Identity and Inclusion in Off-Campus Programs

Studying off-campus can be a transformational experience in a student’s academic and personal development.  These programs offer opportunities for students to engage first-hand with their subject matter while living and learning in a culturally immersive environment.  In an increasingly global workforce, the cross-cultural skills gained from off-campus study are in more demand now than ever.

Lawrence is committed to the idea that these powerful experiences be inclusive of students from all backgrounds.  As you consider your options for studying off-campus, it is important that you are aware of and research factors that may impact your experiences living in the host culture.  The information on the following pages is a starting point for your research into identity(ies) in a different cultural context.

Discrimination of one form or another exists in all countries, but the targets of discrimination, as well as the nature and content of the discriminatory practices, may differ significantly from those found in the United States. You may wish to speak about these specific issues with recent study abroad returnees, international students from the country or region where you will be studying, faculty/staff from or with experiences in the region in which you are interested, or consult resources specific to the area.

When you are confronted by stereotypes, you have two options: you can either weaken a stereotype or reinforce it. You likely cannot significantly change the stereotypes held in the world, but you can challenge them. If you face bias abroad, the best way to manage is to learn about the area and people, to find creative ways of bridging the perceived gap between “you” and “them,” and to ask for help.  Ask yourself how your reaction to a situation might influence the way others of your background, identity, or country are perceived in your host country.

Know that your program will have on-site support staff who will help you through navigating the realities of local life and customs.  You are always able to contact Lawrence’s Off-Campus Programs office regarding any situation, and you can report to LU’s bias incident reporting system should the need arise.  Don’t let fear of the possibility of discrimination keep you from your pursuit of the many benefits of studying abroad.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the concept of "the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage."

An individual’s identity is not always easily defined.  One label does not simply describe a human being.  The interplay of aspects (ex: gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, nationality, age, ability…) of an individual’s identity can be complex within U.S. American society and is only more so in a different or unfamiliar cultural context.  The impact of intersecting identities is often more surprising to some students than they anticipate before going abroad.  This has the potential to be a very eye-opening and enriching experience in many regards for students.  However, this can also be alienating to a student depending on the student’s identities and how those identities are perceived in the host culture.  An identity that one holds close in the United States may be less salient in one’s new environment and another aspect of one’s identity could be treated with more prominence.  For example, a student of color in the United States may choose to study in country of the ethnic and/or national origin that student identifies with.  The student may go into the experience with the expectation of finding ancestral roots and being accepted by the local community as one of their own.  However, often times, that student will be seen as an “American” first and foremost and the student will be treated differently because of that identity having more prominence in that culture than the student’s identity as a person of a particular heritage living in the United States.  It is important for all off-campus students to recognize that each individual student is going to experience a location differently depending on that student’s identity, background and personal experiences.

There’s no way to outline all of the possible ways of intersecting identities.  The Off-Campus Programs office recognizes both the educational and personal advantages in exploring identity abroad as well as the struggles of intersectionality off campus and has compiled several resources in the following pages to help students anticipate some of the possible impacts of intersectionality on the study abroad experience.  More research into different aspects of your identity(ies) will allow you to better prepare for the overall environment you may experience in your host culture and give you the tools to begin to think about how to meaningfully engage with your host community in conversations about your identity and the diversity of the United States.

Additional Resources

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