The Fragility of our Democracy and the Challenge Posed to International Educators

The Fragility of our Democracy and the Challenge Posed to International Educators

Understanding the implications of the U.S. mid-term elections on international higher education. We can’t afford complacency.

We do not need to learn the results of every local and statewide election on November 8 to imagine their lasting impact on our civil society and political life. Worldwide media coverage of the campaigns and court cases, gerrymandering, efforts at voter suppression, and in particular, the continued influence and impact of the former president’s denial of the legitimacy of the 2020 election, have cast a global shadow on the outcome of this election. We’ve only had two years to turn away from the anti-democratic and authoritarian policies and practices of the last administration; and we are still reeling from the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection and the ongoing legal battles for hundreds who rioted at the Capital. If Trump does run for president again, the normalization of violence, untruths and lies will once again poison our public discourse.

The current campaigns and candidates among the anti-democracy extremists within the Republican Party demonstrate how far we still have to go to protect our democratic institutions and electoral practices. The churn of domestic politics and the uncertainties about the stability of our social and political institutions portend challenges for international educators and the values of our profession. We’ve long assumed an acceptance of the “rightness” of our campus practices and policies to recruit international students and scholars, to provide campus and community models to bridge cultural and linguistic differences, and to widen the door to global travel for study, internships and service.

NAFSA’s advocacy mission statement states: “Global learning leads to a more engaged and welcoming United States, more responsive and participatory government, and a more secure and peaceful world…and advocates for policies that foster the exchange of ideas, a commonsense immigration process…and the evolution and improvement of democratic institutions and enlightened global engagement.”

As we move closer to the next season of presidential campaigning, are we confident these aspirations and values will be upheld and sustained by legislatures, state Attorney Generals, Governors and members of Congress following the outcome of the elections held today? How will we stand up to the challenges facing our campuses and international organizations to foster “enlightened global engagement” as the country becomes ever more divided?

In a recent blog for Campus Compact, Eric Hartman, Executive Director of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, plainly states: “Our inability to see ourselves as a nation is expressed not only in our ignorance of racial and ethnic diversities and their shifts, but also in our collective commitments to insist that certain regions are irrevocably “red” or “blue.”

We do not usually address the fact that international educators are caught in the middle of what one writer refers to as the “diploma divide” (Eric Levitz, “How the diploma divide is remaking American politics,” New York, Oct. 19, 2022) which is fostering a widening cultural gap in the country. As Levitz puts it, “…college graduates in general-and Democratic college graduates in particular-tend to have different social values, cultural sensibilities, and issues priorities than the median non-college-educated voter.” Those in the Republican party who support and foster candidates out of step with democratic principles consistently prey on this divide (even as their leaders and spokespersons are predominantly college-educated). This polarization affects the practice of international educators and the successful implementation of internationalization policies at our educational institutions (for more on this divide, go to this story in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Professionals in my generation have fought the good fight to sustain and grow the field of international education for the past fifty years. However, we never faced a time in our political culture as intimidating as this time. A time when the basic principles of our democratic culture are being questioned and challenged. A time when our colleagues abroad are worried about our ability to play a leading role in world affairs, in scientific, educational and cultural exchanges, in supporting the open dialogue they came to expect from our faculties, in welcoming students into our communities on and off-campus. 

We can’t afford complacency. We will soon learn just how much there is to be done.

About the Author: Martin Tillman is a renowned thought leader, consultant, speaker, and author of international education who understands the impact of international education abroad and employability. He has consulted for international organizations, U.S. State Department, and innumerable higher education institutions.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/martintillman/

Twitter: @tillman_marty

Leave a Reply

Share this on:

Sponsored ad

Sponsored ad

Sponsored ad

Sponsored ad

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

Sponsored by:

Mark Beirn


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.

Subscribe to Gateway Edge Newsletter & Spotlight Episodes

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.

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.

%d bloggers like this: