Frontiers’ Special Issue Reprinted Carefully Selected Diversity Research

By Dane S. Claussen
Manager of University Relations
Athena Study Abroad

In June, Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad posted a “Virtual Issue: Diversity and Inclusion in Study Abroad” with guest editors to highlight what they believed were “exemplars that address varying methodological approaches, the experiences of specific demographic populations, and case studies of unique curricular models.” This special issue also provided background and context for a Frontiers special issue, scheduled for January 2020, that will publish original research about diversity and inclusion in study abroad (manuscript submissions were due on Sept. 15). Guest editors were Eduardo Contreras Jr., University of Portland; Lily Lopez-McGee, Howard University; David Wick, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey; and Tasha Willis, California State University, Los Angeles.

The guest editors narrowed down the articles considered for republication in the June “virtual issue” to 33 finalists by “largely omitt[ing] articles that touched on academic access, disciplinary identity, or purely demographic data collection.” Instead, they said they “focused on pieces that examine how inclusion and equity impact the learning experiences and identity formation abroad for students from historically underrepresented groups with regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, religion/spirituality, nationality, and socioeconomic status in all their myriad intersectional forms” and when identity “intersects with systems of privilege and power.” They added, “We also prioritized articles that examined the field from a social justice lens.”

The final line-up of articles was “Piropos and friendships: Gender and culture clash in study abroad,” by Susan B. Twombly (1995); “Towards reconciliation in the motherland: Race, class, nationality, gender, and the complexities of American student presence at the University of Ghana, Legon,” by Jennifer Landau & David Chioni Moore (2001), “The GLOSSARI project: Initial findings from a system-wide research initiative on study abroad learning outcomes,” by Richard C. Sutton & Donald L. Rubin (2004); “The impact of short-term study abroad on the identity development of college students with learning disabilities and/or AD/HD,” by Wendy Shames & Peg Alden (2005); “Inclusive excellence and underrepresentation of students of color in study abroad,” by Karyn Sweeney (2013); “College students’ sexual orientation, gender identity, and participation in study abroad,” by Kelly M. Bryant & Krista M. Soria (2015); 

“‘And still we rise’: Microaggressions and intersectionality in the study abroad experiences of Black women,” by Tasha Y. Willis (2015); “Unique opportunities: Influence of study abroad on Black Students,” by Jasmine Lee & Qiana Greene (2016); “Programs traveling to the African continent: A critical content analysis of a Teach Abroad program,” by Ifeyinwa Onyenekwu, Julieanne Marie Angeli, Ransford Pinto, & Ty-Ron Douglas (2017); “Faith development while abroad amongst African American students,” by Thandiwe Dinani (2018); and “Undocumented student participation in education abroad: An institutional analysis,” by Paige E. Butler, Meggan Madden, & Nickie Smith (2018).

The Frontiers’ issues editor did not indicate that the considered choice of methodology, let alone rigor of research methodology in their choice of the 11 articles. However, a striking pattern emerged: Seven of the 11 articles were based on (in-)depth interviews of students who studied abroad; one study also involved a survey, while another study also involved a survey and reviewing yearbook content.

Of the four other articles, one was based on a survey, one was based on assessment data, and one was based on a content analysis of study abroad marketing materials. (The other article was not a formal study, but a proposed institutional assessment tool.)

In-depth interviews require careful preparation of questions including but not limited to pretesting questions (so that they do not bias responses, among other issues), careful training of interviewers, close coordination (as in any study) between hypotheses/research questions and interview questions, and other steps to ensure maximum research validity and reliability. Assessing the rigor of at least some of the seven interview-based studies would require more information (and more space). The key point is that the guest editors clearly (and correctly) valued in-depth interviews as a research method highly useful for research on diversity, even if methodology was not a major criterion in their selection process. This “virtual issue” of Frontiers, in addition to importantly highlighting diversity issues, reminds those who research the study abroad field of interviews’ potentially high value (including their availability as an excellent alternative to surveys, especially when the sample size will be small).

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