Since 2016, IFSA has proudly and unequivocally stated our commitment to Inclusive Excellence. It has always been the first of our four organizational commitments because we understand that it is the foundation for all of them. For students to pursue their individual educational goals, engage meaningfully with people whose cultures differ from their own, and experience the lifelong impact of education abroad to its fullest, all learners must first feel that they are welcome. That they belong. That they are valued.
In the U.S., the lack of inclusion in our society is on full display. George Floyd’s death on May 25th at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis sparked peaceful protests and riots across the country, including in Indianapolis. Protests have now spread globally in support of racial justice and against systemic racism and abuse of power. I wish I could say that the protests and riots started because of George Floyd’s death, but the sad truth is that the trauma caused by police brutality is widespread. Hundreds of Black Americans, usually men, have been killed by police in the last five years alone. Individuals acting out of their own bias and anger have committed many other heinous murders.
The pandemic may have stripped away our traditional engagement and support for students, but it does not strip away our compassion or conviction. We do not maintain a commitment to inclusion for show or profit. We maintain our commitment to Inclusive Excellence because we believe that all people are valued and valuable, that everyone deserves respect and compassion. That starts at home, and as a nation, we are in pain. My heart is with all of our students, staff, and colleagues who are hurt by the ongoing struggle for racial justice in this country.
What is happening right now stems from the unique past of the United States, the first nation founded on the idea of freedom for all, yet built by slaves. We have a shameful past that is alive in the present, as the ongoing deaths and protests make clear. Even though the spark started in the U.S., and the specific context is uniquely American, inequity is everywhere, and I believe this is why so many people globally are standing up for justice.
The ongoing deaths, the lack of systemic change to ensure equity for all can make us all feel helpless. Societal inequities and injustices are entrenched, and though we all have a personal responsibility, it is difficult as one individual to see how we can affect the change we want to see in the world. As an organization committed to fostering inclusion, IFSA is in the rare position of influencing student learning and experiences through our collective efforts. Our mission directs us to create global learning environments that help students develop the knowledge, perspective, and skills students need to thrive in the future. Elevating our students’ sense of respect and appreciation for people different from themselves is perhaps the most important influence we can have on their lives and on the world. As educators, we all have that power.
The world has changed in the span of three months. No matter how many students go abroad again in the future, it will be a different experience than in the past. As we wait for that day, we have the collective opportunity to deepen our own practices that foster an inclusive mindset in our students and in ourselves. On behalf of IFSA I can tell you that we will not stop simply because the students are not with us right now; if anything, we will increase our efforts, so that when they return, we have also changed for the better.
Thank you all for the work you do every day to make life–changing experiences possible for students. We all have so much good work yet to do, and the current social unrest in the U.S. only strengthens my conviction in what we do and why we do it. I look forward to advancing inclusion across our field and our world in partnership with all of you.
||Heather Barclay Hamir, Ph.D.
IFSA President and CEO