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Who Do We Want to Be as a Global Knowledge Community? 

Why we need to include more voices in internationalization and global knowledge production. 
Rarely are the questions “Internationalization for whom?” and “Internationalization by whom?” discussed and problematized in international education.Photo: Syd Wachs/Unsplash
 

Recently, while reflecting on the current status of international higher education, I have found myself grappling with how voices are often missing, unheard, or unacknowledged in the field. These reflections were especially poignant over the past year, as we navigated a health pandemic in the midst of global conflicts that highlighted both historical and contemporary issues related to race, religion, and nativism. 

International education within the context of higher education is often lauded as a way to foster peace, engage individuals and communities in cultural understanding, and promote knowledge, often through the process of internationalization. Internationalization efforts may lead to increased student diversity on campuses, collaborative knowledge production, higher rankings and prestige, and global competencies and citizenship, all of which are valued by higher education institutions and associations. 

Although internationalization may appear to benefit all involved, the efforts, rationales, and outcomes are all situated within layers of power and perceived legitimacy. As a result, internationalization at higher education institutions, especially those located in what is considered the Global North, may contribute to the establishment and continuation of inequality rooted in Western imperialism and academic colonization. Higher education practices are never neutral, especially when considering global and international perspectives. 

Higher education practices are never neutral, especially when considering global and international perspectives. 

Yet rarely are the questions “Internationalization for whom?” and “Internationalization by whom?” discussed and problematized in international education. We know that “mainstream approaches to internationalization not only reflect but also potentially naturalize and reproduce already uneven geo-political, economic, and epistemic relations.” When considering what constitutes knowledge or ways of knowing, we often view international and global topics from a Western lens and perspective. Overall, knowledge production in academia is rooted within a privileged domain that “has permeated much of the globe through academic domination.” 

As a faculty member in the United States, I am someone who simultaneously may feel excluded from academia because of my identity and lived experiences and who also serves as a gatekeeper of knowledge when conducting peer reviews or evaluating student work. Thus, I have a complicated relationship with knowledge production, as I must continually reconcile who I am, who I want to be, and how I navigate international education spaces. 

There is no question that all of the major events of this past year upended the daily operations of higher education while also illuminating existing inequities in society and higher education. We cannot move forward in international education and global knowledge production without reconsidering, reckoning, and reconciling who we are and who we want to be as a global knowledge community. Most important, we need to identify how we can move forward in knowledge production with an emphasis on equity and justice, especially when considering the many voices in international education.

We cannot move forward in international education and global knowledge production without reconsidering, reckoning, and reconciling who we are and who we want to be as a global knowledge community.

The sections below share considerations for reflection and action in order to honor and include all voices, especially those that have been historically minoritized, in knowledge production in international education. I offer these suggestions as a starting place, recognizing that change takes time, energy, resources, and, most important, a willingness and desire for transformation. In addition, each of us has to consider the contexts and people of our particular institutions, even as we reflect together as an international education community. 

Engage in reflexive practice as individuals and organizations. 

Reflexive practice is a critical starting point for both individuals and organizations as we try to honor all voices. As individuals, we have to reflect on our own personal histories and identities. Louise Michelle Vital, PhD, and I assert that our prior knowledge serves as a lens for how we navigate and view the world, which is critically important for international scholar-practitioners. As Blanca Torres-Olave, PhD, and Jenny J. Lee, PhD, wrote, we must “recognise the polyvalent, complex, interwoven nature of both a scholar’s work and social identities” because this complicated interconnectedness influences how we personally approach the work that we do in international education. 

Our organizations must name the ways in which our policies and practices may continue to privilege particular knowledges and ways of knowing. For example, do we include broad representation from scholars of color and international scholars in our hiring for faculty and staff? Have we reflected on our mission, vision, and goals as an organization and ensured that we honor and value everyone in our community? Continual reflexive practice as individuals and organizations is critical in situating our approach to and understanding of knowledge production and ways of knowing. 

Reconsider language. 

Language is powerful. In the global academic community, this power is affected by the language we choose to use, as well as the terminology. There is no question that the English language is dominant around the world, privileging those who speak and read English fluently. In addition, English is currently considered the operating language of academia. What are ways in which we can honor and host other languages? For example, can we offer sessions and workshops in multiple languages at conferences and publish multilingual resources? 

Language is powerful. In the global academic community, this power is affected by the language we choose to use, as well as the terminology.

The power of language is also visible in the terminology we choose to use in international education. For example, what are the implications of using terms such as “Global South” or “Western countries”? Chrystal A. George Mwangi, PhD, and I call for a deconstruction of terminology and concepts as we move toward more equity-driven international research and practice. 

As a result, we follow Shahidul Alam’s suggestion of using “Majority World” (rather than “Global South,” “Third World,” or “developing countries”) for regions and countries that hold the majority of the world’s natural resources and population yet have fewer economic resources. “Minority World” refers to economically privileged and powerful areas that have smaller numbers of people and natural resources; these areas are typically known as the “Global North,” “First World,” or “Western” countries. 

Although Majority and Minority World continue to perpetuate a dichotomy, the use of the terms unsettle our commonly held assumptions of geography, politics, and power. In addressing and reconsidering our use of language, we can include and honor the legitimacy of multiple voices in knowledge production and ways of knowing.  

Move beyond diversity to equity. 

Diversity has become a catch-all term in higher education that simultaneously means so much and so little. Structural diversity is often desired and prioritized, and I would agree that structural diversity helps individuals, especially those from minoritized backgrounds, find community and connections within a larger system. Yet international educators must move beyond diversity and inclusion as the sole goals in our efforts and consider equity and justice in our daily research and practices. As Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, PhD, wrote, “diversity and inclusion rhetoric asks fundamentally different questions and is concerned with fundamentally different issues than efforts seeking equity and justice.” 

For example, recruiting international students and scholars to U.S. campuses has been a priority for many years. Much of the conversation focuses on diversity—specifically, diversifying the home regions and countries of scholars and claiming that international students contribute to the diversity of a college campus—as well as inclusion efforts of making international students and scholars feel welcome. 

International educators must move beyond diversity and inclusion as the sole goals in our efforts and consider equity and justice in our daily research and practices.

Yet seldomly addressed are the questions of equity and justice—which are critical in today’s social and political climates. How often do we ask if our international students’ and scholars’ voices are valued and considered, especially when issues arise in our communities? Do we ensure that institutional policies and practices do not harm minoritized populations and support the needs of all in our communities? Overall, in seeking to include more voices in international education, we must first acknowledge and then break down the structures, policies, and practices that subjugate historically minoritized voices and perspectives.  

“The Pandemic Is a Portal”

In sum, the past year forced all of us in international education to recognize that we are more interconnected within a global society than ever before. We have to take these moments to pause and reconsider, reckon, and reconcile who we were, who we are now, and who we want to be as a global knowledge community. The words of Arundhati Roy come to mind, with the reminder that “the pandemic is a portal.” 

We have the choice to return to “normal,” despite knowing that “normal” has not worked for everyone, or we can collectively reimagine a new world that embraces and welcomes multiple voices in knowledge production and ways of knowing. Who do we want to be as a global knowledge community?  •

About International Educator

International Educator is NAFSA’s flagship publication and has been published continually since 1990. As a record of the association and the field of international education, IE includes articles on a variety of topics, trends, and issues facing NAFSA members and their work. 

From in-depth features to interviews with thought leaders and columns tailored to NAFSA’s knowledge communities, IE provides must-read context and analysis to those working around the globe to advance international education and exchange.

About NAFSA

NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA's 10,000 members are located at more than 3,500 institutions worldwide, in over 150 countries.