Using Multicultural Strategies to Increase Study Abroad

Four people representing different ethnic and racial groups
As part of the “Generation Study Abroad” call to action, the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater seeks to double the number of students with disabilities studying abroad.

Not only should you recognize a good strategy when you see it, but you should take it and replicate it as much as you can. This is what Candace Chenoweth, the Director of Global Education at University of Wisconsin (UW)-Whitewater, sought to do. The Center of Global Education worked to not only increase, but exceed, the representation of multicultural students studying abroad, and then to do the same for students with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) students.

What is the strategy? The first phase reaches out to key centers on campus that directly work with diverse students. Phase two sets up collaboration with diverse faculty to develop study abroad programs that attract underrepresented students, provide academic fit, and create more familiarity to reduce fear among students and their families.

“If we were focused on only doubling the participant numbers, the Center for Global Education might be working primarily alone. By working on expanding the number of participants from underrepresented multicultural groups, students with disabilities, and LGBT students, we have created a goal that has the buy in of more offices, faculty, and students across campus.”

Building From the First Success

The Center for Global Education and the Office of Multicultural Affairs & Student Success worked with faculty and staff to engage multicultural, low-income, and first generation students to study abroad in greater numbers.

In fact, over four years, underrepresented multicultural students, who comprise just over 10% of the student population at UW-Whitewater, comprised between 19-23% of the population participating in education abroad.

“It created a climate where participating in study abroad experiences became more accepted and the norm for underrepresented multicultural students.”

Intentionally recruiting faculty and staff who are well known on campus and active with Office of Multicultural Affairs & Student Success to lead programs abroad was the main strategy. Fears of the students and their families are also mitigated by the knowledge that trusted and respected faculty and staff accompany students abroad.

Creating programs across a wide range of academic areas and within general education that were of interest to underrepresented multicultural students, such as a recent course offering to South Africa, also played into the increased interest.

On return, these leaders and alumni then help instill confidence and early awareness among future faculty leaders and students to start planning and budgeting for an international experience.

Replicating the Strategy with Other Diverse Groups

Led by the Director of the Center for Student with Disabilities and an Intercultural Communication faculty member, UW-Whitewater created a study program in Brazil to examine diversity issues in amateur and professional sports from the 1930's to the present day. This program addresses diversity barriers in sports and the need for and rising significance of the Paralympic Games, Gay Games, and Special Olympics. And because UW-Whitewater has a strong wheelchair basketball program, this topic is attracting applicants who have disabilities. It also is appealing to students from other sports and interdisciplinary academic fields.

Similarly, the Director of the Pride Center and openly gay faculty worked with the Center for Global Education to establish a unique study abroad program exploring cultural trends in LGBT communities and acceptance in Western Europe. It is not only attracting LGBT students and their allies, but also women’s studies and political science majors. Many applicants are members of other underrepresented groups (e.g. ethnicity, disability, first generation college students).

“In the end, perhaps UW-Whitewater’s commitment goal is more focused on making education abroad interesting, and of interest to, traditionally underrepresented groups, than on merely doubling the numbers.”