo & Beardall, 2022), and appropriate forms of redress for imperial educational entanglements abroad (Chatterjee & Maira, 2014). Indeed, more critically engaged students, as well as social movements, are demanding this. However, because it is such a significant deviation from the habits and infrastructures in which we and our institutions currently operate, we cannot know in advance exactly what the work of reparation, rematriation, and redress might look like, and where it might lead. For this reason, the book cannot offer the certainty and solutions many people crave in this kind of work.  

Some people, especially white people, will weaponize this uncertainty as an excuse not to do the work at all. But for those who decide to read the book, I will close with one final invitation. As you read, try to notice your own intellectual and affective responses, in particular any thoughts or feelings of perceived entitlements that emerge, such as entitlements to comfort, certainty, control, security, and self-affirmation. Then consider: Where are these responses coming from? Where are these responses leading to? What possibilities are being foreclosed by these responses (and do I even know what these possibilities are)? What am I learning about myself, and the colonial habits of being I still need to unlearn, by observing these responses? 

Given the extent to which colonialism has colonized our imaginations, it may be that more responsible higher education futures are unimaginable from where we currently stand, and can only become possible once we have given up the search for universal answers and guaranteed outcomes. There are no guarantees with this approach, either. But I think we owe it to each other to try. 

You can read the introduction and Chapter 1 of the book for free here.

About the author

Sharon Stein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia, and a Visiting Professor with the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation at Nelson Mandela University. She is the founder of the CIS Network and a founding member of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. Her latest work is focused on confronting colonialism in various fields of study and practice, and catalyzing critically-engaged approaches to climate education.

Works Cited

Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke University Press.

Ambo, T., & Rocha Beardall, T. (2022). Performance or progress? The physical and rhetorical removal of Indigenous peoples in settler land acknowledgments at land-grab universities. American Educational Research Journal. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312221141981

Belcourt, B. (2018). Material for worldbuilding. Articulation Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.articulationmagazine.com/material-for-worldbuilding/

Byrd, J. A. (2011). The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. University of Minnesota Press.

Chatterjee, P., & Maira, S. (Eds.). (2014). The imperial university: Academic repression and scholarly dissent. University of Minnesota Press.

Garibay, J. C., Mathis, C. L., & West, C. P. (2022). Black student views on higher education reparations at a university with an enslavement history. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1-22.

Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. (2021). The gifts of failure. https://decolonialfutures.net/portfolio/the-gifts-of-failure/

Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective (2019). Why I can’t hold space for you anymore. https://decolonialfutures.net/portfolio/why-i-cant-hold-space-for-you-anymore/

Jefferess, D. (2012). The “Me to We” social enterprise: Global education as lifestyle brand. Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, 6(1), 18-30.

Machado de Olivera, V. (2021). Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism. North Atlantic Books.

Shahjahan, R. A., & Edwards, K. T. (2022). Whiteness as futurity and globalization of higher education. Higher Education, 83(4), 747-764.

The Hidden Curriculum and Internationalization in EFL: A Call for Heightened Criticality

by Dr. Charles Allen Brown

The notion that English as a foreign language (EFL) education is instrumental in fostering internationalization and intercultural competencies is widespread. Governments around the world often make such claims. For example, the Taiwan Ministry of Education touts the value of English in helping Taiwanese people to become “global citizens” (Republic of China Ministry of Education, 2022). Such a stance has great intuitive appeal: Those acquiring English ability certainly are poised to expand chances to interact with others outside their own sphere. Ironically, though, ample research reveals how the hidden curriculum within EFL materials can favor powerful social groups, actually hobbling just internationalization. In light of the likelihood of such a hidden curriculum in EFL materials coupled with the power of EFL overall, I argue that habitual criticality is needed to cogently trouble EFL materials. 

The hidden curriculum is defined as unintended information conveyed via educational practices and reflecting the biases of those who create them. EFL is susceptible to containing a hidden curriculum in the depictions of social groups because including social group information in EFL materials is difficult to avoid. Materials may be designed to inform students about world locales and those inhabiting them. Visual illustrations of people are often included simply to enliven lessons. Even dialogs intended to serve as models of spoken language often include oblique information about those speaking. This sets the stage for relations of social power to come to the fore. For example, in my own research, an analysis of the names used for dialog characters in EFL materials from Japan reflected a strong bias toward stereotypical “Anglo” names such as Mary and John, while other ethnic groups were rendered invisible. One notable example was that the name Muhammad was virtually missing, despite the popularity of the name not only around the world but within the traditional English-speaking societies as well. In the U.K., for example, Muhammad is now likely the top male baby name. Such biases are even the more troubling when juxtaposed against the explicit claim of the Japanese government that a rationale for English study is internationalization and intercultural awareness. 

One of the most thoroughly discussed forms of bias in English materials among scholars is the dominant position afforded to the traditional English-speaking societies, or what sociolinguist Braj Kachru referred to as the “Inner Circle” of English (Kachru, 2005). EFL materials typically focus on these countries and their inhabitants in a lingering outgrowth of the colonial legacy of English. This bolsters the power of these locales and sends the message that these places and the people within them represent the rightful “owners” of the language. To the uninitiated, focusing on the Inner Circle and the English spoken there might seem appropriate. Yet most speakers of English neither hail from these contexts nor speak these varieties of English. The undue focus upon them cements the learner’s position as eternal aspirant to full English competency rather than fostering the feeling that they too can make the language their own. Overall, beyond the Inner Circle (and Global North) focus, research into the hidden curriculum in EFL materials indicates that they convey the idea that the people who count are Anglo, young, well-to-do, urban, able-bodied, hetero, light-skinned, Christian (e.g., Baleghizadeh & Motahed, 2010; Brown, 2021; Paiz, 2015).

This is not to suggest that such problematic social group depictions necessarily represent an intentional agenda on the part of materials creators. Instead, the phenomenon seems to be due to a combination of implicit beliefs of materials creators who inhabit the same socio-cultural milieu as other actors, the push to appropriate materials to use in language learning from the mainstream media ecosystem in the name of language “authenticity,” content currency, and learner appeal, and the broader “mediatization” of social life so as to make commercial materials marketable. Intended or not, there is ample evidence for the impact of problematic social group representation upon learners. First of all, English education is powerful and ubiquitous; it is a required subject of study around the world. Also, great trust is placed in English education. English courses are typically perceived to represent neutral sources of language skills immune to politics and ideology. Finally, media studies amply document the role of media as a powerful socialization force, especially among the young. Witness the deleterious impact of illustrations of people in the media upon perceptions of desirable body image and the accompanying incidents of eating disorders, some fatal (not to mention the popularity of practices such as cosmetic surgery and the use of skin whitening products). Yet mainstream media images of people are routinely appropriate by EFL teachers to decorate their own worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials.

I see much of the social group content associated with EFL as confirmatory rather than transformative: It reinscribes students’ preconceptions rather than disrupting them as education should. EFL students often do associate names like John or Mary with English speakers, Australia or Canada as locales from which “real” English speakers hail, and Christmas as universally celebrated among them. While it may be understandable that commercial educational materials must pander to the consumer by refraining from challenging stereotypes, government-sponsored and typically mandated education cannot be excused. This is especially true when the entities responsible make such robust claims about EFL as a force for intercultural empowerment, and for education overall as a public good. This is particularly ironic in light of the claim among many policymakers that one overarching curricular goal is the promotion of “critical thinking” among students. 

