Racial bias perceptions are not easy to evaluate as they involve both implicit thoughts and explicit actions (Oberhauser & Daniels, 2017). As a Christian, the teachings of Jesus Christ provide insight into perceptions of bias. Luke describes the encounter of “a scholar of the law who stood up to test (Jesus), who said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Luke 10:25, ESV). Jesus did not prescribe a verbal oath or a financial contribution, instead, Jesus described the importance of living and learning. Jesus delivered this message with a story, the story about a Samaritan man who had eyes to see the suffering humanity of someone who was “other.” A fascinating part of Jesus’ story was not the moral imperative to help, but the fact that his story first included two examples of religious leaders that did not perceive a need to help the wounded man, but instead “passed on the opposite side,” and Jesus selected the “other,” the Samaritan, as the hero of the story (Luke 10:31, NIV).
In the polarized environment of our society, this story told by Jesus, about a cross-cultural example of the good Samaritan provides an important lens for us to examine our lives and our academic programming. Previous studies have analyzed international education experiences to risk reinforcement of negative stereotypes of the “other” (Foller-Carroll & Charlebois, 2016) and potentially reinforce White Supremacy ideology (Stein, 2017; Thomas & Luba, 2018) and neocolonialism in study abroad (Pierre, 2018). Yet, Olcoń et al. (2019) found race-conscious curriculum in study abroad to result in a student desire for honest dialogue about racism. And Hartman et al. (2020) found interracial learning environments during study abroad can foster transformative learning and cultural humility. So, are cross-cultural academic programs promoting racial bias or serving as mechanisms of reconciliation? No single judgment could or should be made for all programs; however, the question calls for a prayerful posture in cross-cultural learning.
I have lived and worked in international environments since 1992. Seeking mutuality in relationships across racial, social, and economic divides over the past 28 years revealed several layers of the intersectional complexities and societal implications of racial identity and racial bias. These experiences also illuminated how complex, polarizing, and important intercultural and interracial learning is for our globalized society. As a White male Christian educator, I learned the importance of prioritizing a humble posture of mutual learning when asked to provide global health instruction for Arab American, Asian American, Black American, Latinx American, White American, and international students in the study abroad context.
My experiences of providing experiential study abroad education in Egypt, Haiti, Honduras, and Uganda led to my interest in evaluating student racial bias perception. Most study abroad experiences require U.S. students of all racial demographics to engage in new types of cross-cultural and interracial learning environments (Hartman, et al., 2020). While it was previously well documented that negative outcomes of racial bias persist around the world (Rosenberg, 2018), the effects of study abroad experiences on student racial bias perceptions are not well understood. Racial bias produces negative effects on student learning outcomes (Lac & Diamond, 2019), health assessment (Blair et al., 2015), health outcomes (Leitner et al., 2016), civil engagement (Dyer et al., 2019), and damages harmony within a diverse society (Kubota, 2017; Sekiyama, 2020).
I believe it is important for Christian Higher Education practitioners to draw from the Biblical teachings and published findings of the academy. I have found when a diversity of students and faculty can engage cross-cultural and interracial learning, beyond the confines of tourism, thrill-seeking, and safe conversations; authentic respect and collective movement towards anti-racism learning and reconciliation is possible. Yet, I believe such a challenging and important endeavor is not an academic work alone. John Perkins described the role of Jesus Christ in the work of reconciliation with his life and articulation: “Only the power of Christ’s crucifixion on the cross and the glory of his resurrection can heal the deep racial wounds in both Black and White people in America” (Let Justice Roll Down, Perkins).
I have discovered the importance of mentoring students to engage in an emotionally challenging process of critical reflection on the implications of implicit bias. This has been most successful when I do not remain fixed as an external academic evaluator of the learning but enter into the learning process with students. When entering into the learning process with transparency, outcomes of cultural humility and implicit bias perception can result in transformational learning for both student and teacher. My global teaching experiences of cross-cultural confrontations of prejudice are still working out a transformative change in my personal life, my family, and my praxis in higher education. I am grateful to join the Christ-centered cross-cultural programs of Living and Learning International. The Christian season of Lent has been even more poignant in the wake of 2020 and the challenges of our time. Yet, as the Christian calendar facilitates each year, we look forward to celebrating the resurrection of Christ, our true hope of healing and reconciliation.
About the Author:
Micah S. Hughes, Ph.D., has 28 years of international and multicultural experience. He is married to Avrey Hughes, RN, and has two amazing daughters Ella Christine and Zion Brook. He founded and directed the Global Health Perspectives program at Denver College of Nursing (2010 – 2015) and worked with the leadership of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and the Uganda Studies Program to establish and Coordinate the Global Health Emphasis at Uganda Christian University (2016 – 2020). He earned his BA in Interdisciplinary Studies of Anthropology and Biology from Wheaton College (2004), his M.Sc. in Biotechnology from Rush University (2007), and his Ph.D. in Education from Ashford University (2020). He joined Living and Learning International in December 2020.
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