'At Home in the World'

June 30, 2009

WASHINGTON – Leaders of international and multicultural education offices may not always talk much, but here at the At Home in the World: Educating for Global Connections and Local Commitments Summer Institute, there’s plenty of discussion of potential “synergies” -- and “creative tensions,” too.

The three-day institute involves representatives from about 40 colleges and is the second such event sponsored by the American Council on Education. The institute grew out of ACE’s own premise, as articulated in its June 2007 report, that while internationalization and multicultural education are distinct, and “one should not be subsumed into the other ... the two areas have much they can substantively contribute to each other. Indeed, neither area is complete without consideration of what the other brings to bear in terms of understanding and living effectively with difference.”

"If you take internationalization as preparation for global citizenship, and if you take diversity as access and preparation for better local citizenship, I think it's clear the two strands do come together," Kumble R. Subbaswamy, provost of the University of Kentucky, said Monday during a discussion intended to frame the fundamental issues.

Still, ACE's 2007 report identifies conceptual and practical areas of divergence -- and resulting tensions -- that complicate any search for synergy. The report describes divergent theoretical underpinnings and histories of the two fields as well as competition for resources. It didn’t go unnoted Monday that ethnic studies programs are vulnerable to cuts in ways that international education programs aren’t.

One obvious reason for that, Steve O. Michael, the incoming provost and vice president for academic affairs at Arcadia University, said bluntly, is that as for international education, “We see it as a cash cow, really” (international students bring in money and senior administrators know just how much). But academic programs in ethnic studies increasingly have to justify themselves based on enrollments. “The economic threat is real and they’re threatening these types of [ethnic studies] programs and we need to pay serious attention to them,” Michael said.

In a separate session Monday, Rusty Barceló, vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity at the University of Minnesota, joined Meredith M. McQuaid, Minnesota's associate vice president and dean for international programs, for a (relatively) unusual conversation -- and not just because it was conducted in front of 150 people. Back on campus, “We’ve had very little conversation between us. I’ll be honest with you,” said McQuaid.

“Rusty and I do serve two very different populations.”

“Our agendas are beginning to overlap … but they’re not going to overlap by much,” said McQuaid, who thinks of the relationship in terms of a Venn diagram. McQuaid mentioned study abroad as one area where there's synergy -- at Minnesota, a multicultural study abroad group focuses on increasing minority student participation, and the international programs office works with the equity and diversity office to help bring more disabled students into study abroad, too.

A pair from Ohio University presented, as well. Daniel Weiner, executive director of Ohio’s Center for International Studies and a professor of geography, had a different perspective from his colleagues from Minnesota. “To continue to define these missions as separate with a little bit of overlap is problematic,” he said. “Is globalization destabilizing our notions of diversity?”

“II think we need to destabilize our categories and destabilize our spaces.”

Brian Bridges, Ohio University’s vice president for diversity, access and equity, suggested, as an area of synergy, a need to better examine the connections between the social justice and globalization agendas. More generally, he proposed a need to expand the diversity agenda globally while still maintaining a focus on what he called “those difficult domestic issues.”

Indeed, one audience member asked: "How do we be sure we don't go after the new sexy international, at the expense of difficult domestic issues?"

Madeleine F. Green, ACE's vice president for international initiatives, closed the institute Monday by emphasizing again ACE’s own point of view -- that there are fruitful areas of overlap, and they’re worth finding. “It’s not easy,” she said.

Reframing the discussion in terms of language, Green pointed out that one institution she talked to Monday uses the term "diversity" in umbrella fashion, in that the world is diverse, while the other uses "global education" as the umbrella, in that the global encompasses both home and abroad. “There’s nothing like trying to sharpen your language to clarify your thinking,” Green said.

The institute continues through midday today.

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