Troubling the hidden social curriculum of English language teaching should be one integral dimension of the broader critical stance toward internationalization. The challenge is difficult, though. The issue of undue focus on the Inner Circle has been a topic in English teaching scholarship for decades now. The other issues I have mentioned have long been within the purview of critical media analysis as well. Yet, little attention is paid to them in ground-level English teaching practice. In a recent project in which I analyzed assessment frameworks for evaluating English teaching materials, attention to these issues was scant. Some considered the strength of textbook bindings and the quality of the paper but not potentially harmful social group depictions within the bindings and printed upon the pages (Brown, in press). Rose (2019) has spoken of the disconnect between the “ivory tower” of English education academe and ground-level practice. The issues discussed here appear to represent one more manifestation of this phenomenon. 

As it stands, then, EFL practice itself often promotes social injustice through depictions of the social world embedded in its materials. Responses could include training in critical media analysis for materials creators and teachers, sensitivity toward these issues in ELT materials assessment schemes, and instructing developmentally ready learners themselves how to engage in critical reads of ELT materials as historically and politically situated and infused texts. Troubling English education in this way seems to me to represent one important activity for those embracing the paradigm of critical internationalization.

REFERENCES

Baleghizadeh, S. & Motahed, M. (2010). An Analysis of the Ideological Content of Internationally- Developed British and American ELT Textbooks. The Journal of Teaching Language Skills (JTLS), 2(2), 1-27.

Brown, C. (2021). Symbolic annihilation of social groups as hidden curriculum in Japanese ELT materials. TESOL Quarterly, 56(2), 603-628. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.3073

Brown, C. (in press). How well do materials evaluation schemes empower users to detect problematic social group portrayals within ELT materials?: A corpus analysis. IARTEM E-Journal.

Kachru, B. (2005). Asian Englishes: Beyond the canon. Hong Kong University Press.

Paiz, J. (2015). Over the monochrome rainbow: Heteronormativity in ESL reading texts and textbooks. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 4(1), 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1075/jls.4.1.03pai

Republic of China Ministry of Education (2022, February 14). Seizing the opportunity to become global citizens—The Program on Bilingual Education for Students in College (BEST). https://english.moe.gov.tw/cp-117-28793-9052c-1.html

Rose, H. (2019). Dismantling the ivory tower in TESOL: A renewed call for teaching-informed research. TESOL Quarterly, 53(3), 895-905. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.517

About the Author

Charles Allen Brown, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange (PLaCE) Program at Purdue University. His work has included training pre-service teachers in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. His major research interests pertain to the portrayals and roles of various social groups in English language teaching in East Asia with a focus on Japan and Taiwan.

“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part III)

by Dr. Kalyani Unkule

This three-part article series aims to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa and Keating’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.” Part II outlined specific interventions that stem from positing reconciliation as in-betweenness and study abroad as building bridges back to ourselves. In the third and final part, we conclude our exploration of the links between higher education internationalisation and transitional justice by imagining international higher education as a just institution. 

Textbook definitions of globalization, to the critical mind, were always vulnerable to the circularity and idiosyncrasy of history. But today they are up against a precipitous decline in faith in the promises of modernity. Just as we were beginning to figure out how to prepare students to cope with the idiosyncrasies of the job market, educators were sent to work from home on disciplining labour for a jobless future to be available for 24/7 work in isolation (see Ovetz, 2021). As noted in Part I of this series, when reconciliation is grounded in falling apart, we deal with the root cause of regimes of exploitation rather than obsessing over polarization, which is the mere symptom. Going to the root of the problem has thus far been admirably attempted by practitioners committed to critical perspectives on internationalization who appreciate that “if individuals and institutions become increasingly interconnected, but power and resources are not redistributed and inherited patterns of relationship are not reimagined, then this may intensify existing patterns of inequality within an already uneven global higher education landscape” (Stein, 2021, p. 1773). The next step is to formulate concrete strategies and actionable proposals. 

Kanu’s (2014) paradigm of describing-informing-confronting-reconstructing – proposed in relation to hybrid postcolonial curriculum development – has the potential to trouble existing inertia within practice of study abroad and make strides towards intentionality. Describing involves articulating the principles and assumptions behind current practice, for instance, the entrenched belief that learning in/from some contexts is more valuable than that based in others. The next step, that of Informing, calls for unravelling and explaining the contradictions that emerge from articulation of current practice. For instance, the supposition that learning is unequally distributed around the world generates categories of sending and receiving regions, directly undermining any possibility of authentic exchange, which study abroad programmes expressly claim as their ambition. Informing also necessitates an avowal of forces that cause practitioners to operate in the ways that they do, inviting an examination of impacts of institutional contributing factors such as credit-completion requirements or hidden curricula and sectoral contributing factors such as accreditation, assessment, and rankings processes. Confronting, the third step, redirects practitioners to taken-for-granted social visions and instruments used to maintain constraints on what is possible. Preconceived ideas in the minds of study abroad participants about programme objectives and the nature of experience sought might be a clear manifestation of said social visions. Unexamined attributions to study abroad such as gaining of “cultural competence” or indeed mistaking homogenization for “best practice” have hampered innovation through their preponderance in practitioner parlance and ultimately starved authentic exchange. Provided they are motivated by desire for change, the three steps of Describing, Informing, and Confronting, as outlined above, lay the groundwork for reconstructing study abroad practice as the embodiment of a more just vision of International Higher Education. 

Self-reflection that acknowledges the co-existence of both marginality and privilege within us has the potential to lead us to the “uncomfortable level of self-implication” (Jones, 2010, p. 122). The attendant risk is the falling apart of the myth of innocence of international higher education as an untarnished, uncontested good. The transition from self-reflection to self-implication is key to expanding our accountability from self to others and self – a relational accountability, in other words, without which international higher education’s claims of positively contributing to the intercultural encounter are utterly unconvincing (see Jones, 2010). Stein (2021, p. 1777) has described what is called for simply as the ability to “stay with uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and equivocal authority,” yet this would require a shift away from the quest for “intellectual certainty and moral authority” (ibid) as the very aims of education. 

By diluting the intercultural engagement that may ensue to varying degrees during the course of study abroad into a matter of “skill development for employability,”      international higher education has opted for competence which is “internalization of normative rules, processes, procedures, relationships, and laws” and “completion of isolated fragmented tasks” over learning, which is “about making connections” and “presupposes critical thinking, exploration, analysis, intellectual growth, and self-awareness” (Ovetz, 2021, p. 1071). For practitioners, reflexivity can be a generative standpoint to gain fresh perspective on how systemic factors influence our subjectivities over time. It has the potential to open our eyes to the progressive standardization pervading all aspects of education, even as we hesitate to drop the façade of individualised and personalised learning (see Ovetz, 2021). For students, the flaneurship model discussed in Part II of this series makes room for refusal of standardisation, instead allowing their reflexivity to be the light that charts the course of learning. 

Even as we reimagine international higher education as a just institution, we must be mindful that excessive institutionalisation is counterproductive and risks reinforcing top-down strategies. There are inevitable limits to the transformative potential of any given paradigm/framework and the same is true for how far a thick conception of transitional justice and reconciliation can inspire a vision of international higher education grounded in justice. As Sharp (2019, p. 571) aptly stated, “The gap between ambitious critical theory ideals and incremental realities has the potential to produce an unwarranted sense of pessimism, disillusion, and failure, even as overall empirical assessments of the field suggest meaningful if modest impacts in many contexts.”  This series, I hope, will be received as encouragement to more practice-led scholarship which outlines actionable proposals for (and documents context-specific examples of) incremental steps towards the original purpose of higher education internationalisation: building bridges back to oneself via intercultural dialogue. 

