Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: International Perspectives

Nov 1, 2022 1:25:00 PM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President for Strategic Engagement Dr. Michael Woolf. In this piece, Dr. Woolf introduces CAPA's Occasional Paper #10: The JEDI Anthology. This publication is a compilation of perspectives from members of the international education community.

Why a JEDI Anthology?

In San Francisco at the Diversity Abroad Conference on “Global Inclusion” in early October 2022, we were pleased to hold a session to launch CAPA’s Occasional Paper #10: THE JEDI ANTHOLOGY. The JEDI Anthology draws upon contributions made over the past 12 years. Collectively, these papers demonstrate the value of conversations that go beyond everyday concerns to explore diverse perspectives and ideologies. One rationale for this anthology derives from the current uneasy political environment. The timeliness is clear.

CAPA’s Occasional Paper #10: THE JEDI ANTHOLOGY

The work of education abroad organizations is rooted in US higher education; we are, in essence, the overseas representatives of American colleges and universities. We create and enact programs that complement, in one form or another, their education abroad aspirations. The underrepresentation of some student groups in that mode of study has generated diversity, equity, and inclusion agendas at home and abroad. Including the notion of justice recognizes political implications and wider contexts in which racism and institutional prejudice is manifest.

The considerable impact of Black Lives Matter had implications for our work in that it rightly and properly focused upon African American experience and one consequence is that JEDI agendas have, in turn, predominantly reflected those concerns. It is inevitable that the American lens dominates.

Going beyond national realities, however, reveals complexity. Default distinctions within American society may not be of global relevance. Thus, we owe it to ourselves and those we teach to challenge and complicate dominant narratives. 

The Politics of Education Abroad

What we have progressively understood over the last few years is that we are in the business of politics. Prior to this we engaged primarily with essentially internal matters relevant to the education abroad community. We were concerned with professionalization, health and safety, experiential education, the relative value of center programs abroad compared to direct enrollment. Something called “comprehensive internationalization” emerged from Washington, D.C. as the gold standard to which all higher education institutions, regardless of location or mission, should aspire. Notions of intercultural or cross-cultural studies became largely unexamined orthodoxies. And, because we were by instinct egalitarians, we became conscious of an obligation to address underrepresentation. 

However necessary and urgent, these discussions were essentially internal matters, contained within, and of interest to, the education abroad community. 

What we did not debate, because there seemed little reason to do so, was the political and ideological implications of education abroad. Indeed, these implications were not always visible, but the assumption was that a vaguely liberal, benign ethos prevailed. The events of 1989, and the subsequent collapse of Soviet authority, would seem dramatically to confirm that history was on the side of those who were engaged in international activities.

Within Europe, and by extension in other parts of the world, increased mobility across borders reflected freedoms gained by the end of the Cold War and, seemingly, the erosion of the power of the “isms”. Communism, fascism, nationalism, and those other credos that had shaped conflict throughout much of the twentieth century were ostensibly consigned to the past. At the same time, and more ominously, other latent dynamics were also liberated. Militant nationalism and xenophobic parochialism, suppressed under Soviet authority, reemerged. We moved into the paradoxes within which we now function. Globalization, in its many manifestations, demonstrates the interconnectedness of countries while simultaneously creating conditions within which traditional hatreds and historical alienations gain renewed momentum, creating justification for intentional disconnection and isolationist actions.

Despite its rich multicultural history and in defiance of human rights principles and European Union values, Hungary has become an extreme example of militant xenophobia. The Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán of the Fidesz party, describes refugees as “Muslim invaders” and migrants as “poison.” A “keep them out” policy was signposted by the construction, in June 2015, of a mammoth 175km-long, four-meter-high razor wire fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border. 

Hungarian – Serbian border

Hungarian – Serbian border.

This impenetrable barrier was later extended to the Hungarian-Croatian frontier.

In his 12 years in power, Viktor Orbán has been ruthless in pursuing the ideology he calls “illiberal democracy.” In 2022, his Fidesz party won a crushing victory, taking 54% of the vote and allowing Orbán to start on his fourth consecutive term. He has made no secret of his desire to create a European alliance of ultra-nationalists, befriending the likes of France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni. Meloni leads a far-right party with neo-fascist roots, Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy). As a result of the 2022 Italian general election, Meloni became Prime Minister. 

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Things look good for the far right in Europe, and elsewhere. Buried bigotry has moved, in many contexts, from private thought toward legitimized public discourse, and, in extreme cases, political policies. White supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, persecution of Christians, religious intolerance, discrimination against Roma, racial prejudice—these discourses of hatred, and many others, signify the growth of thought and action in which those unlike us are defined as alien, a menace to community values and identities. Protecting the cohesion of social and political entities necessarily requires the exclusion of diverse peoples, construction of pariahs, “cleansing” of strangers.

