After Trump’s win, there is no use in feeling sorry for ourselves
“The way we can truly make America great again is by thoughtfully addressing this situation, not acting like the sky is falling”
Eddie West, director of international programs at UC Berkeley Extension and former director of international initiatives at NACAC, shares his thoughts on Donald Trump’s shock win in the US presidential election this week.
I am deeply disappointed by the results. But there’s little use in feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead we have to learn from the outcome. Here’s what I think I’ve learned… And I hope you will indulge me.
It’s time to acknowledge that many in our profession, myself included, tend to see the world through a very narrow lens, ironically. We travel the world, hobnob on the international conference circuit, complain about quintessentially first-world problems like not having enough leg room on economy class flights, and we suffer these “hardships” in the service of selling the relative luxury good that is international education. Many of our students hail from what one social justice-minded colleague of mine has sardonically called the “global upper crust”. I remember when he first used that term in a good-natured joke about my work. I remember it because despite him joking, it stung. And it stung because it’s true.
“It’s time to acknowledge that many in our profession, myself included, tend to see the world through a very narrow lens, ironically”
So we jet-set, reading publications like the Economist common in international airports, flipping the TV on to watch CNN in our four and five star hotels, and all the while are consumed by and immersed in the preoccupations of the well-to-do. Meanwhile, in rural America, Britain and elsewhere, life is very different. Those who live there know it, and cosmopolitan urbanites know it. But we ignore that difference and they do not. They cannot. And the Brexit and Trump votes are thunderous messages from our fellow compatriots, saying “our lives matter too”. If we’d paid more heed to the degradation of their living standards over the years, rather than blithely buying into the view that all globalization is good globalization, then maybe we’d have made incremental course corrections for the social good along the way. But we didn’t, and now we’re jolted to attention.
I should add that those of us in the US and UK, especially, really should have seen these kinds of things coming, given horrible and longstanding inequality in our countries that’s only gotten worse over recent years.
Okay, back off my soapbox…
“The Brexit and Trump votes are thunderous messages from our fellow compatriots, saying ‘our lives matter too'”
I think international educators in the US in general and particularly professionals in states that voted heavily for Trump are going to find it more challenging than before to attract international students, particularly from certain regions. For obvious example, many Muslim students and their families are going to think long and hard before choosing the US as a destination, knowing that our President-Elect has threatened to bar them from the country. It would be completely rational for them to wonder what safeguards there will be against them being denied entry or expelled once here, or worse yet being subjected to harassment or violence (a horrible case in point is the Saudi student, Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, killed in Wisconsin – who may have been the victim of a hate crime). Admittedly I don’t think such policies will be enacted, notwithstanding Trump’s rhetoric. But it’s perception vs. reality and perception isn’t on our side right now. And of course it won’t only be Muslim students who balk at coming to study in the U.S. in light of the election results.
I think we will see comparatively progressive countries like Canada benefit enormously from the votes in the U.K. and now the U.S., in terms of international student mobility. I also wouldn’t be surprised if countries like Australia and New Zealand also benefit. They’ll rightly be considered comparatively safe and welcoming.
I think those of us in the States are going to have to follow the example of our British friends and up our game – work smarter and harder as the saying goes – in order to remain as competitive as we’ve been. We need to redouble our commitment to welcoming international students to this country, so that we and they continue to reap the incalculable benefits of in-person international educational exchange. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more US schools begin to consider TNE opportunities more actively and strategically. American schools might look to preclude student visa acquisition problems for students from some parts of the world, by pursuing new opportunities to deliver education “in country”, in the Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia and other majority Muslim countries, or Mexico, for examples.
A lot will be in flux in the months to come, and the real effects of this election result may not be fully appreciated for at least another year. But I think the way we can truly make America great again is by thoughtfully addressing this situation, not acting like the sky is falling and abdicating our responsibility to do something constructive in response.