References

Anzaldúa G.E. and AnaLouise Keating (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation, Routledge, New York

Jones R.G. (2010). Putting privilege into practice through “Intersectional Reflexivity”: Ruminations, Interventions, and Possibilities. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 16(1),122-125. https://reflectionsnarrativesofprofessionalhelping.org/index.php/Reflections/article/view/800

Kanu Y (Ed.). (2014). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations, University of Toronto Press 

Ovetz R. (2021). The Algorithmic University: On-Line Education, Learning Management Systems, and the Struggle over Academic Labor, Critical Sociology, 47(7-8), 1065–1084, DOI: 10.1177/0896920520948931

Sharp D.N. (2019). What Would Satisfy Us? Taking Stock of Critical Approaches to Transitional Justice, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 13(3), 570–589, https://doi.org/10.1093/ijtj/ijz018

Stein S. (2021). Critical Internationalization Studies at an Impasse: Making Space for Complexity, Uncertainty, and Complicity in a time of Global Challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 46 (9), 1771-1784, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1704722

Serving international students beyond teaching them cultural differences?

by Suhao Peng

Over the past several decades, especially since the beginning of the 21st century, universities worldwide have expanded their international reach by welcoming inbound international students and sending students abroad. I have been an international student in Swedish and Finnish tertiary institutions over the past decade. In most cases, universities offer orientation programs for international students, especially those who are newcomers, to “help” international students adapt to the “new” learning environment by teaching and informing them of cultural differences. For most of us, this practice seems natural because individual experiences abroad are usually articulated or described as challenging and intercultural/international adjustment and/or adaptation can be problematic. However, this practice has extended to the point that international students are viewed as culturally deficient in the host environment and are often treated as a homogenous and exotic population. By uncritically creating the domestic-international dichotomy, “cultural difference”, “cultural shock” and “cultural clash” fixate and reduce local Self and foreign Other into an us-them separation (Holliday et al., 2010) instead of seeing both groups of students as strangers (Mendoza et al., 2022) who are equally simple and complex, equally similar and different, experiencing both success and failures during their stay on campus. As a result, such differentialist bias misleads both international and domestic students to an obsession with how they are different from each other, rather than adopting a universal continuum of differences and similarities for a more inclusive praxis (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2006). This bias manifests in many orientation programs and guidelines that teach international students how to behave in the host environment. For example, the orientation program offered for exchange students at my university describes Finnish people and Finnish learning culture (e.g., silent, honest, individualistic, responsible for their own studies), as well as exotic Finnish traditions and customs (e.g., sauna); the student housing company allocates almost all exchange students into three locations that are furnished and provides them with a list of dos and don’ts for international students, suggesting that cultural differences are problematic and difficult.

         In line with Dervin’s (2016) idea of diverse diversities, we need to acknowledge that every individual is diverse and has multiple identities, no matter whether they are local or international. For example, like the housing company’s practices mentioned earlier, listing dos and don’ts not only imposes unitary identity in an either-or manner (i.e., local or international) that separates international students from domestic students, but also compiles simplistic stereotypes instead of encouraging all university members to take risks and explore complex human conditions and diverse interpersonal interactions. In other words, international student programming is often superficial and uncritical and represents an unsustainable way of transmitting knowledge about a new culture without focusing on the inter- (i.e., to go across) of intercultural learning, which empowers reciprocal dialogues, mutual learning, equal treatment, and introspection of self with critical reflexivity rather than acquiring information of otherness and overgeneralizing cultural differences. The transformative nature of international education and intercultural learning is not guaranteed when these programs reinforce a Self-Other distinction because the starting point for self-transformation is subjective but not universally the same among a (national) population group. It is important for international educators to rethink how to redesign programming for international students to promote authentic and meaningful intercultural learning.

References

Abdallah-Pretceille, M. (2006). Interculturalism as a paradigm for thinking about diversity. Intercultural Education, 17(5), 475–483. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675980601065764

Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in Education: A Theoretical and Methodological Toolbox. Palgrave Pivot.

Holliday, A., Hyde, M., & Kullman, J. (2010). Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book for Students (Second edition). Routledge.

Mendoza, C., Dervin, F., Yuan (袁梅), M., & Layne, H. (2022). “They Are Not Mixing With Others”: Finnish Lecturers’ Perspectives on International Students’ (Mis-)Encounters in Higher Education. ECNU Review of Education, 5(1), 89–115. https://doi.org/10.1177/2096531120976653

About the author:

Suhao Peng, M.Sc., is a doctoral student at the School of Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, Finland. His research interests include international education, critical interculturality, academic mobility. 

“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part II)

by Dr. Kalyani Unkule

Part II

This three-part article series aims to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa and Keating’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.” Part I discussed some of the challenges that reconciliation as a modality of transitional justice shares with higher education internationalization. Prominent critiques of standard practices deployed to achieve post-conflict reconciliation point to the need for embracing in-between-ness as the liminal space between discord and harmony, rather than an effort to arrive at standardized narratives in service of moving on, while leaving unexamined the dominant paradigms and systems linked to conflict. Part II will draw out specific interventions that stem from positing reconciliation as in-betweenness and study abroad as building bridges back to ourselves.

Study Abroad and Reconciliation

Over a decade’s worth of scholarship has diagnosed the lopsided growth of International Higher Education using a variety of frameworks including globalization studies, political economy, migration and mobility, cosmopolitanism, and neo-liberalism and its discontents. Yet, despite the systemic shock dealt by COVID-19, we see little evidence of this scholarship permeating state and institutional policies – an indication of the need to build that bridge between critical discourse and practice. Study Abroad remains a mainstay of the higher education internationalization portfolio and in the sections that follow, I revisit experiential learning and cultural competence – key concerns of study abroad – in light of foregoing engagement with the concept of reconciliation. 

Truth-seeking/Learning With

To adequately address the gap between nominal cultural diversity and genuine expression of cultural difference in learning spaces is to raise the question: What are the hidden curricula or tacit protocols or internalized expectations about presenting, re-presenting and suppressing embodied knowledges? Such probing invites rethinking into the role of program design in influencing student beliefs about worthy learning outcomes and may entail scrutiny of our program evaluation practices which, intentionally or not, set expectations around terms of engagement among collaborating institutions. At the heart of this inquiry is the question whether study abroad is meant for “learning about,” “learning from” or “learning with.”

The idea of two-eyed seeing (Bartlett et al., 2012) helps us reconceptualize peer-to-peer learning during study abroad. Two-eyed seeing refers not only to combining Indigenous ways of knowing with modern science but is at the same time a profound acknowledgement that both our intellectual and our spiritual nature must be invested in knowledge seeking. The instrumental conception of study abroad concerns itself solely with learning about. A more engaged view emphasizes learning from, but this ultimately risks hierarchizing worldviews. Learning with is a way of formulating study abroad that makes room for intentional peer-to-peer engagement. Unfortunately, contemporary institutional practices of organizing study abroad seldom include home students as an integral element of learning journeys of the visiting student. In addition, the deficit view of international students – especially those pursuing degree studies at western institutions – have entrenched paternalism in international educational practice.

Ways of Being/Experiential Learning, Meet Experiential Ontologies

Citing Sherene Razack, Robin DiAngelo spotlights the “knowability” of colonized peoples as an essential feature of progressive liberal attempts to contend with racism. In response, she proclaims that the need of the hour is not to teach white people about black people but “to teach White people about ourselves in relation to Black and other people of color” (DiAngelo, 2021, p. 4). In DiAngelo’s insistence on personal transformation, there is a recognition that systemic transformation often places the burden of fighting for change disproportionately on the emotional labor of the disadvantaged. The ascription of “knowability” should not be confused with a desire to understand the other in their context. Intended here is an instrumentalized knowing which seeks to turn the barbarian into a “reformed recognisable other” as Dei and Doyle-Wood (2014, p. 160) put it. This “knowing” for the sake of first denying and ultimately expunging other ways of being is the grounds on which the education by mimicry project has thrived.

