Black Students Studying Abroad & “The Next Great Migration”

This may be the most controversial title & theme I’ve ever written about. But it is not my idea, rather, it is the title of an op-ed in the Sunday New York Times of March 1, 2015, by Thomas Chatterton Williams:

Williams is an African-American ex-pat who writes from Paris.  The gist of his essay has to do with his outrage over “the extrajudicial police killings of black men and women across America.”  And he asks why  more black Americans are not considering migrating to a life abroad with less racism (for him) and perhaps more justice and economic opportunity abroad (not necessarily in France).

He writes: “…at a time when middle-class blacks remain unemployed at twice the rate of whites, and black college graduates have the same chance of being hired as high school-educated whites, the economic case for staying put is not airtight.”

And then comes his surprise “solution” :  study abroad!  Yes, he makes a serious case – in a way that my academic colleagues would not – that because black students rely more heavily (he says, according to reporting by Bloomberg) on student loans and are less likely to pay off these debts after graduation, studying abroad is a better bargain, at a far lower price. And that the experience has the potential to open new doors to careers. He also states (I checked these statistics for their accuracy with IIE Open Doors) “…even though 15 percent of American postsecondary students are black, we account for only about 5 percent of those who study abroad.  This is a shame.”  

Williams cites a conversation with a friend who had moved to a new job in London who told him,”The race situation back home occupies so much space in your mind, even just safety-wise, I actually never fully understood what it meant to be American, and all the advantages that come with it, until now.”

Does study abroad for black students offer a chance to live, if only for a few months or a year, the life of a “postnational” citizen? This is how Williams closes his essay.

There has been little movement in the overall number of African-American students choosing to study abroad for a long time; would Williams’ idea challenge black students to re-consider their options?  I have no idea.  But this essay made me think about the issue of diversifying participation in study abroad programs in a different light.






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