Equity and Social Justice in Virtual Exchange

The benefits of international experiences are often inequitably distributed: “Although the diversity of study abroad participation has increased in recent years, minority students are still greatly underrepresented in study abroad” (https://www.nafsa.org/policy-and-advocacy/policy-resources/trends-us-study-abroad ). Cost, time, and stereotype threat are some of the major barriers to greater participation by minoritized students in study abroad.

Virtual exchange has the potential to overcome a number of these barriers and lead to greater equity in international experiences; however, this does not happen automatically or without intentional design. In reality, “the fact that a program is mediated by technology does not eliminate inequalities or power imbalances that exist offline” (https://www.diversitynetwork.org/common/Uploaded%20files/Final_Global%20Impact%20Exchange%20Summer%202021%20Edition%20(2).pdf).

To achieve greater equity in virtual exchange programs, there are at least three considerations suggested in the article “Approaching Virtual Exchange from an Equity Lens”:

  • Develop equitable partnerships. This means collaborating with international partners who work with and include underserved students in their countries, as well as ensuring that the partnerships are reciprocal (both partners contribute to and benefit from the virtual exchange program).
  • Acknowledging and responding to traditional power dynamics. For example, a traditional power dynamic may see the US institution, like Harper, as the dominant partner, leader, or in charge of making decisions. Recognizing that this assumption might exist, mentioning it, and suggesting alternatives in terms of more equal power sharing would take steps to address this issue. Another idea is to include social justice topics within student-to-student exchanges so that students also have the chance to question and disrupt traditional structures.
  • Addressing the digital divide – Harper offers free Chromebook and WiFi HotSpots for students; if partner institutions do not have this type of access, it could be included in grant writeups. Other ways to address the digital divide would be using apps or software that arefree and accessible for the virtual exchange, rather than programs that must be purchased.


A Guide to Virtual Exchange Copyright © by Kathleen Reynolds. All Rights Reserved.

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