Elaborating on the concept of education in pre-colonial Sierra Leone, Yatta Kanu (2014, p. 208) recalls that “because every education is for entering adulthood, […] Objective or abstract knowledge is not imparted as such because it is not believed that people first develop theoretical understanding of things and events and then apply this knowledge in making judgments and decisions; rather, the quest for understanding is conditioned and constituted by reflection upon how to act wisely in concrete situations.” The de-emphasizing of “objective” and “abstract” knowledge here is first and foremost an unmasking of the pretense of objectivity that often accompanies abstract knowledge. In study abroad, we have hastily instated “experiential learning” as the panacea, without adequate attention to the constructs and prejudices through which new experience is filtered. Here, I propose learning by flâneurship, a wandering which is “casual but not aimless” (Unkule, 2019, p. 147). A wandering which permits the novel to be novel rather than a superior/inferior version of the known, thereby freeing up the flaneur’s wanderings from the baggage of experience. The flâneurship model is the surrender of obsession with categories before an openness to content. If there is an ultimate aim for such a process, it is that of emancipation from one’s own conditioning.

In Part III of the series, we will conclude our exploration of the links between higher education internationalization and transitional justice by imagining international higher education as a just institution.

References

Anzaldúa G.E., & Keating, A. (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation. Routledge.

Bartlett C., Marshall M., & Marshall A. (2012). Two-Eyed seeing and other lessons learned within a co-learning journey of bringing together indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331–340. DOI: 10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8

Dei G.J., & Doyle-Wood, S. (2014). Is we who haffi ride di staam: Critical knowledge / multiple knowings – Possibilities, challenges, and resistance in curriculum/cultural contexts. In Y. Kanu (Ed.). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations (pp. 151-180). University of Toronto Press.

DiAngelo R. (2021). Nice racism: How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm. Penguin Books.

Kanu Y. (Ed.). (2014). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations. University of Toronto Press.

Unkule K. (2019). Internationalising the University: A Spiritual Approach. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

​​“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part I)

by Kalyani Unkule

Part I

This three-part series of articles draws on critical engagement with the concept of reconciliation and its discontents as part of the author’s on-going work via the Employing Study Abroad for Peace and Reconciliation Project (under the Commonwealth Peace and Reconciliation Challenge Grant, Association of Commonwealth Universities). Transitional justice is laden with the same vocabulary of “addressing institutional gaps” by exporting “best practice” and ultimately “building capacity” that plagues parlance in international higher education. Since these terminologies uphold a hegemonic standard expected to be emulated by all, in both fields “catch-up” for some seems always aspirational, never realized. Transitional justice scholars and practitioners, like their counterparts in international higher education, are looking for ways to nourish their fields with plurality by making room for context. Both fields, in recent memory, have initiated the process of confronting entrenched interests and the monocultures of practice that eclipsed their worthy original goals. Anzaldúa’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without” is channelled to outline an alternative paradigm of international education grounded in justice. Part I of this series surveys critiques of experiments in reconciliation conducted around the world to find that they have left continuity of hegemonic worldviews and sociability unchallenged. The aim is to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.”

Anzaldúa’s Nepantla is the dialogic space of in-betweenness between discord and harmony. At the epistemic level, in-betweenness (Nepantla) reconstitutes borderlands as the refuge of the critical gaze. In lived experience, perhaps, it is a form of resistance to semiotic foreclosure, thereby being eminently transferable to self-assessment of learning through study abroad. Nepantla inspires the quest for that stranger which resides within us, thereby problematizing facile modalities of othering. My aim here is to explore why this could be a way to attempt reconciliation beyond simply discovering relative truths. I examine the implications of reframing study abroad and international education as building bridges to that which is unknown about ourselves and our contexts, through contact with diverse situations and scenarios, as a departure from the commonly encouraged purpose of knowing about “others.”

Reframing Reconciliation as In-betweenness

Transitional justice is concerned with rebuilding of institutions in the wake of violent conflict and other major disruptions. Reconciliation or restoring trust in social relations is an important component of this process. Since “anti-colonial struggle was written out of transitional justice from its very beginning” (Kurze & Lamont, 2021, p. 158), reconciliation has chiefly been attempted as a conservative enterprise in burying the hatchet. As a result, “transitional justice scholarship operates at a positivist level, or trying to explain certain, and desired, outcomes rather than destabilizing and unsettling unequal power relations” (Kurze & Lamont, 2021, p. 155). Yet, in its thick conception, reconciliation entails opening up to other ways of being. In this sense, it has the potential to bridge the anti-oppressive and decolonial perspectives, which Stein (2021) regards as two separate strands of critical discourse on higher education internationalization.

The epistemological agenda of the anti-oppressive strand is to ensure institutions of learning emphasize equality in all areas of learning. By implication, this strand’s ontological concern is with valorising and rewarding other ways of being (see Stein 2021). The decolonial strand, at the level of knowing, problematizes ascriptions of universality to western modernity. Where knowledge creation and dissemination are concerned, the decolonial paradigm, particularly influenced by Indigenous approaches, grapples with boundary questions about how far the remit of positivist science even legitimately extends. Reconciliation is ultimately about being together but the varied experiences of attempts at achieving it surveyed here and in subsequent parts remind us of the real issue at stake: are other ways of being accounted for in reimagined futures or is reconciliation the vehicle for ossification of the hegemonic worldview?

Reconciliation at its core is about acknowledging reciprocal truths with the idea of leaving injustices behind to secure continued coexistence. On a broader level, reconciliation entails reparative justice with interventions focused either on individual or collective grievance. These interpretations of reconciliation are problematic because: a) they make reconciliation contingent upon the goodwill of the state/the dominant group/those responsible for wrongdoing and b) they ultimately contribute to strengthening existing structures via co-option of the aggrieved. Hence, reconciliation in a profound sense must be about re-establishment. Not only does this understanding fully acknowledge the indispensability of self-determination, but it also goes to the socially constituted and systemically perpetuated nature of harm. In Anzaldúa’s (2002) own words:

“Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives. (…) Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries. […] living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling.” (p. 1)

Thus, Nepantla underscored the need for a mindful approach to this intended transition.

Reconciliation, thus reframed as in-betweenness, is undertaking brick-by-brick the arduous work of building bridges back to ourselves. In earlier work (Unkule, 2018), I have reimagined study abroad as an undertaking in studying one’s own context rather than an exercise in further essentialising and particularising the other (in a bid to attain “cultural competence”), ultimately enabling us to see all beings as oneself. According to Anzaldúa (2002, p. 2), where once the struggle was about recognition of difference, “today we grapple with the recognition of commonality within the context of difference.” The idea of witnessing may be deployed to clarify the operative, tactical, and pedagogical aspects of enabling such learning and transformation through study abroad. Nagy (2020, p. 221) sees potential in the discomfort produced by survivor testimony – akin to the unsettling that in-betweenness triggers – not merely “reckoning” but beyond that for “transformation of Indigenous-settler relationships.”

Correspondingly, study abroad practice must step away from a comfort zone erected around facile associations of experiential learning with development of intercultural competence, unexamined hypotheses about diversity automatically ensuring expression of diverse viewpoints, and the conflation of training to develop a tolerant (woke) manner without fundamentally recognising the politics of knowledge creation. What the practice needs, in other words, is an epistemic and cognitive break – a falling apart – driven by the realization that learned superiority and inferiority need to be unlearned before intercultural dialogue is attempted – just as international higher education can assume a reparative stance only after divesting from systems that perpetuate extraction and exploitation as the first step.

Part two of this series will outline three possibilities for reconstituting study abroad with an emphasis on reconciliation understood as in-betweenness.


References

Anzaldúa G.E. and AnaLouise Keating (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation. Routledge.

