The exclusivity of studying abroad at Duke

Twelve Latinx organizations on campus recently (re)requested nine ways Duke can improve representation and support for its Latinx students in and out of the classroom. I propose a tenth way to achieve this objective. Duke University and the Global Education Office (GEO) should offer more diverse study abroad programs in Latin America and the Caribbean to better reflect the Latinx/Latin student body instead of overemphasizing Spain.

I’m a white transient Latina from South Texas who struggles to speak Spanish – not exactly the image one might conjure up when thinking of the Latinx community. Yet our community is not as homogeneous as some assume. The Latinx community consists of beautiful and diverse races, ethnicities, nationalities, food, cultures, histories, and even dialects! Yet, despite such diversity on a campus where roughly ten% of undergraduates are Latinx, Spain continues to be overrated as a representative of the Spanish-speaking world, especially in Duke’s study abroad programs. While many Latin American countries have colonial ties to Spain, hence the term “Hispanic” for those of Spanish ancestry, Spain is not synonymous with Latin America. Spain even uses its own “vosotro/a“pronouns while the rest of Latin America uses”ustedes.” Overemphasizing Spain has the greatest impact on underrepresented and underserved students with limited options. Lack of program diversity runs counter to GEO’s mission to deliver programs that offer “a mosaic of cultural and personal experiences” and Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

My experience trying to find a representative study abroad program may be one of the many experiences Duke students have. Considering 49% of Trinity graduates from the class of 2020 have studied abroad, I never doubted that I too would apply for a study abroad program while at Duke. Studying abroad was the perfect opportunity for me, as a low-income, fourth-generation Spanish-Mexican student, to fully immerse myself in my distant ancestry. By studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, I had hopes that I could finally reclaim my family’s Spanish language and the Mexican heritage that the Texas government stripped of my family over the generations via strict English-only school restrictions and outright discrimination against immigrants and the Mexican-American population. However, given my insufficient Spanish abilities, my status as a Trinity student, and the availability of the program, my dreams of rediscovering my family’s culture were not as attainable as I thought.

There is no Duke-In study abroad program in Mexico. Duke-In programs are the only study abroad programs where a student can receive financial aid. Additionally, Duke’s GEO doesn’t even include Mexican universities in their list of “Duke-approved” study abroad programs. Of course, students can request that a program in Mexico be “approved by the Duke”. Yet Duke always restricts travel to more than a dozen Mexican states because of US sanctions or “high risk” of “health, safety and security”. However, other universities, such as A Ccontinue to host programs in states like Guanajuato, a region deemed “restricted” by Duke.

There are four separate “Duke-In” study abroad programs in Spain; yet GEO only offers three between Chile and Costa Rica, all of which require a Global Health concentration, Pratt status, or advanced Spanish language requirements. While the “Duke-In” programs in Spain accept all levels of Spanish language, the “Duke-In” programs in Chile and Costa Rica require at least an upper-intermediate understanding of Spanish. Even on the “Duke Approved” list of programs, there are only three Latin American countries that students can choose from: Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador. It does not include a community with a long history of forced assimilation, oppression and neglect.

Duke’s Latinx community deserves better. So, informally on behalf of my community, I demand more attention to the diversity of the Latinx community here at Duke. The lack of inclusive study abroad opportunities reflects a failure to recognize the plethora of characteristics that define our community. Additionally, it further suppresses Latin cultures, limits our access to emotionally engaging academic pursuits, and promotes our Spanish. conquistadores. With the inclusion of Latinx students and faculty, let’s add more programs to the funded “Duke-In” list. Or, if that’s not yet possible, let’s expand the list of “Duke-approved” programs and offer grants to make them more accessible to students. There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Spain is a culturally rich country, but most Latinx students do not claim it as their ancestral homeland nor do they prefer programs in Spain. There’s power in representation, and a prestigious institution like Duke can start with what it does best: providing a world-class education through diverse perspectives.

Kaylin Hernández is a sophomore at Trinity studying public policy and political science.

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