Senior Project Advisor

Johnson, Vernon Damani

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 3-16-2016


Cultural sensitivity education, Study abroad programs, Action plan for global education


In March of 2015, Western Washington University published an Action Plan for Global Education at Western. The document provides four main reasons for becoming more globally engaged, including: 1) remaining relevant in an interconnected world, 2) providing students “the knowledge, attitudes, and skills” needed to thrive in this interconnected world, 3) solving problems around the globe, and finally 4) providing funds to the university and “enhance[ing] the university’s visibility and its rating”. As a call to action, the statement is made that “making the case for the internationalization of the university is simple.” But is it really that simple? Through the presentation of my research, I hope to invoke faculty, staff, and students of the university to think critically about how complex the implications of the internationalization of Western really are. An international educator, Jonas Stier, cautions against making the “normative assumption that ‘internationalization is good per se’” (Stier, 2004). Failing to question the inherent goodness of internationalization can be damaging, especially for the people who are not a part of the privileged, internationalizing group. Out of the four reasons supporting increased global education at Western, all of them focus on the benefits that students, faculty, and staff of Western gain, except for the proposition that internationalization solves problems around the globe. However, there is substantial research indicating that when students go abroad, they often times create problems rather than solve them in the communities they enter.

In order to analyze the problems that can arise when WWU students go abroad, we must take a step back to a more global and historical perspective. WWU is just one of thousands of institutions sending young adults abroad, and the vast majority of these organizations have a few commonalities: they are made up of a primarily white population, and they have been the beneficiaries of centuries of colonization, slavery, and expropriation. Thus, these organizations and the people within them have white privilege. While this privilege gives people the economic means and the available time to spend abroad, most people and organizations fail to realize this power and privilege they carry with them. Thus, when young adults spend time in a country that has been victim to the impacts of racism for multiple centuries, they unintentionally perpetuate these impacts and reinforce racial stereotypes. Minimizing this racist impact does not happen on its own. If individuals are unaware of their own privilege, it is safe to assume they will not be capable of avoiding racist impacts they have never even thought about. For this reason, institutions that are sending individuals out in the world need to take responsibility for the racial implications of their actions by finding ways to minimize the damage (I am not convinced it is possible to eliminate the damage completely, so it is not a realistic goal). One of the ways institutions can do this is through providing skills, knowledge, and resources to the people who will be going abroad. Western is one institution that has the responsibility to do so.


Political Science

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Cross-cultural orientation; Foreign study; Intercultural communication; Multicultural education; Adjustment (Psychology)


student projects; term papers




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