In an unusual cultural exchange, 14 members of three fraternities at The Ohio State University (OSU) traveled to China last month, where they choreographed a step show for Chinese students as part of a cross-cultural awareness program funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State.
Members of the Greek organizations Sigma Lambda Beta, Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma traveled to Beijing, Wuhan, Changsha and Shanghai to experience culture in the world’s most populated country.
For many of these African-American males, it was their first time outside the country.
“As an African-American male, my experience in China was very eye opening,” says Kavian J. Anderson, a senior majoring in biological engineering. “While in China, I did not feel like I was an outsider like I do here in America. I did not feel as though I was stereotyped or preconceived as a criminal, thug or troublemaker. Here in America, I understand that I have to be aware of my surroundings when strolling around campus, especially at night. It’s not for my own safety, but rather to ease the tensions and sense of danger of others that may share the sidewalks.
“When walking in stores in China, I did not feel as though the employees thought that I would steal anything. All in all, there is a general sense of fear that is equated with African-Americans here in America. That fear does not exist in China.”
Dr. Robert Eckhart, who is executive director of the Combined ESL Programs in the Department of Teaching and Learning at OSU, wrote the grant and collaborated with the university’s Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at OSU to administer the exchange program.
“Providing international opportunities like this one, designed to build global competencies, is a key component to develop all students, in order to produce graduates who will achieve up to their potential,” says Eckhart. “From what the students on this trip told us, underrepresented students, often from cultural minority groups in the U.S., have less difficulty being in the cultural minority in a place like China, because they have learned how to function in a cultural minority their entire lives.”
Dr. James L. Moore III, an associate provost in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, and EHE Distinguished Professor of Urban Education at OSU, says that his office has made international travel a priority. He took students to Brazil earlier this year and now to China.
“At Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, we strive to not only be the premier research center on African-American males, but also a leader in the development of African-American males,” he says. “Enhancing the student experience and studying its impact are central strands of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male’s work. In other words, we create programs and initiatives that have the potential to be replicated at other institutions. Ohio State University is our laboratory for our research and programmatic efforts.”
More experiences abroad
Increasingly, more and more colleges and universities are exposing Black males to experiences abroad. In recent years, Dr. Jerlando F.L. Jackson, the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has sponsored the International Colloquium on Black Males in Education to explore issues that impact Black males across the globe. Now in its fourth year, the colloquium will be held in Kingston, Jamaica, in October.
“As in past years, the colloquium will bring together leading scholars and thinkers, high-impact practitioners, and students from around the globe,” says Jackson. “It will offer a diverse array of programs that serve to elicit intellectual thought, discussion, and ideas that can be implemented to serve and improve the experiences of Black males throughout the world.”
Anderson participated in previous colloquiums on the Black male and says that the experience proved valuable in introducing him to Black males around the world who hold a Ph.D.
“That experience drove me to decide that I want to obtain a Ph.D. myself,” he says. “And I want to help mentor and teach Black males in STEM fields.”
Other institutions are expanding their efforts, too. Under the direction of Morehouse College President John S. Wilson Jr., Morehouse — the nation’s only institution for Black males — has said that the college is strengthening its efforts to expand its study abroad opportunities, particularly in countries such as China.
For Anderson, the rare opportunity to travel to China was life changing.
“All in all, this trip absolutely exceeded any expectation I had for it,” he says. “We were able to crush cultural boundaries by fully immersing ourselves in Chinese culture. This trip really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Most importantly, our treatment of international students, the impact of American culture and the Chinese way of life in general. The Chinese are so open and willing to give love that it has had a profound impact on my outlook on life.”
In an era of globalization, Eckhart says that more students — regardless of their economic background — should be provided with the opportunity to travel abroad and experience another country.
“Study abroad has long been viewed as an opportunity available only for affluent students, but it’s not enough to accept that as a necessary reality,” he says. “All colleges and universities, like OSU, must strive to open international doors to all students, regardless of economic means.”
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected].