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Global and Institutional Blindspots

20th July 2019

by Laura Logan, Dartmouth College

The Global Citizenship homepage has a map highlighting the home countries of the seven partner institutions across the world. I get that it’s a BIG-picture view of the network’s global reach. I get that the network does not literally presume to represent seven countries–only seven institutions, whose unique geographic and political placement influences their actions and perspectives (like Sweden’s free tuition and the UK’s student union laws). Although I understand all this, if I could play Devil’s advocate for five minutes, I’d still like to unpack the assumptions about representation that we make within our institutions and throughout the broader network.

The running joke amongst the delegates from Dartmouth College was that we could not refer to ourselves as “the Americans.” Brandon Zhou and I, a Canadian and Jamaican respectively, comprised half of Dartmouth’s student delegation. Accustomed to being an international minority on campus (Dartmouth Office of Institutional Research), we relished the short-lived and rare power to correct our American peers when they mislabeled us out of habit. 

This was all done in jest; however, speaking for myself, the distinction forced me to confront some painful realities about my positionality as a Jamaican representing an American college on the world stage. During the forum I found it equally important for me to claim my “Jamaicanness” as it was to simply refute my “Americanness.” Or more truthfully, I was almost offended by the insinuation that I could be American!

Why? Firstly and most obviously, because my Dartmouth experience has been marked by a feeling of disenfranchisement due to my immigration status. Traditions such as sophomore summer, certain research programmes, domestic internships and scholarships are less readily available to me than they are to my US-resident peers.

I love being at Dartmouth, but it’s hard to call it my school knowing that it was conceived without the input, participation or acknowledgement of people like me. Thus, representing Dartmouth for the first time at the forum, I was unable or hesitant to answer basic questions about my university. I found it necessary to preface my answers with the disclaimer that I do not lead the life of the typical Dartmouth student because I am an immigrant (in addition to other intersections of ethnicity, class and gender). 

There is a second reason why the idea of representing Dartmouth makes me uncomfortable. Because it is a privilege; and, like most people in positions of power, I am usually unwilling to own up to my privileges. What does it mean to claim some form of allegiance to a high-income country, a global superpower of great economic, military and political significance? And what does it mean to attend an elite university within this context?

To start with, it means my school can offer far more generous financial aid packages than many institutions worldwide, leading to a more richly diverse international student body, including a space for people like me whose identity straddles both low-income and international statuses. It means I am appalled that some universities rely so heavily on student volunteers because my university can afford student workers so I’ve grown entitled to financial compensation. Likewise, my increasingly capitalistic view of the world means that many of my proposals called on schools to dip into their generous endowment (that I’m sure they all have) to find funds for the solution. Attending this forum forced me to acknowledge many of the privileges I’ve gained since attending Dartmouth College and painfully attempting to reconcile these with my intersections.

Matariki Network Partners, with Brandt line denoted in maroon and “blindspots” encircled

I return to the illustration to tie my experiences with the future of the network. The map is equally enlightening for what it shows as for what it does not show. It reveals an abundance of grey where no partner exists, spanning the regions of Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the greater part of Eurasia. These areas were denominated as “global blindspots” by Tubingen delegate Arhea Marshall. Not only do these blindspots comprise the majority of the world’s population, but they also represent countries, and thereby tertiary institutions, with majority non-white populations.

The original and current seven Matariki partners are all predominantly white institutions (PWIs) located above the Brandt line. As I check my own privileges, the network should also be introspective. We as partners must ask, what does it mean to be globally-minded whilst only representing the interests of a specific few? Whose voices are being excluded from the conversation? And do we even need their support to “develop rounded citizens of the world and leaders of the future?” 

It goes without saying that the diversity within the Dartmouth delegation does not erase the global blindspots. As too is it obvious that I am not expected to voice the concerns of the Caribbean. Although, if needed, the University of the West Indies could be invited to contemplate their positionality as a Caribbean partner. Or, should the network decide to remain as seven PWIs discussing their place in the world, there is definitely a space and need for that, though I’m not sure if I personally want or need to be a part of that conversation. I would have only one small concern however, as someone who struggles to find her place in an institution that was not designed to accommodate her identity. If the network intends at some point to draw in members from these global blindspots, their inclusion needs to be sooner rather than later. It’s become rather apparent for me when Diversity and Equality are made as hasty afterthoughts.