The recent events and grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri have sparked protests, intense debate, sadness and anger across the United States. Many people, especially people of color, believe there was a severe lack of justice displayed by the legal system and that lack of justice is indicative of a lack of racial equality in America. Regardless of what side of the debate one may fall on, it is important to examine the way race and racial prejudices impact everyday life, especially in the lives of our youth.
Politicians, community leaders, and academics have lamented the disparities in our country’s education system for decades. Any person of color can tell you about the differences in how schools are funded and the resources that were and were not available to them. Countless studies have shown communities where most poorer and minority students live suffer from policies and practices that give their schools the fewest resources and students the least experienced teachers. In contrast, the best-funded schools with the highest percentages of experienced teachers are most often located in economically advantaged neighborhoods. Areas with higher poverty rates have fewer highly educated, experienced teachers and more teacher turnover. Unfortunately, these practices set our schools up to reinforce existing patterns of inequality rather than serve as pathways to opportunity. Consequently, students are often stigmatized as less intelligent or lazy, their parents labeled as uninvolved, and teachers called ineffective.
How does this relate to the recent events in Ferguson and studying abroad?
Students are savvy and self-aware enough to notice the discrepancies in our education and criminal justice systems. Despite the well-documented benefits of studying abroad, such as higher academic performance and higher graduation rates, minority students and students from less affluent backgrounds are less likely to study abroad. Cost is often a major factor, but with numerous grants and scholarships available, more should be able to take advantage of given opportunities. What other factors are holding students back?
Many students are concerned about facing potential racial bias and prejudice while abroad. Due to the events in Ferguson, and others like it, students of color are acutely aware of how they are perceived by others. Being seen as inherently delinquent or dangerous often make students of color apprehensive about what to expect when traveling or studying abroad. This is a distinct challenge minorities face because many cultures only have experience with Americans through the American media. Minority students may become frustrated when the same stereotypes from home follow them abroad. Today, American students have many reasons to study around the globe, but unfortunately no place is perfectly free of ignorance, racism or discrimination. Just like in the States, one may encounter various levels of tolerance abroad. Students should be aware of these problems, but they should not prevent them from traveling. In fact, unless there is a civil unrest that may affect safety, students should feel free to study abroad in any country they choose. Of course, students should research destinations thoroughly before they travel.
Despite the many concerns, most students have entirely positive experiences when exploring another culture. Given today’s global economy, it is essential that all students acquire knowledge of, and sensitivity to, global issues. This knowledge will enable students to participate fully in a workforce that is more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever before. World Smart encourages greater participation in study abroad programs, particularly among students of color. Not only will your participation make you competitive for college, graduate school and in the work place, but you will be better equipped to affect positive change at home.