Study abroad statistics reveal gap in diversity

This semester 475 students are studying abroad-the most in University history.

But statistical trends over the past four years suggest about 330 of those students are white, 27 are black and 43 are Asian or Asian American.

Statistics obtained from the Office of Study Abroad reflect a shrinking but still wide gap in the diversity of students studying abroad.

According to these figures, white and Hispanic students are overrepresented in study abroad programs proportional to their numbers in the general student body, but Asian and black students are underrepresented.

Margaret Riley, associate dean for study abroad and director of the Office of Study Abroad, said she recognizes the discrepancy, and her office is working to correct it.

"We work actively to recruit a diverse pool," she said. "We've been in touch with the [Multicultural Center]. We've done special panels and special focus groups with the African-American Mentoring Program. We have pictures of diverse students in our brochures."

Even with the extra effort, however, in the Class of 2006, black students only comprised 6.5 percent of students studying abroad and Asians only 10.2 percent. White students in the same class, made up nearly 70 percent of the group.

Black, Asian and white students make up, respectively, 10.1, 15.6 and 60.7 percent of the entire Class of 2006.

Riley said the University's study abroad minority representation, however, is nearly twice the national average.

It is unclear why Asian students are underrepresented, she said, offering several possible reasons for the low numbers among black students.

"There's a high percentage of diverse students who are basketball and football players," she said. "With all of their practices, their schedule just doesn't permit it."

Riley added that the close-knit nature of traditionally black fraternities and sororities may make it more socially difficult for black students to leave.

The social dimensions of going abroad do play a role in minority students' decisions, said senior Alima Abubakari, who studied in Italy with her roommate.

Abubakari noted that the two were ethnically isolated because Florence has a small African-American population, and they were the only two black students in their program.

"It's mostly white students that study abroad," she explained. "It's [partly] the social scene. A lot of people go with their friends. For a lot white people, their whole social scene goes abroad, but for black people that's not the case."

Many of her black friends who studied abroad opted to do so during the summer rather than the regular academic year, Abubakari added.

The expense of going abroad is another issue, she said.

"White students have this idea that it's easier for them to go abroad, [that] there might be more of an opportunity," she explained. "[Also] you have to have a certain amount of money. I know some black students who went abroad and they tend to be students who aren't on financial aid."

For others, like senior Patricia Kim, the dominant social scene on campus encouraged them to study abroad. Kim chose to study in Prague, Czech Republic with a New York University program-opting specifically for an experience not under the University's auspices.

"I thought of study abroad as a way of getting away from the whole Asian-American stereotype that you get here," she said. "You're perceived very differently, and it's nice to leave the zone where all the stereotypes don't bombard you. I did a non-Duke program specifically to be around students who didn't attend Duke."

Martina Bryant, Trinity College associate dean, who has worked with the Office of Study Abroad to spread the word about study abroad, said often it comes down to a matter of educating students about their opportunities.

"The real answer is that we have to make the study abroad programs seem possible to students," she said.

"[Minority] students have to realize that the study abroad program is as extensive as it is and very often students don't know that. We have to say, 'This is a program that many students take advantage of, but you can take advantage of it too,'" Bryant added.


Share and discuss “Study abroad statistics reveal gap in diversity” on social media.