The US has steadily gained attention as one of the best countries in the world for international students to study abroad. With more than one million international students represented across US university campuses, it is important for students of all backgrounds to feel welcome and supported during their studies. To do so, US universities are dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion on campus.
American University (AU), ranked among the top 100 universities in the US, is home to international students from more than 130 countries and considers inclusion a major part of campus identity. To make international students feel welcome, AU’s Office of Campus Life was formed to support the lives of all students on campus. Going one step further, the office’s Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence team works to ensure students from all walks of life are driven toward success.
Meet Fanta Aw, Vice President of AU Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence
Aw is an alumnus of AU and has completed her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD at the university. She has a strong interest in international education and has spent 28 years in higher education administration. She regularly advises AU leadership on matters related to campus internationalization; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and student engagement. She received the University Award for Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Position in 2013.
She has also designed and facilitated more than 100 immigration, cross-cultural communication, and international education exchange presentations and workshops for the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.
AU’s History of Commitment to Inclusion
Since 2017, AU has raised its efforts for student inclusivity through its Inclusive Excellence plan, scheduled in multiple phases over three- to five years.
AU has successfully completed phase one, which surveyed the student community to get their perspectives about levels of inclusivity on campus. With this data, they were able to begin phase two: taking active steps to improve racial equity across the university.
American University … has welcomed international students since the 1940s, so we have been involved in international education for a very long time.” — Fanta Aw, Vice President of AU Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence
Through its Inclusive Pedagogy Academy, AU offers inclusivity and diversity training to more than 500 faculty members, helping them ensure that inclusion is maintained inside the classroom and out. The academy trains faculty on inclusive teaching strategies and collaborates with professors to develop new ideas and ways of teaching.
“Our faculty are trained [on] how to teach to different student bodies, understanding that students come from all around the world and the country, and different educational systems,” says Aw. “It is important for them to understand how that can manifest itself in the classroom.”
Why Inclusivity Is Important at AU
When an international student arrives at AU, they are miles away from their home country and family. AU aims to ensure that students feel welcome and supported throughout their journey, no matter where they come from.
AU’s President Council on Diversity and Inclusion focuses on discussing the effectiveness of current inclusion programs. The President Council also collaborates with the Student Advisory Council to incorporate student feedback as they develop new inclusivity programs.
International students who come from very far are so far away from home. It’s incredibly important for universities to understand what that experience is, and to not only welcome students to our campus but to create a sense of home while they are here. That is something that we take very seriously and feel is part of our responsibilities.” — Fanta Aw
How AU Supports International Student Inclusion
AU hosts speaking sessions and workshops to build awareness on the importance of inclusion and to initiate student discussions to voice any concerns they may have. To create a truly inclusive community, AU works closely with its student community to take their feedback on how inclusivity at the campus can be improved.
“We often say that the strength of the educational system in the US and at a place like American University has to do with the diversity of perspective, the diversity of views, that folks are able to bring to an institution and the learning that can happen as a result,” says Aw. “When you are able to bring to your campus people from all around the world, it creates a very different learning opportunity for every single person.”
How AU Involves Students in Inclusivity Initiatives
AU has established the Office of Equity and Title IX and Bias Education and Response policy to help protect inclusivity on campus by allowing students to report discriminatory issues directly to the university faculty.
For incidents with bias that does not violate university policy, AU also provides educational interventions to help students learn more about discriminatory bias and the importance of including all students. AU actively recruits students across a variety of minority groups and collaborates with the student community.
How Will AU Continue to Support Inclusivity?
As AU continues to develop new inclusivity programs, the Inclusive Excellence plan will continue to evolve and grow as more phases are completed.
With phase two, AU aims to achieve the following targets by 2023:
Help 80% of senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni leaders participate in Inclusive Excellence training to learn new techniques that will support their ability to improve inclusivity in their daily work.
Create an environment where at least 70% of AU’s students, faculty, and staff are able to feel that they have a sense of belonging on campus through AU’s commitment to inclusivity.
Ensure at least 65% of AU’s students, faculty, and staff are able to confidently affirm AU’s dedication towards reducing discrimination and bias.
“American University has enjoyed generations of alumni who have come from all around the world and have gone back to their home countries to contribute immensely in so many different ways,” says Aw. “Those who choose to remain in the United States have contributed immensely to the US.”
AU is always committed to making students from every nation, lifestyle, and belief feel included, accepted, and seen on campus.