Kurze, A., & Lamont, C. K. (2021). Breaking the Transitional Justice Machine: Exploring Spatiality, Space Travel, and Inbetween Spaces in Research Practice, Political Anthropological Research on International Social Sciences (PARISS), 2(1), 155-178. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/25903276-bja10019

Nagy R. (2020). Settler Witnessing at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Human Rights Review, 21, 219–241. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-020-00595-w

Scott C & Tuana N. (2017). Nepantla: Writing (from) In-Between, Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 31(1), 1-15. DOI: 10.5325/jspecphil.31.1.0001

Stein S. (2021) Critical internationalization studies at an impasse: making space for complexity, uncertainty, and complicity in a time of global challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 46:9, 1771-1784, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1704722

Unkule, K. (2018). Seeing All Beings as Oneself: Internationalizing Higher Education for Universal Harmony. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 30(1), 33–41. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v30i1.402

About the Author

Kalyani Unkule is Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University in India. Her research complements her practice in intercultural dialogue and impact-driven projects in higher education internationalisation and spiritual learning. She can be reached via email at kalyani.u7@gmail.com 


Decolonizing higher education in the classroom: Reflections from a graduate student

By Marisa Lally,  Doctoral Student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development

I recently guest taught a session in a Diversity of Higher Education course that focused on the decolonization of higher education as an approach to imagining the future of higher education. As an early doctoral student, this guest session was my first experience teaching master’s students in a higher education program. I used Stein et al.’s 2021 Developing Stamina for Decolonizing Higher Education: A Workbook for Non-Indigenous People as the central text of the course session. This workbook is aimed at non-Indigenous scholars and practitioners of higher education like myself and the students in the course. In this essay, I reflect upon my experience leading this class alongside the students of the course as a group of non-Indigenous educators. I hope that my reflections can serve as a resource or conversation starter for other educators who may approach the topic of decolonial approaches with students in the future. 

The Bus Within Us

One of the aims of the workbook is to support people invested in reforms toward decolonization in higher education to develop the stamina to do so. The authors acknowledge that the process of decolonization is non-linear and will require ongoing self-reflection and self-critique that may cause uncomfortable feelings. 

I myself encountered this experience during the class. A student asked me if I had posed the discussion questions that I had created for the class to any person from an Indigenous community whose land my university continues to withhold. In the moment, I felt “affectively overwhelmed” (Stein et al., 2021, p. 10) and made excuses to the class – I want to learn by reading first before asking for the labor of Indigenous people; my personal research focuses on neocolonialism rather than settler-colonialism; I am new to this learning about decolonization as an approach. I am in the wrong, but I chose this workbook for non-Indigenous people. I am wrong, but we are all complicit. Yes, but, yes, but, yes, but… 

I also began to question if I was committing harm by agreeing to guide a course session on decolonization rather than inviting an Indigenous scholar or community member to do so. Although I have begun to educate myself on the topic by reading, how long can I use this excuse before I take action? Is the students’ exposure to these ideas an action in itself? Is it, through the lens of the ‘Approaches to Reform’ offered in the workbook, no reform or minor reform to include decolonial approaches to higher education in a classroom if the Indigenous voices are only on the page and not in the room? Am I performing a “settler move to innocence” Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 9) (i.e., an action to appease my own guilt) by leading this course and by offering this reflection? These are the questions I left with when our session was over. 

The workbook offered some answers to my questions through the bus metaphor. The contributors to the project invite the readers to “become familiar with, and accept (without endorsing), all of the passengers within ourselves: ‘the good, the bad, the ugly, and the broken’” (p. 10). Not only was I able to begin the process of knowing these passengers through written reflection, but I was also able to prompt students to begin to become familiar with these passengers through the guidance of the scholars in the workbook. I was also reminded that many passengers can be on the bus at once, and I can challenge the dualistic thinking to which I am accustomed. 

Using Examples 

Another strategy for introducing approaches to decolonization beyond prompting self-reflection through the bus metaphor was to offer some examples of potentially decolonizing efforts in higher education and to ask students to reflect on the examples’ place within the “Approaches to Reform” and “Layers of Accountability” offered in Chapter 2 of the workbook. Some of the case examples included the university website of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi (a Māori institution of higher education), the mission statement of the Rhodes Must Fall student movement in South Africa, and a variety of land acknowledgments from institutions in the United States. These case study examples were especially helpful in guiding students to consider what makes decolonization a distinct and specific effort from other social justice approaches. Students specifically noted the focus on land, ecological sustainability, and the commitment to historical redress. 

In small groups, the students discussed where they thought the case may lie within approaches to reform and layers of accountability. They were also given the opportunity to discuss what the passengers of their bus (i.e., their layered affective responses) were doing as they considered these examples, as well as what such efforts would look like in their own professional contexts. The students shared feelings of overwhelm, discouragement, and optimism as we debriefed their various considerations of the case study examples. 

Concluding Thoughts 

I hope that, by offering these approaches to working with students who hope to begin careers as higher education staff, non-Indigenous educators can at the very least encourage a wider ripple of reform efforts, including greater inclusion and celebration of Indigenous perspectives, more equitable redistribution of resources, and, ultimately, begin the process of returning institutional land to Indigenous communities on a large scale. I express my endless gratitude to the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective for creating the workbook, and I encourage those who use the workbook to donate to the GoFundMe campaign listed on its first page. 

References

Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., Elwood, J., Andreotti, V., Valley, W., Amsler, S., Calhoun, B. & the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. (2021). Developing Stamina for Decolonizing Higher Education: A Workbook for Non-Indigenous People. The Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. Retrieved from: https://decolonialfutures.net/stamina-for-decolonizing-higher-education/

Tuck, E. & Yang, W. (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40. 

About the author:

Marisa Lally is a doctoral student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

Research with international students: Reflecting on critical and conceptual methodological considerations 

By Dr. Jenna Mittelmeier, Dr. Sylvie Lomer, and Dr. Kalyani Unkule

Our upcoming edited volume Research with International Students: Critical Conceptual and Methodological Considerations (published by Routledge in 2023) aims to provide comprehensive methodological guidance for researchers who include international students as participants. Our interest in developing this book stems from recognition within the Critical Internationalisation Studies Network that research with international students is a disparate subfield that operates under several problematic assumptions, which we highlight below. The book includes 27 chapters from global authors, many of whom are active within this network. In this blog, we wish to delineate why we believe this book is necessary and encourage ongoing discussion about how research on this topic can be made more ethical, critical, and equitable. 

In the last few decades, the exponential growth of international students has led to increased scholarly interest in wide-ranging factors associated with their experiences and contributions. Significant areas of interdisciplinary research now focus on international students’ academic transitions, social interactions, and intersectional lived experiences. One might argue that research about international students is a subfield of a subfield: sitting within the internationalisation branch of higher education studies. Previous systematic reviews show the ways that the wider internationalisation umbrella has expanded in focus: 2,300 articles reviewed by Kuzhabekova et al. (2015) and more than 200 articles per year highlighted by Tight (2021). Systematic reviews of internationalisation research also show that research about international students makes a significant thematic contribution which has grown substantially over time (Kosmützky & Putty, 2016; 2015; Yemini & Sagie, 2016) and continues to attract new researchers, including increasing interest from postgraduate researchers (Montgomery, 2019). However, the field remains disparate and there have been limited attempts to systematically review known evidence about supporting international students across the subfield, despite decades of research (although there have been reviews on limited subsets within this area, as we highlight on our website: e.g., Lee & Bligh, 2019; Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021; Pham et al., 2021).

