Visa Crunch

Significance Of Studying At A Prestigious School: Duke University

Twelve Latinx organisations on campus recently (re)demanded that Duke improve representation and support for its Latinx students both in and out of the classroom. I propose a tenth method for achieving this goal. Instead of emphasising Spain, Duke University and the Global Education Office (GEO) should offer more diverse study abroad programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean to better reflect the Latinx/Latine student body.

I’m a white-passing Latina from South Texas who struggles to speak Spanish–not the stereotypical image of the Latinx community. However, our community is not as homogeneous as some believe. The Latinx community is made up of beautiful people of various races, ethnicities, nationalities, food, cultures, histories, and even dialects!

Nonetheless, despite such diversity on a campus where roughly 10% of undergraduates are Latinx, Spain remains overemphasised as the representative of the Spanish-speaking world–particularly in Duke’s study abroad programmes. While many Latin American countries have colonial ties to Spain, thus the term “Hispanic” for those of Spanish ancestry, Spain is not synonymous with Latin America. Spain even has its own “vosotro/a” pronouns, whereas the rest of Latin America uses “ustedes.” Overemphasis on Spain has the greatest impact on underrepresented and underserved students with few options. The lack of programme diversity contradicts the GEO’s mission to provide programmes that provide “a mosaic of cultural and personal experiences,” as well as Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

My experience in trying to find a representative study abroad programme may be similar to that of other Duke students. Given that 49 percent of Trinity graduates from the 2020 class studied abroad, I never doubted that I, too, would apply to a study abroad programme during my time at Duke. As a low-income, fourth-generation Mexican-American Hispanic student, studying abroad provided the ideal opportunity for me to fully immerse myself in my distant ancestors. I hoped that by studying in a Spanish-speaking country, I would be able to reclaim my family’s Spanish language and Mexican heritage, which the Texan government had taken away from my family over generations through strict English-only school restrictions and open discrimination against immigrants and the Mexican-American population.

Moreover, given my limited Spanish skills, Trinity status, and programme availability, my hopes of rediscovering my family’s culture were not as realistic as I had hoped. In Mexico, there is no “Duke-In” study abroad programmes. Duke-In programmes are the only study abroad programmes in which students can receive financial aid. Furthermore, Duke’s GEO does not even list Mexican universities as “Duke-Approved” study abroad programmes. Of course, students can petition for a “Duke-Approved” programme in Mexico. Nonetheless, Duke continues to restrict travel to more than a dozen Mexican states due to US sanctions or the “heightened risk” of “health, safety, and security.” Other universities, such as UNC, continue to host programmes in states such as Guanajuato, a region designated by Duke as “restricted.”

Despite the fact that there is four separate “Duke-In” study abroad programmes in Spain, the GEO only offers three between Chile and Costa Rica, all of which require a Global Health concentration, Pratt status, or advanced Spanish language level requirements. While “Duke-In” programmes in Spain accept all levels of Spanish, “Duke-In” programmes in Chile and Costa Rica require at least an upper-intermediate understanding of Spanish. Even on the list of “Duke-Approved” programmes, students can only choose from three Latin American countries: Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador. This excludes a community that has endured a long history of forced assimilation, oppression, and neglect.

The Latinx community at Duke deserves better. As a result, I demand, unofficially on behalf of my community, that more attention be paid to the diversity of the Latinx community at Duke. The lack of inclusive study abroad opportunities reflects a failure to recognise the diversity of our community’s characteristics. Furthermore, it represses Latinx cultures, even more, restricts our access to emotionally engaging academic pursuits and favours our Spanish conquistadors.

Let’s add more programmes to the financially supported “Duke-In” list with the inclusion of Latinx students and faculty. If that isn’t possible right now, let’s broaden the list of “Duke-Approved” programmes and offer grants to make them more accessible to students. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 21 Spanish-speaking countries. Although Spain is a culturally rich country, most Latinx students do not claim it as their ancestral homeland and do not prefer programmes in Spain. There is power in representation, and a prestigious institution like Duke can begin by doing what they do best: providing world-class education from a variety of viewpoints.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only.

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