Who’s Teaching Us calls for changes to study abroad programs

April 22, 2016, 1:53 a.m.

Among the demands of the Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) student movement is a push for expansion of the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP), with reform requests relating to both program offerings and participant trainings.

The first part of the demand, number 19 on the list of 25, requires that BOSP “open at least five additional programs in non-Western countries within five years and commit to continue diversifying its study abroad options to reach regional equity in programs offered.”

“On the surface that may seem pretty extreme, but when you lay out all of the programs on a map, you see just how great the disparity is,” said Jonathan Fisk ’16, a member of the WTU media team. “You have five programs all within this real tiny cluster of the globe, and then the rest of the programs just really spread out, like entire continents represented by one small program.”

The demand additionally calls for training and education for both program staff and registered students. “All programs should include community-engaged learning components and offer comprehensive identity and cultural humility training,” reads the demand. Currently, BOSP’s Cape Town program is the only one that includes mandatory community learning components, while the Madrid and Santiago programs only have optional community engagement work.

“Literally anywhere in the world could use service,” Fisk said, “but our African trip is the only one that has [the community engaged component] mandatorily built in.”

Ray Chen ’16, who participated in the Cape Town program during winter quarter of 2015, thinks the mandatory community component enhances the program’s value. The Cape Town program is structured such that students take classes for two days per week and engage in a community learning component for three days per week.

“There’s a lot of discussion around race, power, privilege, different social identities and how you interact,” Chen said. “So as a group, there was a space for us to talk about these issues. I think anybody coming from the States with their own social identity going to anywhere else in the world should critically reflect on how their identity is interacting with their new surrounding environment. The program should make a space for that within its structure.”

The demand also states that all programs should establish “mental health resources that are sensitive to students’ experiences of race, gender, sexuality, class and religion while abroad.”

Looking back on his experience, Chen discussed how more support for students would be useful.

“You’re kind of thrust into this new environment without very much preparation, so I think the program could do more to support students in that way,” Chen said. “For example, studying abroad is really expensive but right now. There’s no conversation about being able to afford studying abroad. There should be a space where students recognize that, especially when you are forced to live with the same 30 or 40 people for 10 weeks.”

These requirements could all necessitate more funds being allocated to BOSP.

“For education for people before the trips, honestly, minimal funding at most is required to establish that,” Fisk said. “It’s just a matter of actually implementing [it] and making sure people actually get educated. As for the community engaged learning competent, that would probably require hiring one more staffer at some abroad centers. At Cape Town, there is one person that manages all of that for every trip.”

“There are so many students from privileged backgrounds at Stanford that get to enjoy these trips to the fullest,” Fisk continued, “and it hurts that a lot of students can’t enjoy these trips to the fullest or actually end up experiencing a lot of harm and trauma because of the lack of preparation beforehand.”

WTU has been working to set up meetings with administration to pitch and discuss its demands, although progress has been slow. The tentative date for a meeting with administration is currently May 2; updates will be reported as progress is made.


Contact Arielle Rodriguez at arielle3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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