NAFSA 2023 Joint Panel on DEI: “Inspiring an Inclusive Future”
Education as a tool for social change
Diversity and inclusion were hot topics at this year's annual NAFSA conference, which celebrated the organisation's 75th anniversary. The conference saw inspiring speakers from an array of backgrounds discuss the value of education, especially for marginalised people. The theme of NAFSA 2023 was “inspiring an inclusive future”, which is increasingly important in an ever-internationalising, global, higher education industry. In addition to activities including a poster fair and the promotion of research opportunities in Europe, the conference hosted an insightful panel on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The ceremony was opened with a statement delivered by Nobel Peace Prize winning human rights activist Nadia Murad, who drew upon her own experiences to impart the vital importance that education has for women and girls in particular. According to Murad, a year of even primary education increases girl's wages in later life by 20%. This can impact the wellbeing of the entire family and encourage independence, Murad said. Further, Murad explained that education encourages equality and reduces tensions between groups of people. “It starts in the cradle, with compassion and tolerance of other people, treating boys and girls equally, celebrating differences and highlighting similarities.” She said, “Once we start school through literature and history, we can appreciate each other’s cultures and countries. We can more easily imagine their thoughts and feelings.” NAFSA's decision to include her as a speaker was a profound one, since Murad herself is acquainted with extreme ethnic and gender-based intolerance as a Yazidi woman and former Daesh captive. Her background means she understands that being denied basic rights like education is key to oppressing different groups. Murad said she and her female friends aspired toward education, which they believed would bring them a better life.
Following a powerful opening statement, delegates on a panel on diversity and inclusion discussed different ways to increase education opportunities for candidates from all backgrounds. In the panel, industry members discussed how staff in the education sector can make LGBTQIA+ students feel more comfortable while studying outside their home countries. This topic is of particular importance for students studying in countries or regions with high levels of anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments. In certain countries with homophobic laws, students may even be at risk of being incarcerated or otherwise punished. Further, sympathetic staff members might also be at risk of legal or social consequences for aiding students or concealing their gender or sexual identity from local authorities. One delegate welcomed the topic, saying that despite how difficult conversations regarding intolerance may be, such conversations “need to happen.” While the unnamed delegate was referring to problems in the Middle East, panel leader Jenna Curtis of SUNY Cortland highlighted that anti-LGBTQIA+ and general anti-diversity legislation is becoming an increasing problem in Western countries, like her native USA, or the Netherlands where – despite its reputation for tolerance – violence and harassment against LGBTQIA+ residents due to their identity has increased slightly in recent years.
Immigration law is becoming increasingly relevant as countries around the world debate policies which would limit international student intake, with some countries already feeling the negative economic impact of reducing their international student populations. One of the countries considering measures to limit international student intake is Wittenborg's home base, the Netherlands. Meanwhile, other countries are looking to maximise the value of international students to local society by driving up international graduate retention.
Overall, NAFSA 2023 was an impactful conference which touched upon difficult issues becoming increasingly relevant in the higher education sector. As the most international business school in the Netherlands with students and staff representing 100 nationalities from many different and beautiful backgrounds, the school embraces all efforts within the higher education industry to promote an inclusive environment for all. Wittenborg's key values – Internationalisation, Diversity and Ethics – were chosen with the understanding that including people from all walks of life is what makes the school such a top-quality environment for learning and professional development.
by Olivia Nelson