An Obvious Equity Blind Spot in International Education Practice 

An Obvious Equity Blind Spot in International Education Practice 

I saw a poster the other day that reminded me of the importance of having a deeper understanding of “equity”. The poster showed the situation of three guys of significantly different heights, standing behind a fence which separated them from a ballpark where a game was being played.  To be able to look over the fence to watch the game, the left side of the poster showed each guy standing on a block of the same size and height. The shortest guy could still not see over the fence even with the aid of the block so on the right side of the poster, the block of the tallest guy who could see over the fence even without a block, was given to the shortest guy so he could stand on 2 blocks and see over the fence to watch the game. So, though the tallest guy could not get to stand on any block, the shortest guy had two blocks, the middle guy had one, but all three were able to look over the fence and watch the game. 

The lesson here is that instead of focusing on an equal distribution of resources (the left side of the poster) in the equality minded approach, the equity approach (right side) focuses on a fair distribution of resources so each person can attain their aspiration. In other words, the equity approach, as depicted in the right side of the poster, noted a deficit in the ability of one of the guys so it sought to atone the deficit by redistributing the resources (blocks).

Good as this deficit approach to equity may seem at first sight, it not only limited the possible aspiration of the three guys behind the fence, it also legitimized the limitation. Their plight of having to stand behind a tall fence to watch the game remained unchanged. I am quite sure they would prefer to be inside the ballpark itself but for the fence. Our approach to IE practice might be caught within the “deficit-thinking” mentality if we fail to see the unequal structures, motivations, and perceptions under which we practice. 

While programs and activities to promote DEI abound in the field, when it comes to adherence to equity on the global stage, are we intentional about interrogating the systemic barriers that exist, particularly in our relations with the global south?

A leading organization in the field considers international education as essential for “developing globally competent individuals, and to build leadership for the global community”. I believe so too! And I also believe that we cannot achieve that goal of education for the “global community” if our focus is dominated mostly by our US and institutional interests.

In our partnership relations with HEIs of the Global South, how conscious are we of the unequal power relations? How do we address the imbalance? An international partnership with an HEI of the Global South, can become a form of coercion from a US HEI in pursuit of its internationalization policies. An educational exchange agreement based solely on numerical or cost transactions could in reality grossly disadvantage the Global South partner. As a Third-Party Provider, how do your operations benefit the host community and local students? It is good to provide an opportunity to enable US students to develop global competence, and to fully pay for it, but how can we consciously contribute to building “leadership for the global community” when we ignore the global competence needs of the host community?

As IE professionals, are we aware of the national historical, economic and political contexts (fences) that define our field, and that uncritical approaches to our practice make others in the Global South, particularly in Africa, vulnerable to our exploitation? Is our IE practice consciously aimed at equity that tears down exploitative structures or an equality-driven transactional approach? 

 It would not be successful international education practice, I think, unless it is committed (in whatever small way) to interrogating the power structures (fences) that define our practice, and to intentionally seek ways to provide equitable access into the global community, to all participants.

About the author: Dr. Stephen Appiah-Padi is Director of the Office of Global & Off-Campus Education at Bucknell University. Dr. Appiah-Padi has extensive experience in teaching and in administration at 2- and 4-year institutions of higher education, currently serves a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors, and has held leadership positions involving intercultural communication as well as emerging leaders of internationalization in African higher education institutions.

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Episode 29: Cultural Lens on U.S. Higher Education: Analyzing International Perceptions of 'Anti-Woke’ Discourse

Dive into a nuanced exploration of the global discourse surrounding higher education in the United States. Join us for a panel discussion with esteemed international educators as we embark on a journey through the lenses of culture and international perspective, examining how global audiences interpret and engage with the ‘anti-woke’ discourse within the context of U.S. higher education. This engaging panel discussion will delve into the intersections of culture, ideology, and education, and the complex landscape of how international audiences perceive the ‘anti-woke’ narrative that has emerged within U.S. academia.

Whether you’re a senior international officer, or simply curious about the diverse viewpoints shaping U.S. higher education, this podcast episode will provide an invaluable space for critical analysis and insightful conversations.

Speaker Biography:

Fanta Aw is a distinguished leader in international education, renowned for her extensive contributions to global learning, cross-cultural understanding, and educational equity. With a deep commitment to fostering connections between diverse cultures and promoting educational excellence, she has significantly impacted the international education community.

Fanta Aw’s career has been characterized by her dedication to advancing global education initiatives, promoting diversity and inclusion, and nurturing partnerships that transcend borders. She has held influential roles in various organizations, advocating for the importance of international collaboration and learning experiences that empower individuals to navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

As a thought leader and visionary, Fanta Aw’s insights and expertise have shaped discussions on the future of international education, emphasizing the significance of equitable access, cultural exchange, and lifelong learning. Her work has not only elevated institutions but has also inspired countless individuals to embrace the transformative power of global education.

Date: September 14th, 2023
Time: 12 noon ET

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An experienced global researcher and administrator, Mark Beirn brings a critical approach to risk management, factoring structural racism and identity-based violence into his rubric for supporting equitable global mobility.

Specialization Areas:

– Global Risk Management
– Education Abroad
– Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in International Education
– Health and Safety
– Curriculum Development


Stephen Appiah-Padi​


Stephen Appiah-Padi is an international educator with several years of teaching and administrative experience in both 4 and 2-year HEIs. An experienced global education practitioner-scholar, with a demonstrated history of success in the field.

Dr. Appiah-Padi has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada in Educational Policy & Administration with a specialization in International/Intercultural Education.

At Northwestern College, he provided oversight in the administration of education abroad and international student services. In Lansing, Michigan, he first oversaw diversity and intercultural education at Lansing Community College, and later created the Center for International and Intercultural Education (CIIE) which merged intercultural engagement and international education programs of the institution, and he became its first director. Additionally, Dr. Appiah-Padi taught a course, “Diversity in the American Workplace”, to undergraduate management students of the College. In his current position, he provides leadership and vision in advancing strategic internationalization initiatives, including international partnerships and study abroad programs at Bucknell University.

Dr Appiah-Padi has created and facilitated several workshops for faculty and staff development in higher education and in business organizations. He has presented at several national and international conferences. In NAFSA, among several volunteer leadership positions, he has served as Dean of the Fundamentals of Intercultural Communication Workshop, the Leadership Development Committee member, Chair of the Africa Special Interest Group, and a Fellow of the Global Fellowship Program for mentoring emerging leaders of internationalization in African HEIs. He currently serves as a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors.

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Rosa Almoguera


Dr. Rosa Almoguera has worked as an international educator for over twenty years. She was trained as a Hispanic Philologist at the Universidad Complutense, in Madrid, and did her M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania. Her Ph.D., from Universidad Complutense included a field study and edition of written balladry “Romancero”. During many years Rosa combined teaching and her role as a senior administrator at the Fundación Ortega-Marañón in Toledo, Spain. At the Foundation, Rosa directed and, in many cases created, programs for the University of Minnesota, Notre Dame, Princeton, Ohio State, Arcadia, and the University of Chicago. She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, University of Portland, and Interamericana de Puerto Rico.

Beginning in 2016, Rosa works as an international education consultant for both public and private European and US higher education institutions. Rosa has been successful in developing new partnerships and programs, as well as helping improve already existing ones.

Rosa is a member of Forum and NAFSA and has presented with higher education professionals on innovative academic and research programming, STEM in study abroad and Nationalism in Europe. Rosa is currently completing the final Professional Certification from the Forum on Education Abroad.