Although there is significant interest in this topic, there is presently limited conceptual and methodological guidance specifically for researchers (rather than teachers) who conduct their work with and about international students. We argue that this situation means there are several issues that remain pervasive in this research area. First, research about international students has historically operated from positions of deficit (Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021), as they are often assumed to lack experiences or skills necessary for success, particularly compared to home students. International students are frequently portrayed in research as only experiencing challenges or difficulties, which fails to account for the complexity of their multidimensional experiences. For example, the subfield is rife with research that seeks to fix perceived problems with international students’ believed lack of critical thinking, language proficiency, classroom participation, or referencing knowledge. 

We argue, and we aim for our book to highlight, that such approaches fail to engage with more transformative reflections on what has been called ‘academic hospitality’ (see Ploner, 2018): the reciprocity between academic institutions as ‘hosts’ and international students as respected ‘guests’. Such approaches also fail to view international students as ‘epistemic equals’ (Hayes, 2019) whose knowledges and experiences are equally worthy of inclusion rather than erasure. In short, we argue that many of the ideological purposes for international student mobility outlined through institutional discourses – of meaningful mutual exchange and intercultural pedagogic transformation –  are not reflected in the epistemologies and conceptualisations of research on students’ experiences. 

Research with international students also routinely leaves them othered (Moosavi, 2021) or stereotyped (Heng, 2018) through assumptions that they should assimilate to the cultures and practices of their hosts. International students’ identities are often presented in limited ways, failing to engage with how their migrant student status intersects with, for example, gender, race, disability, or class to impact experiences abroad (although members of this network have made great efforts to actively work against this – see, for example, recent work by Yao & George Mwangi, 2022). Scholars have, thus, critiqued that research in this subfield does not always critically engage with issues of power, inequality, and ethics (George Mwangi et al., 2018), which are foundational for understanding students’ experiences within unequal environments. As such, we believe that there is greater need for practical suggestions and reflection points for developing more critical and intersectional approaches to research with (not just about) international students. Even the very definition of ‘international student’ (Jones, 2017) should be critically interrogated for and through our research methodologies. 

Research methodologies also frequently limit their ambition and innovation, as repetitive findings about international students fail to challenge intrinsic inequalities and epistemic injustices. The plethora of exploratory research that vaguely focuses on ‘experiences’ highlights this characteristic (Deuchar, 2022) through small-scale studies that often over-rely only on ‘semi-structured interviews’. Research with international students similarly remains under-theorised and often fails to critically define or reflect on key underpinning concepts (Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021), such as ‘experience’. As a result, much research about international students remains limited in scope, ambition, and criticality.

Given the aforementioned common limitations of research with international students, we argue that the subfield should be putting more effort into creating methodological resources which specifically address considerations for research with and about international students. The framing of our upcoming book is intended as a start to this conversation, developed to reflect burgeoning issues of critical internationalisation studies and the ways that research on this topic has often been framed problematically. However, we hope for more scope generally within the subfield for reflecting on how research methodologies align with the critical conceptual questions that are being raised about internationalisation. We ask, therefore: How can research methodologies and designs reflect the conceptual criticality we seek in research with international students? 

Research with International Students is expected to be published by Routledge in late 2023. In the meantime, the authors are continually developing free online resources to support more critical research with international students, available at: https://internationalpedagogies.home.blog/research-resources/ 

Thoughts and considerations for developing this topic further are welcomed in the comments or by email to the authors.

References

Deuchar, A. (2022). The problem with international students’ “experiences” and the promise of their practices: Reanimating research about international students in higher education. British Educational Research Journal. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3779

George Mwangi, C. A. G., Latafat, S., Hammond, S., Kommers, S., S. Thoma, H., Berger, J., & Blanco-Ramirez, G. (2018). Criticality in international higher education research: a critical discourse analysis of higher education journals. Higher Education, 76(6), 1091–1107.

Hayes, A. (2019). “We Loved It Because We Felt That We Existed There in the Classroom!”: International Students as Epistemic Equals Versus Double-Country Oppression. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(5), 554–571.

Heng, T. T. (2018). Different is not deficient: Contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 43(1), 22–36.

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of “international student experience.” Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 933–943.

Kosmützky, A., & Putty, R. (2016). Transcending Borders and Traversing Boundaries: A Systematic Review of the Literature on Transnational, Offshore, Cross-Border, and Borderless Higher Education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 20(1), 8–33.

Kuzhabekova, A., Hendel, D. D., & Chapman, D. W. (2015). Mapping Global Research on International Higher Education. Research in Higher Education, 56(8), 861–882.

Lee, K., & Bligh, B. (2019). Four narratives about online international students: a critical literature review. Distance Education, 40(2), 153–169.

Lomer, S., & Mittelmeier, J. (2021). Mapping the research on pedagogies with international students in the UK: a systematic literature review. Teaching in Higher Education, 1–21.

Montgomery, C. (2019). Surfacing “Southern” Perspectives on Student Engagement With Internationalization: Doctoral Theses as Alternative Forms of Knowledge. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(1), 123–138.

Moosavi, L. (2021). The myth of academic tolerance: the stigmatisation of East Asian students in Western higher education. Asian Ethnicity, 1–20.

Pham, H.-H., Dong, T.-K.-T., Vuong, Q.-H., Luong, D.-H., Nguyen, T.-T., Dinh, V.-H., & Ho, M.-T. (2021). A bibliometric review of research on international student mobilities in Asia with Scopus dataset between 1984 and 2019. Scientometrics, 126(6), 5201–5224.

Ploner, J. (2018). International students’ transitions to UK Higher Education – revisiting the concept and practice of academic hospitality. Journal of Research in International Education, 17(2), 164–178.

Tight, M. (2021). Globalization and internationalization as frameworks for higher education research. Research Papers in Education, 36(1), 52–74.

Yao, C. W., & George Mwangi, C. A. (2022). Yellow Peril and cash cows: the social positioning of Asian international students in the USA. Higher Education, 1–18.

Yemini, M., & Sagie, N. (2016). Research on internationalisation in higher education – exploratory analysis. Perspectives Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 20(2-3), 90–98.

About the Authors

Dr. Jenna Mittelmeier (University of Manchester, jenna.mittelmeier@manchester.ac.uk, Twitter: @JLMittelmeier)

Jenna Mittelmeier is Lecturer in International Education at the University of Manchester (UK). Her research focuses on representations of international students in higher education and the ways that curricula or pedagogies are shaped through internationalisation.

Dr. Sylvie Lomer (University of Manchester, sylvie.lomer@manchester.ac.uk, Twitter: @SE_Lomer)

Sylvie Lomer is Senior Lecturer in Policy and Practice at the University of Manchester (UK). Her research centres on policies related to international students and internationalisation, focusing on representations of international students in public policy discourse.

Dr. Kalyani Unkule (Jindal Global Law School, kunkule@jgu.edu.in)   

Kalyani Unkule is Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University in India. Her research complements her practice in intercultural dialogue and impact-driven projects in higher education internationalisation and spiritual learning.

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of International Students

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of International Students

by Minghui (Hannah) Hou, Jing Yu, and Shinji Katsumoto

In current internationalization research, international students tend to be considered a homogeneous group, overgeneralized as ‘internationals’ (Lee, 2014). The ‘international student experience’ is assumed to apply to all international students, but there are nuances in international students’ experiences (Heng, 2019). Jones (2017) notes that international student experiences are influenced by their personal, familial, and institutional backgrounds. In our first essay on this topic, we introduced different methodological approaches to studying international student diversity. In this second essay, we present some key theoretical approaches on which scholars can develop their study and methods to explore and analyze international students’ diverse experiences in U.S. higher education.

