Since we last interviewed Assistant Director for Strategic Marketing, Diversity and Inclusion Kory M. Saunders, a lot has happened — not even counting the current hiatus on travel due to the global pandemic.
Saunders, who has responsibility in the areas of diversity and inclusion for the Study Abroad Office while she now manages study abroad programs in the Americas, has held regular drop-in office hours in Multicultural Student Affairs and the GLBT Center over the past two years.
The drop-in hours have steadily provided information to students who visit the campus community centers about studying abroad, helping to educate them about the how’s and why’s of going abroad and making the experience a real consideration for those who might not have thought about it before.
Expanding on the theme, Saunders has taken the concept further by developing the Global Diversity Advocates program with assistance from graduate student Christine Lee, Study Abroad graduate assistant. The advocates are a small cohort of students who have studied abroad and now guide their peers who are interested in studying abroad through an inclusive equity lens.
The advocates have facilitated informational events such as the “Traveling While ___” series, which grew out of the popular “Traveling While Black” panel discussion originally conceived by NC State history professor Dr. Blair Kelley in 2015-16. Saunders says she is grateful to continue to partner with Kelley and the African American Cultural Center for the past two years on that event, which now included one advocate, Zebria Hicks, as a facilitator and another, Jordan Bullock, as a panelist.
This year the Global Diversity Advocates also participated as panelists and facilitators for “Traveling While First in the Pack” and the “Traveling While GLBT” respectively.
While it’s too early to tell, feedback from students has been positive. Students have referenced the presentations, mentioning things they’ve learned, inquiring about future offerings and initiating conversations.
This Year’s Advocates
During the 2019-20 academic year, undergraduates Jordan Bullock, animal science; Zebria Hicks, zoology; Oscar Mejia Barahona, nutrition science; and Emilie Phan, textile engineering, served as NC State’s first cohort of advocates, with a mission committing to “highlighting and amplifying the study abroad experiences of NC State’s diverse student population.”
Each cohort’s goals are to promote study abroad to students, increase the visibility of students from underserved backgrounds that have studied abroad, and create opportunities to connect and share their experiences with other students on and off campus.
The program addresses inequities in opportunity, because students from underserved groups historically do not study abroad as much as their majority counterparts. Saunders says of the advocates, “We want to make sure we have representation of all students and their perspectives. We want them to feel valued, celebrated, heard and understood; to tell their stories.”
Saunders has pledged to make sure each cohort is diverse, so they can be champions who can show that everyone can study abroad, including those of any gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, major, year, or type of study abroad program. And especially, to highlight students from groups that are often marginalized, so they can see themselves in the program.
In addition to their regular outreach activities, the advocates have participated in several additional events in the past year.
Advocate Emilie Phan participated in “Global STEM Stories: Tales From Students’ Study Abroad Experiences,” presented at the Feb. 6, 2020 College of Sciences Diversity in STEM Symposium, accompanied by moderators Kory Saunders and Maura McCarthy from the Study Abroad Office and fellow undergraduates Mariah Wilder and Natalie Leger (see photo, top).
The advocates also attend two conferences each year, one of which is the North Carolina Association for International Educators Study Abroad Now conference held at NC State. Last fall, the cohort presented there; Advocate Zebria Hicks won the “Two to Tell” competition, which gave entrants two minutes onstage to share a story using pictures in which creativity was key. Hicks structured her winning presentation like a science experiment. She had another opportunity to present her winning presentation at the Diversity in STEM Symposium.
Advocate Jordan Bullock facilitated the “Traveling While GLBT” panel discussion, Hicks facilitated “Traveling While Black” and Oscar Mejia Barahona participated in “Traveling While First in the Pack.”
Throughout the year, the advocates have many opportunities to use their study abroad experiences to grow further. Each creates a written personal plan that includes how they will serve out their term and what they hope to accomplish. Saunders says it also helps her ascertain their interests, strengths and where they can grow.
Monthly meetings provide a time to fine-tune their study abroad presentations, discuss what each is currently working on and successes they’ve had and assist them with professional development coaching. Saunders says “They do so much for NC State, we want to make sure we are pouring back into them as well.”
Due to the pandemic, the cohort’s plan to attend the Diversity Abroad Global Leadership Summit in New Orleans was postponed, but Saunders hopes that two of the current and all of next year’s cohort will attend. She looks forward to that as well as growing the program, not just in number, “but how we serve, continually learning new ways, developing stronger relationships with the NC State community — to continue to create awareness, access and more understanding about study abroad for all students, but especially for those who come from diverse and marginalized backgrounds, and those whose majors have not historically lent themselves to study abroad.”
Another goal is to develop deeper ties with OIED’s campus community centers, including more intentional engagement with students. At the current moment, Saunders is available for virtual opportunities.
The benefits of the program are evident. Bullock says, “Being a part of GDA has provided me with ample opportunities to reach out to students that identify with the same communities that I do. These opportunities allow me to open their minds to the wonderful possibilities of studying abroad. Being able to meet other underrepresented students that have also studied abroad and being able to network are amazing opportunities this cohort has enhanced my life experience with.”
Phan says the program “constantly inspires me to share my stories of study abroad with my peers who might be on the fence about traveling across the globe for either one month or six. Being a GDA encourages and empowers me by being an example that my experience and perspective as a minority is more than just important, it can change people’s minds. I am honored to speak and present my personal experience. I am honored to be a living example to people who look like me and have a similar background to me that anything is possible. Studying abroad should not just be a dream, it can be a reality!”
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In addition to enhancing the advocates’ own NC State experience, the program’s impacts are deeply meaningful.
Phan adds, “I’ve gained the self-confidence in my abilities to survive with my brains alone. I was not only able to take care of my health daily, but I was competent enough to plan a two-week road trip with many logistics in between while also navigating around the whole Southern Island of New Zealand. There are so many unique and amazing things that you can find in every corner of the world.”
Bullock reflects, “I learned to love and value myself while abroad. I learned that America isn’t the end-all-be-all, either. There’s a whole world out there waiting for me to explore it. When I was abroad, I felt free from discrimination and prejudice from society for the first time and I loved it. Being abroad felt like the oppression I’m forced to carry with me daily has been lifted for the time being. As a GDA, if I can convince one other person that identifies the way I do to invest into their study abroad program of their choice, then I know I helped to make their perception of the world better.”
Elizabeth Snively writes for the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.