Denver, CO,
05:20 PM

DU Hosts 5th Annual Internationalization Summit


On April 13, education professionals interested in study abroad and academic programs serving international constituencies gathered at the University of Denver’s fifth annual Internationalization Summit for a full day of programming. The day’s events focused on a theme of increasing relevance as countries all over the world grapple with immigration issues: “What's with a border? Inter/national engagement in a troubled world.”

Here are some highlights from the summit.

Programming for Dreamers

In his keynote address, Armando Vazquez-Ramos, an activist and academic known for robust advocacy for California’s Latino population, called on university educators to create bold programs for Dreamers, those students who came to the U.S. as undocumented children.

“Be daring,” he told a crowd of education professionals focused on study abroad and international programming. “This population is growing rather than disappearing.”

A faculty member at California State University-Long Beach’s Chicano and Latino Studies program and president and CEO of the California-Mexico Studies Center Inc., Vazquez-Ramos followed his own advice in 2014. That’s when he established a study abroad program for undocumented students of Mexican descent. Over the course of his keynote address — titled “American Dreamers and DACA’s Murky Future: The Borders Within” — he described the initiative’s origins, benefits and considerable challenges.

Under the study abroad program, students returned to the country and communities of their birth to learn about their history and culture. The experience allowed them to contemplate and explore their relationship not just to Mexico but also to the United States. By interacting with everyday Mexican citizens, many of them came to realize just how American they feel.

To ensure these students could return to the United States legally, Vazquez-Ramos relied on an immigration policy known as “advance parole.” This program provides a re-entry permit to a non-citizen traveler who does not have a valid immigrant visa. Without advance parole, even those undocumented students protected by the immigration policy known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would have been refused re-entry to the U.S. (DACA, established by President Barack Obama in 2015, allows individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation. In fall 2017, President Donald Trump announced plans to scrap the program, creating uncertainty and fear among the estimated 800,000 people shielded by the policy.)

Such fears, Vazquez-Ramos explained, have traumatized many Dreamers, resulting in what he calls “Immigrant Stress Disorder.” What’s more, many dreamers carry “a heavy burden of guilt” related to their immigration status and their complex relationships with relatives in the U.S. and Mexico.

To address these burdens through effective programs, institutions of higher education must learn to confront their own qualms and reservations.

“When we are talking about this element of fear, it is also institutional,” Vazquez-Ramos said, noting that, too often, educators have opted to dodge issues related to the Dreamer population. Instead, he argued, they should do more to understand the needs of this population.

“We need sensitivity and understanding at the top,” he said. “I challenge all of you to do more.”

International Inclusivity

As a PhD student at the University of Denver, Saran Stewart learned the concept of inclusive excellence from Chief Diversity Officer Frank Tuitt. Then the Jamaica native started asking questions.

“Why hasn’t inclusive pedagogy and inclusive excellence gone global?” Stewart, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, asked. “Why are you leaving this just to the United States? It’s so applicable outside.”

As she sat on a panel at DU’s Internationalization Summit, she could see how far her teacher’s inclusive ideals had spread. Nine women from seven different countries discussed the importance of equity in education around the globe.

The credit, Stewart said, goes to institutions willing to share and spread their practices. For years, she said, DU has formed strategic partnerships with international groups and universities to move toward a common goal.

“I think that’s powerful in many ways, knowing this was born out of these yearly meetings and yearly workshops and partnerships and then — boom! — an entire system of higher education is influenced by our work,” Stewart said. “We’re looking at our partners that are doing similar work but needing the same kind of guide, the same kind of resources in order to really spread the initiatives. That’s what we’re doing: exporting DU and exporting inclusive pedagogy across borders.”

Mary Tupan-Wenno — who runs ECHO, the Center for Diversity Policy in The Netherlands — called DU an “initiator,” helping spread the idea of a chief diversity officer around the globe. The concept is particularly important, she said, as professors work with an increasingly diverse student body.

“The work that we do is similar in every region of the world,” she said. “The only thing different is the context. So how can we use tested research and practices and look for strategies that can be even more successful and can be implemented?”

Aminata Cairo, who is relatively new to work on diversity and inclusion, also sat on the panel examining the intersection of internationalization and inclusivity. The Dutch professor said attending events like the Internationalization Summit and learning from experienced professionals are both educational and inspiring.

“We are changing how we’re going to adapt, how we’re going to include and embrace everybody. It’s a very different way of looking at it,” she said.