Neo-racism

Neo-racism is a framework to “explore structural racism in the context of immigration where race, culture, and nationality interact complexly to produce a hierarchy of social positions” (Cantwell & Lee, 2010, p. 497). Neo-racism is deeply rooted in systemic racism and white supremacy (Lee, 2020; Stein & de Andreotti, 2016). Lee and Rice (2007) demonstrate that neo-racism is new racism that is attributable to skin color as well as culture, national origin, and relationships between countries. In the US, international students from Asia, Latin America, and Africa are often the targets of neo-racism in the forms of verbal assaults, bullying, false accusations, and even physical violence, which international students from the Global North do not often experience (Lee, 2006). The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened neo-racism, particularly among Asian American and Asian international students (Wu et al., 2021). For example, Chinese international students suffered stigmatization related to the “Chinese Virus” or “China Virus” (Wang, 2020). 

Neo-nationalism

Neo-nationalism is defined as “a radical form of populism with specific characteristics, including protagonists leveraging the politics of fear to attach and blame perceived enemies, domestic and foreign, wrapped in the mantle of patriotism” (Douglass, 2011, p. 17). Neo-nationalism is discrimination based on one’s national identity (Lee, 2006). In the globalization era, national identity is reintroduced and reconceptualized as a form of global competition. International students have been increasingly vulnerable due to the rising neo-nationalism in Western countries (Lee & Castiello-Gutiérrez, 2019). Kiecker Royall and Dodson (2017) found a declining interest in traveling to the US due to geopolitical tensions. For example, political rhetoric in the US places Chinese citizens as ‘spies’ and ‘stealing intellectual properties’ (Lee, 2020). Chinese students and researchers often experience biases when they apply for jobs due to the growing scrutiny from the American government. International students from Mexico and the Middle East tend to encounter more harassment (Lee & Castiello-Gutiérrez, 2019). As an additional example, the US is currently considering an end to research partnerships with Russia and expelling Russian students from U.S. universities over the invasion of Ukraine (Jones, 2022). 

Critical Race Theory (CRT)

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an analytical framework originating in Critical Legal Studies in the US. Many lawyers, activists, and legal scholars perceived that although the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s has ended, the law itself is deeply unequal to racial minorities. Therefore, CRT was developed to accelerate the pace of racial reform in the US. CRT was also expanded beyond the confinement of US borders to include an international context that applies to migrant populations (Gillborn et al., 2012; Kitching, 2015; Vass, 2015).

Delgado and Stefancic (2017) offered one widely cited set of central tenets of CRT: 1) racism is ordinary and natural in the everyday experience of people of color; 2) the dominant ideology promotes interest convergence; in other words, white Americans are willing to create laws and policies that support people of color only if whites benefit as well; 3) race is not objective, inherent, or fixed, but socially constructed and manipulated within systems and institutions; 4) minorities are differentially racialized; 5) intersectionality and anti-essentialism are crucial to understanding race and racism; and 6) the voices of people of color must be recognized in order to counter dominant hegemonic narratives through storytelling. Prior research suggests that international students of color are by no means immune from racism and discrimination (e.g., Yao et al., 2019; Yeo et al., 2019), so the process of racialization is a crucial topic to investigate in international student-related research. 

Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit)

Education scholars find it very useful to analyze how white supremacy subjugates people of color; for this reason, CRT has developed to address specific issues in various communities of color. Building on CRT, Iftikar and Museus (2018) advanced an Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit) framework that is specifically tailored to Asian American experiences, issues, and concerns. There are six tenets in AsianCrit: 1) Asian Americans are in the process of Asianization, meaning the particular ways Asian Americans are treated as a monolithic group and are racialized by white supremacy in the US; 2) Global economic, political, and social processes shape the conditions of Asian Americans; 3) (Re)constructive history transcends the visibility and silence of racialized experiences; 4) Strategic (anti)essentialism and intersectionality are crucial to understanding race and racism; 5) Experiential knowledge can challenge dominant, white, European epistemology; and 6) AsianCrit aims to eradicate all forms of oppression and exploitation. By applying AsianCrit, Saito and Li (2022) discovered that Chinese international students’ racialized experiences are deeply rooted in the US historical context, which is in urgent need of institutional support and preventive strategies to protect them from these and other forms of racist hatred.

Transnationalism and Critical Race Theory

In addition to branch theories of CRT to address the specific issues of racial minorities in the US, another piece written by Yao et al. (2019) incorporates transnationalism into CRT. These authors illuminated four tenets to analyze the international student experience in the US: 1) Race and racism permeate the international student experience; 2) Whiteness as property and white supremacy are normative; 3) Intersectionality is crucial to understanding the international students’ multiple layers of privileges and oppressions; and 4) The lens of interest convergence is the most visible tenet of CRT in international student-related research in the US context. 

Conclusion

Although often portrayed as a homogeneous group, international students are diverse individuals. Students who are from diverse demographic and educational backgrounds experience different challenges in host institutions and need different approaches to support addressing their intersectional identities within academic study and social experiences. We have introduced multiple methodological approaches (in our previous essay) and theoretical frameworks (in this essay), which would be helpful to learning and researching the heterogeneity of international students. Often, higher education institutions tend to focus on the recruitment of international students rather than retaining them and providing appropriate support due to the benefits brought by the students, such as the internationalization of the campus and economic contribution (Arthur, 2017). We believe that it is critical to further understand the diversity among international students rather than to view them as a homogenous group of students with similar experiences in their host country.

References:

Arthur, N. (2017). Supporting international students through strengthening their social resources. Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 887–894. 

Cantwell, B., & Lee, J. (2010). Unseen workers in the academic factory: Perceptions of neoracism among international postdocs in the United States and the United Kingdom. Harvard Educational Review, 80(4), 490-517.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (3rd edition). New York: New York University Press.

Douglass, J. A. (2021). Neo-nationalism and Universities: Populists, Autocrats, and the Future of Higher Education. JHU Press.

Gillborn, D., N. Rollock, C. Vincent, & Ball, S. (2012). ‘You got a pass, so what more do you want?’: Race, class and gender intersections in the educational experiences of the black middle class. Race Ethnicity and Education 15(1),121-139.

Heng, T. T. (2019). Understanding the heterogeneity of international students’ experiences: A case study of Chinese international students in US universities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(5), 607-623.

Iftikar, J. S., & Museus, S. D. (2018). On the utility of Asian critical (AsianCrit) theory in the field of education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(10), 935-949. 

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of “international student experience.” Studies in Higher Education, 42, 933-943.

Kitching, K.  (2015). How the Irish became CRT’d? ‘Greening’ Critical Race Theory, and the pitfalls of a normative Atlantic state view, Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(2), 163-182.

Lee, J. (2006). International student experiences: Neo-racism and discrimination. International Higher Education, (44).

Lee, J. J. (2014). Understanding international students: Beyond U.S.-centrism and towards international consciousness. In S. Harper & S. Quaye (Eds.), Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (pp. 105-120). Routledge.

Lee, J. J. (2020). Neo-racism and the criminalization of China. Journal of International Students, 10(4), 780-783.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381–409.

Lee, J. J., & Castiello-Gutiérrez, S. (2019). Engaging International Students at U.S. Higher Education Institutions. In S. J. Quaye; S. Harper & S. L. Pendakur (Eds.), Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations (3rd ed., pp. 107-129). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Saito, L. E., & Li, J. (2022). Applying an AsianCrit lens on Chinese international students: History, intersections, and Asianization during COVID-19. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Leadership Studies, 3(1), 122-140.

Stein, S., & de Andreotti, V. O. (2016). Cash, competition, or charity: International students and the global imaginary. Higher Education, 72(2), 225–239. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9949-8

Vass, G. (2015). Putting critical race theory to work in Australian education research: “We are with the garden hose here”, The Australian Educational Researcher, 42(3), 371-394.

Wang, T. (2020). Students caught between globalisation and nationalism. University World News. https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20200911103504970

Wu, C., Qian, Y., & Wilkes, R. (2021). Anti-Asian discrimination and the Asian-white mental health gap during COVID-19. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 44(5), 819-835.

