The Exclusionist Framing of Study Abroad Electronic Advertising and its Potential Influence on Students of Color Participation

Mary K Gathogo, David Horton
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 3  •  2018  •  pp. 059-076

This qualitative study examines the discourse of study abroad (SA) electronic advertising and how it potentially constrains participation by students of color in education abroad using a critical race theory (CRT) perspective.

Through visual and text communication, SA advertisements define the SA participant as affluent and White and construct SA as opportunities for tourism and recreation, while down-playing academic engagement along with other intellectual benefits. These practices can play a major role in determining who studies abroad.

This qualitative study employed content and thematic analysis to examine and analyze advertisements for study abroad through a CRT lens. A review of online advertisements for study abroad made available on the selected institutions’ websites, and those of their affiliated third party provider (TPP) was conducted. A line-by-line reading of collected advertisements led to the creation of identified themes which served as categories for analysis.

Using documents from two institutions and two third party providers (TPP), the researchers explored the language and images used to advertise SA experiences in order to open discussions surrounding the issues related to current practices and the potential benefit addressing these practices could have on expanding SA experiences to more students of color.

Four major themes emerged from this research: homogenization of the study abroad population, study abroad as recreation, study abroad as tourism, and de-accentuation of academic learning.

The participant profile for study abroad is largely homogeneous, and advertising produced by SA offices and TPP often perpetuate this homogeneity. An analysis of electronic ads revealed an underlying assumption that SA participants are predominantly White students from affluent backgrounds, whose main objective for participating in SA is immersion in a “different” culture and to fulfill a thirst for adventure. From our analysis it was found that included images were overwhelmingly of non-Students of Color. Images found of students engaging in activities while abroad perpetuated wealth, class and Whiteness. The absence of images of Students of Color (SOC) was disturbingly conspicuous, while the heavy use of images of White students communicated to the researcher and to potential participants who view these ads, that the target population is middle to upper class, White students.

SA is a costly undertaking and the challenge of paying for an overseas educational experience cannot be overemphasized. For SOC and their families, paying for SA can seem like an unnecessary expense in addition to the increasing cost of higher education. When SA ads depict the experience as an adventure and emphasize recreational activities at the expense of academic engagement, students and their families often question the rationale for spending money to go abroad for recreation. Excursions can serve as a very important part of SA, particularly in helping students engage with the local community. However, their value can only be realized when they are clearly linked to the academic goals of the program. Such connections should be made explicit in SA ads if institutions expect to attract minority students who might be apprehensive about the value of SA. Providing opportunities for SOC to see themselves as possible SA participants has the potential to not only enrich their college experiences but encourage future SOC to explore these valuable educational opportunities.

We recommend further study into the specific policy and practices used by institutions and TPPs to inform institutional community members of opportunities to study abroad beyond advertisements provided on websites. Additionally, further investigation is needed to better understand the specific feelings, emotions, and actions advertisements similar to the ones reviewed for this study develop within students of color and what can be done to advance study abroad as a more inclusive academic experience.

Ultimately, increasing the number of students of color participating in study abroad can have a dramatic impact on who and how future cohorts of students participate. The more SA experiences are viewed and valued as an educational experience by SOC and their families, opportunities for future students to participate will be expanded. Furthermore, it is imperative for institutions to support and encourage students from diverse backgrounds to engage in study abroad as a mechanism for better preparing students for an ever-increasing competitive global workforce.

Future research directed at better understanding the characteristics of SOCs that do choose to study abroad and insight into the added value these experiences have on students’ academic experiences and professional development is needed. There is a dearth of literature related to these areas of interest that could expand our knowledge and understanding related to SA participation and its benefits to all students.

study abroad, critical race theory, students of color, advertising
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