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Study abroad programs paused, student complains of discrimination in SIT IHP

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Thinking of studying abroad? Three programs are now off limits, with a fourth being moved to the United States.

Duke is pausing two study abroad programs for the 2020 summer term and one program for the 2020-21 academic year, and they are temporarily relocating another to a domestic location.

The semester-long study-away School for International Training International Honors Program, commonly referred to as the SIT IHP, is temporarily under review for the 2020-21 academic year. This summer’s Duke in Cuba program was canceled due to issues in program planning, and the Duke in China summer study abroad program was altered due to coronavirus concerns.

Last year, Duke canceled the 2020 summer Duke in Chile program because the country is on the University’s Restricted Regions list due to social and political unrest. Amanda Kelso, executive director of the Global Education Office, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that the GEO hopes to see it offered again in 2021.

Kelso wrote that the Duke in Cuba program was canceled because the GEO “had not made sufficient progress in program planning.”

“Not enough of the pieces were in place to ensure a high-quality program, and we wanted to give students plenty of time to apply to other programs or make other summer plans,” Kelso wrote. “Unfortunately, and unrelated, the program was also canceled in summer 2019 due to staffing issues. The Cuban people are wonderful hosts, and there’s much to study and learn in Cuba, so we have every intention of bringing the program back in the future.”

Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the GEO is seeking a new program location, likely in North Carolina, for the summer 2020 Duke in China program. Although it will no longer offer the internship component, the academics and coursework will stay the same—including the language pledge—and the dates and language immersion will be closely preserved, according to the program webpage. 

This will allow students to “form their own learning community with faculty and have an intensive language experience,” Kelso wrote.

The program’s application deadline has been extended to March 1.

The SIT IHP program, on the other hand, was put “on review” by the GEO based on student feedback. Duke students submit post-program surveys on all semester programs to keep program information up to date and identify student concerns. In the case of IHP, Kelso wrote, the programs were becoming popular among students, but the feedback on experience quality “was very varied.”

“When we get credible reports that students have not had a positive experience, then we take those directly to the program provider and we will not permit Duke students to enroll in those programs until our concerns are addressed to our satisfaction,” Kelso wrote.

She wrote that although the office would like for students to participate in IHP programs in the future, it will remain on hiatus while the office discusses the feedback with program providers “to see if improvements could be made.” 

According to Kelso, Duke routinely reviews Duke-approved programs and has removed programs in the past due to acute or emergent issues or programs that no longer fit their academic needs or standards. 

IHP complaints of discrimination

Student feedback on the program was indeed very varied. SIT IHP has seven separate programs, including “Health and Community” and “Cities in the 21st Century,” each run by a different set of program directors and coordinators. According to the SIT IHP website, the IHP program seeks to “give students a comparative look at a critical global issues” by analyzing systems from a local to global scale.

Junior Michelle Katemauswa participated in the IHP Health and Community Program track 2, entitled “Globalization, Culture and Care” which traveled to Washington, D.C., Vietnam, South Africa and Argentina.

She said she enjoyed her experience with the program and appreciated the curriculum and “deconstructionist” ways of approaching various global health issues.

“We got to meet a lot of people and interact with a lot of different settings and communities, which I think really made it a lot more valuable,” Katemauswa said. “I definitely came back different, at least intellectually—I am definitely a lot more skeptical about things, a lot more critical about how I view various global health issues.”

On the other hand, junior Julien Lewis participated in the IHP Cities in the 21st Century Program, in which he travelled to New York, Spain, Argentina and South Africa. He expressed dissatisfaction with the way the program was run and the way the staff treated students of color.

Lewis said that ever since they did an “anti-oppression training” on the first week of the program, he felt that the staff and administrators continually treated students of color differently and held them to higher standards than other students in the program.

During the training, Lewis said the students shared personal stories involving racism and the administrators singled him out, as well as the only other male of color in the program who didn’t feel comfortable sharing. Afterwards, Lewis said he immediately called Duke and reported the situation as “a step leading towards discrimination within the program.”

The next day, Lewis said the program director held a Q&A and 13-14 students critiqued the program for the lack of information provided about the schedule and class times and issues with budgeting and financial aid.

After that, Lewis said that he and the other black students in the program received notice from their respective schools indicating that the students had expressed interest in leaving the program. None of the non-black students who spoke up received similar notices from their schools. All the black students, even one who didn’t speak against the program, received such notices, Lewis said.

“They would literally only enforce rules to certain students in the classroom and not to white students… [who] were allowed to get away with being a typical college student in another country, whereas [students of color] had to be consistently paid attention to and policed everywhere we were walking around,” Lewis said.

He explained that due to the internal tensions, five students had dropped the program by its completion. Lewis said that, of those who dropped, four were black and one was Hispanic.

However, Katemauswa felt that her program was more conscious of these issues, which resulted in a more positive experience.

Lewis added that he and his classmates were also frustrated with the program schedule and the lack of transparency regarding program details. He said that the students were told they would only be in class for no more than one and a half hours per day, but, in reality, they “were in a building, sitting in a chair for seven hours out of the eight-hour time period.”

Katemauswa said that although her program had the same 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, she wasn’t in the classroom all day. They only had traditional classes once a week for about an hour and a half, and she said they filled the rest of the time with guest lecturers, site visits to hospitals and clinics and field day trips.

Despite his experience, Lewis said that he doesn’t regret it.

“I learned a lot from it about myself,” Lewis said. “I just want people to be held accountable when they need to,” he added.

Changes in the works

In a statement to The Chronicle, Mory Pagel, executive director of institutional relations and strategic partnerships at SIT, wrote that Duke is a “longstanding and valued” partner institution for SIT. Over the past decade, 83 Duke students in total participated in the IHP program, he noted.

He wrote that SIT is aware that some Duke students have had concerns about IHP programs both during the program and in their evaluations, and they take this feedback “very seriously.” He emphasized that SIT seeks to ensure that its programs are “academically rigorous, culturally relevant and inclusive.”

As a result, SIT is already making specific modifications to address the feedback, including changes to the website to more accurately reflect the intensity of the IHP programming. These changes include introducing more robust orientations for students to better understand expectations, homestays and programming; increased training for staff on issues of diversity, identities, restorative justice and conflict resolution; and more time for independent student research and self-care.

He added that SIT, in cooperation with its parent nonprofit World Learning, is launching an ongoing internal inquiry into specific complaints.

Specifically addressing the Cities program, Pagel wrote that SIT has hired an outside consultant to observe the orientation “to perform a further, broader external review to discern if there are any program gaps once our internal investigation is complete.”

Katemauswa said that Lewis’s program needs to be reviewed and addressed, but she believes IHP is ultimately “worth it” and hopes the program will be made available for students in the future.

Pagel wrote that SIT looks forward to working closely with Duke to reinstate the University’s “long-held confidence in SIT and IHP to provide extraordinary study abroad opportunities for Duke students.”

Nonetheless, Lewis emphasized that students should do their research on the institution they’re enrolling in before “just committing a whole semester of your life to it.”

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