Yao, C. W., George Mwangi, C. A., & Malaney Brown, V. K. (2019). Exploring the intersection of transnationalism and critical race theory: A critical race analysis of international student experiences in the United States. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(1), 38–58. 

Yeo, H. T., Mendenhall, R., Harwood, S. A., & Huntt, M. B. (2019). Asian international student and Asian American student: Mistaken identity and racial microaggressions. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 39–65.

About the Authors:

Minghui (Hannah) Hou is a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at Old Dominion University. Her research focuses on international education equity, neo-racism, international student agency, US-China geopolitical tensions, etc. She has served as copy editor for the Journal of International Students and production editor for the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education. Email: mhou009@odu.edu

Jing Yu is a Ph.D. candidate in Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California Santa Barbara. She received M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University in 2015. Her research interests include international student mobility, intersections of race, class, and nationality, as well as international dimensions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. She serves on editorial boards for Journal of College Student Development and Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. Email: jing02@ucsb.edu.

Shinji Katsumoto is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and a graduate researcher at the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research focuses on international student success and world university rankings in the international education context. His recent publications about international student experiences appear in such outlets as the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and the Journal of College Student Development. Email: shinji-katsumoto@uiowa.edu

Putin’s War: Supporting International Students During Global Crises

by Abu Arif, Juanita Hennessey, Sonja Knutson, Lynn Walsh (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

At a moment when the members of education communities around the world are working to find a way to live with COVID-19, internationalization of higher education (IHE) communities have also been challenged by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to wage a war against Ukraine. When it is expected from international educators to reimagine international education in a way that is equitable and inclusive (de Wit & Jones, 2018), anti-racist (Buckner et al. 2021), anti-colonial (Beck & Pidgeon, 2020), and sustainable (Shields, 2019), Mr. Putin’s war is unnecessarily taking IHE communities away from these critical conversations. This situation forces international educators to think about a) what will be the world order due to this invasion, and b) how IHE communities will adjust to the new global political realities? In Canada, we are also thinking about how we best show up for international students from Ukraine and Russia, and what are the ways we can support refugees who are being deprived of a post-secondary education due to Putin’s invasion. 

Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) is the most eastern university in Canada with a total population of 4400 international students. The only university in Newfoundland and Labrador, MUN hosts international students from both Ukraine and Russia. Due to the nature of the world, we are not unfamiliar with supporting international students during wars and internal conflicts. We have established protocols to reach out to international students during emergencies/global crises. Almost immediately after the invasion started, we sent two separate emails to Ukrainian and Russian students. From conversations with Ukrainian and Russian students, it is clear that they are worried about whether they will be able to complete their programs due to financial issues and fear for the future of their immigration status. Quite understandably, students are also worried about their families back home, concerned about if/when they will be able to go back to their motherland, and struggling emotionally. This conflict has also illustrated that people impacted by war may not only be those who hold the citizenship of the countries directly involved. In addition to the Ukrainian and Russian immigrant communities, there are many international students, especially West Africans, with connections to Ukraine. Thus, when MUN gives consideration to who needs support in times of conflict and crisis it may be a larger community than indicated from the lists run through the student database.

Immigration is one of the top concerns for international students from Ukraine and Russia. Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will issue open work permits to Ukrainian students who are currently in Canada and cannot go home, so they can stay longer if they wish (IRCC, March 2, 2022). IRCC has also committed to waive fees for certain travel, including visitor visas and work and study permits (IRCC, March 2, 2022). The Federal Government has also announced the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program to help Ukrainians and their family members come to Canada with the ability to work and study while in Canada. One thing to note here, Ukraine refugees will land in Canada as temporary residents, not permanent residents like all other refugees. Temporary residents are not eligible for health care/settlement help/language instruction/student loans. As for the Russian students, many are fearing expulsion from the country and are asking if they will face biases in case they need to extend their permits. They are also concerned that if they return home for the summer holidays, then they may be forced to join the Russian army and/or may face an embargo when returning to Canada to complete their studies. 

MUN has emergency funds to assist students in the short-term during crises such as grocery gift cards, tuition bursaries, or repayment plans for tuition. One of the challenges is that, as an institution, MUN is only equipped to help with interim financial aid. If the conflict or economic sanctions continue for an extended period, it will be increasingly more difficult for students, especially at the undergraduate level. In terms of personal support, MUN endeavors to work with students on a case-by-case basis. At a minimum, students should be aware of the types of services available (personal counseling, academic advising, career advising, etc.). Some will avail of services without assistance, but some may want a coordinated care approach. If the latter, then being able to advocate for students, reach out to units to arrange for services, and be the point of contact for both the student and the units providing support is necessary. 

MUN is looking for ways we can support Ukranians entering Canada under the CUAET program to carry on with, or embark on, post-secondary study. Discussions are being held on everything from application fees to scholarships, to documents required for admissions, to how to support this cohort to finance their studies. In addition, universities have the infrastructure – classrooms and housing – which generally have low usage through the summer months. As we have with previous wars, we have been in contact with our local settlement agency to let them know we are willing to share what we can should they be suddenly overwhelmed by an influx of arrivals. 

As we try to understand and support our students, we seek insight, advice, and suggestions from our colleagues facing similar situations at their institutions. In your experience, what supports are you able to offer your students on- and off-campus? What are the specific needs of students when it comes to violence experienced at home and how are you dealing with this? How is your institution supporting students from Ukraine who are in financial need? How might your institution be supporting Russian students who are concerned about the personal financial consequences of economic sanctions or the banning of Russia from SWIFT, which poses challenges in transferring funds from students’ homes for fee payment?  As Ukrainian families flee the country, it will be difficult for families to send money to their students for tuition. Will you accept deferred fee payments for the current and next semesters? How are you handling housing requests from students? We hope that through continued internal and external dialogue we can learn from each other about how post-secondary institutions are dealing with personal, academic, and financial issues their students are facing. Please share your thoughts with the Newsletter’s editors by submitting a response to criticalinternationalization2@gmail.com 


References:

Beck, K., & Pidgeon, M. (2020). Across the Divide: Critical Conversation on Decolonization, Indigenization, and Internationalization. In Merli Tamtik, Roopa Desai Trilokekar and Glen A. Jones (Ed), International Education As Public Policy in Canada (pp. 384-406). McGill-Queen’s University Press. 

Buckner, Lumb, P., Jafarova, Z., Kang, P., Marroquin, A., & Zhang, Y. (2021). Diversity without race: How university internationalization strategies discuss international students. Journal of International Students, 11(1), 32–49. https://doi.org/10.32674/JIS.V11IS1.3842

De Wit, H. & Jones, E. (2018). Inclusive Internationalization: Improving Access and Equity. International Higher Education, 94(94), 16–18. https://doi.org/10.6017/ihe.2018.0.10561

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (March 02, 2022). Additional immigration support for Those Affected by the Situation in Ukraine. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/news/2022/02/additional-immigration-support-for-those-affected-by-the-situation-in-ukraine.html

Shields, R. (2019). The sustainability of international higher education: Student mobility and global climate change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 217, 594–602. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.01.291 


About the Authors:

Abu Arif is a doctoral student of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is an international student advisor (immigration and special projects) and founder of international network of tomorrow’s leader of CBIE. 

Juanita Hennessey is an international student advisor (outreach) of Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is a recipient of Memorial president’s distinguished service award  2016. 

Dr. Sonja Knutson is the director of the internationalization office of Memorial University. She  is also an acting director of the writing centre and an adjunct professor of education at Memorial. She is the winner of the CBIE leadership award 2012. 

Lynn Walsh is the Manager of the internationalization office of Memorial University. She is the current co-chair of internationalization of student affairs, CACUSS