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Guest Blog Post: Attending the 2017 AERA Conference in San Antonio by Melissa Whatley (UGA)

By Shanna Saubert posted 06-23-2017 09:37 AM


This guest blog post was written by Melissa Whatley, Doctoral Student in the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia.


This blog post details several presentations that were given at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) April 27-May 1 in San Antonio, TX that speak to issues of access and equity in study abroad. While the conference schedule limited the international education sessions that I was able to attend, I hope to share with you some exciting new research particularly around issues related to minority student participation in study abroad.


The first presentation I attended was part of a roundtable discussion centered around Diasporic Curriculum, Youth Resistance, and World Citizenship. Particularly the presentation by Kirsten T. Edwards, entitled “African Diasporic Consciousness as Curricular Model for Equal Educational Opportunity in Study Abroad” spoke to themes relevant for the study of underrepresented students in education abroad. This presentation provided an overview of a study abroad program to Jamaica that was designed with the identity-seeking needs of Black female undergraduate students in mind. Edwards’ data consisted of interviews with both faculty and students who participated in this program. These data provided insight into how abroad programs tailored to underrepresented students may be designed and how the experiences of students who participate in them differ from the experiences they may have through typical study abroad. While researchers and practitioners often call for study abroad experiences tailored to the needs of a particular underrepresented population, it was refreshing to hear about a program of this nature that had been implemented. The conversation surrounding this presentation particularly highlighted issues and concerns, such as imperialistic undertones surrounding many study abroad programs to the developing world, that must be taken into account in program design to approach equity not only among participating U.S. students, but also the populations welcoming them.


A second roundtable session that I attended, Teaching and Learning Through an International Lens, included a presentation by Jennifer M. Pipitone, “It Was Definitely Great to Learn About a Place in a Place: Study Abroad and Experiential Learning in Morocco and Indonesia”. This presentation detailed the author’s dissertation research, which explored the ways in which knowledge was produced in short-term study abroad programs in Morocco and Indonesia using data elicited through participant-observation and narrative activities. Building upon Henri Lefebvre’s (1974) theory on the social production of space, Pipitone’s results point to the existence of three elements of engagement with place that relate to the production of what she has introduced as experiential learning space: representations and program design (what is thought, abstract engagement with place), cultural environment and rhythms of daily life (what is seen, material engagement), and students’ embodied experiences (what is felt, experiential engagement). The results of this study not only provide insight into how study abroad programs may be designed to maximize student engagement and growth while abroad, but also highlight the benefits of study abroad in a non-European location. The continued expansion of study abroad to non-traditional locations provides not only additional access to students who otherwise would not have studied abroad, but also a more equitable and inclusive view of the world. An article related to this study, “Socio-spatial Analysis of Students Experiences in/of Place in Morocco,” (Pipitone & Raghavan, in press) is forthcoming in the Journal of Experiential Education (doi: 10.1177/1053825917709823).


I additionally attended a symposium, Historical Perspectives on Critical Internationalization, that included three presentations:

  • “What Happened to the “International Mind” Movements? 1930s Curricular Reform and 1940s Gatekeeping in Elite American Universities” by Bryan McAllister-Grande
  • “Legitimizing Exclusivity in Education Abroad: Roots of Selectivity in U.S. Undergraduate Study Abroad, 1950s-1970” by Eduardo Contreras
  • “Tracing the Evolution of Education Abroad Program Models into the Age of the Corporate University: Perils and Possibilities” by Julie Ficarra

The last two of these presentations especially spoke to issues of access and equity in study abroad by tracing its elite origins. Contreras’s presentation highlighted the establishment of policies that legitimized study abroad as an educational endeavor, such as the implementation of academic merit requirements for participation, but that consequently also served to exclude certain student populations (e.g., those with lower levels of academic achievement) from education abroad opportunities. Ficarra’s presentation, on the other hand, considered recent trends toward the privatization and commodification of study abroad at many institutions of higher education, as exemplified by the outsourcing of study abroad to third-party providers. Both these presentations raise questions about how institutional policies concerning study abroad shape who gets to participate in these life-changing and career-enhancing experiences and who does not. Future work is certainly needed so that decision-makers who influence study abroad can be aware of the potential unintended consequences of policy.


I was very excited to see such varied and engaging presentations concerning issues of access and equity in study abroad on the program for this year’s AERA conference. These presentations raised critical issues for study abroad that are important for future research, policy design, and program implementation.

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