Education abroad is in direct ideological collision with these notions. We do not believe in walls but seek to build bridges. Strangers are not aliens. Education is enriched by encounters with people who may think and behave differently. These principles are, in summation, reflected in a commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion that needs to address global politics. What we believe is an anathema in the minds of many. These are, in the environments within which we function, contested political principles.

From DEI to JEDI: The Political Rationale

The inclusion of justice does more than create a cute, memorable acronym. There are those who do not fully endorse the phrase on the grounds that the Star Wars connection trivializes the significance or that there are inappropriate implications. It seems to me to be lacking in humor to object to the usage on these grounds: the benefit of including justice in the collocation far outweighs whatever other associations the term may have. 

The term was originally coined by Keshia Abraham, founder of the Abraham Consulting Agency [1]; she suggests two related forms of usage:

Justice and Equity in Diversity and Inclusion 

Justice and Equity with Dignity and Intention

The conjunctions serve to demonstrate the interdependence of the components, as distinct from separate words in which the connection is implicit rather than explicit. The major and more significant contribution, however, is that “justice” becomes a necessary pre-condition to what follows. It rightly, I think, embeds politics into the concept.

JEDI aspirations have become part of the environment in which education abroad functions at various levels of effectiveness. At one end of the spectrum, this may be manifest as obligatory rhetoric rather than commitment but, more commonly, the community of international educators has been genuinely engaged in questions of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in many and varied ways.

At CAPA, teaching students about diversity has, for example, become one of our key learning objectives in the context of globalization, urbanization, and social dynamics. Teaching the meaning of diversity abroad is an imperative. The student body, drawn from US higher education, does not, despite efforts to increase representation, reflect the composition of student populations at home. Two objectives emerge: to renew efforts to make opportunities to study abroad more accessible and, at the same time, to teach students that the conditions of American society are not necessarily reenacted elsewhere. That speaks to a core aspiration in education abroad: to demonstrate that the norms with which we are familiar are not universal.

Such insights are, of course, not dependent on leaving home. Within the domestic classroom, students can learn about the dynamics that have shaped experiences of peoples elsewhere. They may understand that racialization and marginalization have, in various ways, created structures that are unjust and exclusive. However, if they are able to study abroad, those theories become realities. Mind and body, observation, first-hand analysis, and physical encounters combine to undermine stereotypes and disrupt assumptions. Creative discomfort is a rich field for teaching and learning.

The rationale for this anthology came out of a number of observations relating to the environment within which we function. Critical race theory, for example, has entered into political controversies that recall the John Thomas Scopes trial of 1925 when the state of Tennessee, using legislative mechanisms, intervened to ban the teaching of evolutionary theories. [2] As in those distant days, what is taught in the classroom has become part of the political landscape rather than a matter for educational discourse. Forces on the right insist that critical race theory must not be taught while opposition voices insist that it is a required element of the knowledge necessary to understand American reality. [3]

The American Voice

Most obviously, events in the US have brought race prejudice and injustice into sharper focus. The dominant narrative, understandably, focuses on that context. It is logical that we too reflect those emphases in the anthology. There are consequently significant contributions that examine African American experience including John Reilly’s passionate analysis of “teaching whiteness,” Anthony Pinder’s analysis of the role of HBCUs, and Julius Coles’ moving memoir.

However, we should also recognize that the global reach of issues within American society reflects the power of the American voice. As international educators we have an obligation to ourselves and our students to expand consciousness beyond the familiar contexts. Consequently, there are essays that illustrate a broader JEDI agenda including LGBTQIA+ rights, disability, false conviction, class, and other areas of injustice.

Furthermore, we wanted to broaden the geographical focus. Essays on India, France, Africa, Sri Lanka, and the Roma in Europe present situations that are not widely recognized or reported. Two examples demonstrate the international inequality of marginalized voices. There are powerful African American spokespeople who reach beyond national boundaries with passion and erudition; they also reflect relative privilege in access to transnational media. 

In contrast, I doubt that many have heard of the death of a Roma man on June 19, 2021, in Teplice, in the Czech Republic. Stanislav Tomáš died after an officer knelt on his neck while two others restrained him. The resonance with the death of George Floyd is obvious. The differences are deeply significant; outside of limited media channels, the story created hardly a ripple on international news outlets; no policeman was charged with the murder; the name Stanislav Tomáš evokes no impassioned response. [4]

 Similarly, the events of September 16, 2022 in Tehran are barely registered in JEDI contexts. A 22-year-old Iranian, Mahsa Amini, died after being beaten with police batons and having her head smashed against a police van. Outside of Iran, responses to her death have generated limited protest, mostly from Iranian exiles. As the journalist George Mortimer argues: “The truth is that the West isn’t much interested in Amini and the other young Iranians—more than 75—who have been killed in the last fortnight” (The Spectator, September 30, 2022). [5]

Within the values ostensibly embedded in the JEDI agenda, inclusion is a significant principle. However, in practice, in the rhetoric of education abroad it is largely defined through, and limited to, American space. As international educators, we have a moral and intellectual responsibility to recognize that indifference to, or ignorance of, events beyond the American context reflect an essentially parochial state of mind. There are those who remain voiceless and barely visible, minoritized peoples beyond the “radical empathy” envisaged by Isabel Wilkerson in Caste. There is no international community of the oppressed, no community of suffering, nor is resistance to injustice inclusive.

Legal discrimination against women has by no means been eradicated. As Peter Tatchell’s essay demonstrates, homosexuality remains a crime in a significant number of countries. Other vulnerable communities such as Roma in Europe, Rohingya in Myanmar, or Kurds in Turkey are largely silenced. The persecution of Christians and Hindu militancy in India has similarly not generated much international protest. Religious tolerance is largely outside of the scope of public concern. 

Many of the essays that we have published over the last 12 years were written in contexts that did not focus solely on questions of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. However, these essays have, we felt, something significant to say about those urgent questions in national and international contexts. 

The line between action and thought is, of course, not a rigid division. In demonstrating the roots of injustice and prejudice, activism is given political, historical, economic, and social validity. However, as many of these essays demonstrate, going beyond righteous slogans and cliches evokes complexity, and exposes the dangers of simplistic responses and the propagation of stereotypes, whether they come from progressive or conservative thought. We owe it to ourselves and to those we teach to go beyond rhetoric and preconceptions, wherever those enquiries may take us. 

4 individuals celebrating the publication launch

Some contributors to the JEDI Anthology at Diversity Abroad publication launch (left to right):
Tinaz Pavri (Spelman College), Mike Woolf (CAPA), Andrew Gordon (Diversity Abroad), and Anthony Pinder (Emerson College).


The privilege of working on these papers has been a highlight of my professional career. I have been an editor of these papers since the beginning, and I have learned much from my colleagues around the world who have generously given their time and intellects to our endeavors. Among the paradoxical things that beset every editor is the situation in which you find yourself agreeing with contributors who disagree with each other. When I was much younger, I knew what I thought with certainty. These days I am increasingly unsure but, I take comfort from the Irish dramatist Brian Friel’s assertion that “confusion is not an ignoble condition.”

Uncertainty is the catalyst for investigation, the source of creativity. Underlying that proposition is the decision that we made many years ago not to approach these discussions with a single thesis but rather to allow diversity of opinion and perspective to stand. 

My conviction is that respectful disagreement is intellectually stimulating and ultimately necessary for creative thought. I often return to the example of two wise rabbis, born before Jesus, Shammai (50 BCE–30 CE) and Hillel the Elder (c. 110 BCE–10 CE). They rarely agreed about anything much. They did not seek to reach a consensus. Their discourses always concluded with the idea that these were “disagreements for the sake of Heaven.” Regardless of heaven, thought moves beyond superficial reiteration of received ideas when thesis is challenged by antithesis, when dogma is subject to deconstruction, when we stop to listen to each other.

We offer these essays for your consideration in the hope that they will be a catalyst for reaction, alteration, agreement, and disagreement. Our aim is to throw a pebble in a pond, so that the ripples will go beyond the point of impact, to encourage further scholarship and introspection. That is why we have done this work.

The anthology is available without cost online or in printed form.

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Thanks, Mike!

CAPA_Michael Woolf Headshot

Dr. Michael Woolf is Deputy President for Strategic Engagement of CAPA: The Global Education Network. Mike has had much of his career in an international context. Prior to working in mainstream international education, he completed a PhD in American Studies and taught literature at the universities of Hull, Middlesex, Padova, and Venice. For four years he worked as a researcher-writer for BBC radio. He has held leadership roles in international education for many years and has written widely on international education and cultural studies. Much of his work has focused on areas of strategic development with particular focus on the status and credibility of education abroad within the wider academic community. He serves on a number of boards and was a member of the Board of Directors of The Forum on Education Abroad from 2006 to 2012. He was the recipient of the Peter A. Wollitzer Advocacy Award (2020) from the Forum on Education Abroad. 'Thoughts on Education Abroad' is a monthly column of short essays sharing his thoughts and expertise on the subject.


Topics: London, England, International Education