Mount Holyoke College

Eva Paus: Celebrating international education while closing borders?

The Williston Library at Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Mass.

The Williston Library at Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Mass.

Via The New England Board of Higher Education (

In 2018, as in the past 17 years, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education have designated one week in the fall “to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchanges worldwide.” With this year’s International Education Week upon us, Nov. 12-18, we must ask which international education benefits we are celebrating. The very policies of this administration negate the value of engagement across cultural difference with an open mind and of wanting to understand other countries and cultures.

Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the administration’s travel ban for citizens from several predominantly Muslim countries. At the beginning of October, reputable media outlets reported on discussions in the White House about denying visas to all students from China, a proposal that has—fortunately—not materialized. And throughout this year, we have witnessed escalating rhetoric and action about preventing Central Americans from crossing the border into the U.S.

What does the celebration of international education mean, when minds and borders are closing and international students from select countries are excluded categorically?

Many people who oppose these policies highlight the harm done to the opportunities for international students or the economic costs to this country. What they tend to ignore are the benefits for U.S. students, indeed for all students, of international student diversity on their campus.

As the founding director of a global studies center at a liberal arts college, Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Mass., I have spent the past 14 years working with my colleagues across the college to “internationalize” the education of all our students, through many different initiatives on and off campus. One of them has been to increase the number of international students at the college. Today, nearly 30 percent of our students come from outside the U.S.

When thinking of international education, most people think of U.S. students studying abroad, where they immerse themselves in a new culture and encounter and reflect upon beliefs and values that are different from their own and wrestle with their assumptions about how the world works. Studying or interning abroad is always mind-broadening and, often, transformative for life. But only around 10 percent of U.S. undergraduates study abroad; and, of those, over 60 percent are abroad for eight weeks or less.

So what about the other 90 percent?

There are many opportunities to learn about other countries and cultures on a U.S. campus, e.g., learning a foreign language or participating in internationally focused classes. A particularly powerful venue for cross-cultural learning is personal engagement with students from other countries.

When students from Miami and Shanghai share a dorm room, they get to know the opinions, traditions and quirks of each other, and they will never think about each other’s country in the same abstract way. When a Muslim student from Cairo partners with a Christian student from Omaha in a class project on family values and religion, their collaboration will likely lead to a profound examination of their understanding of each other’s religion and their own. And the students from Seattle and Mexico City who are on the same rowing team are bound to break down stereotypes, as “the other” becomes real and often a friend.

This fall, 30 percent of the incoming class at my college live with a student from a country different from their own. When they hear a disparaging statement about the totality of the people from their roommate’s country, they will not fall for it because they come to know their roommate as a fellow human being. And they may well speak up and challenge such statements. And when my upper-level economics seminar looks like a mini-U.N. assembly, students will learn about perspectives on the subject matter they did not know existed.

The next time when students from a particular country are singled out for possible denial of visa entry into the U.S., let us not only argue against such actions on the basis of the economic benefits that international students bring to this country. (To be sure, these are substantial. In 2016-17, international students at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 450,000 jobs.) But in the current climate of growing xenophobia, the international education benefits of international student diversity on our campuses is at least as important.

Sustained interaction with students from other countries—in the classroom, in residence halls and community—opens minds, challenges all students to understand and empathize with individuals who are different from them and to learn to communicate across difference. This ability to engage effectively across difference is key for successful careers, citizenship and ultimately world peace. That’s what international education is about.

Eva Paus is the Carol Hoffmann Collins Director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives and professor of economics at Mount Holyoke College.

Where they really like quilters

"Ghost Pockets," (  mixed fabrics, including denim, cotton, polyester and synthetic wool) ,   by    Mary Lee Bendolph,    in her show    " Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph"    through May 27, at  the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Mass. The museum says that  Bendolph  has made more than 150 quilts in her lifetime, "adapting traditional African-American designs to create beautiful and functional works of art that have been featured in Hallmark cards and American postage stamps.''    There's long been a deep interest in folk crafts in Mount Holyoke's region of western Massachusetts.             

"Ghost Pockets," (mixed fabrics, including denim, cotton, polyester and synthetic wool)by Mary Lee Bendolph, in her show  "Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph"  through May 27, at  the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Mass. The museum says that Bendolph has made more than 150 quilts in her lifetime, "adapting traditional African-American designs to create beautiful and functional works of art that have been featured in Hallmark cards and American postage stamps.''

There's long been a deep interest in folk crafts in Mount Holyoke's region of western Massachusetts.





Wintry scene in South Hadley.

Wintry scene in South Hadley.

South Hadley, in  the long stretch of the Connecticut River Valley nicknamed "the Pioneer Valley'' by marketing people, hosts Mount Holyoke CollegeSouth Hadley High SchoolPioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. Mount Holyoke College is a member of the famous Five College Consortium in the Pioneer Valley, along with Smith, Amherst and Hampshire colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Frank Carini: Mass. author traces personal history to discover America

Lauret Savoy signing books at the Providence Athenaeum.


Not far from the building where she teaches environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College, Lauret Savoy once had these three hurtful words yelled at her as she attempted to cross a busy crosswalk: “Nigger, go home.”

It’s not uncommon, even today, for Savoy, a woman of mixed heritage, and other people of color to be on the receiving end of similar words of hate in the neighborhood that surrounds this liberal-arts college in South Hadley, Mass. That doesn’t make this western Massachusetts town unique.

Born in the early 1960s, Savoy grew up knowing racism, even if she didn’t recognize it as a young girl. During a recent discussion about her latest book, held at the Providence Athenaeum, she shared a story, long ago burned into memory, from her childhood.

When she was 7, Savoy’s family moved across the country, from California to Washington, D.C. Along the way, the young girl collected postcards to document her adventure. At one particular stop, Savoy recalled taking her “selected treasures to the cashier.” The cashier ignored her until there was no one else to be helped. When the 7-year-old reached out to pay, the cashier made sure not to touch the tiny, brown hand.

“When you experience racism, contempt, as a 7-year-old, you don’t know what it really means,” Savoy said. “But your foundation is rattled.”

Her new book, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, is a response to her foundation being rattled. The book traces her Native-, African- and Euro-American ancestry across the United States in the hope of learning what her extended family experienced.

Savoy’s father, a “fair-skinned” man who died when she was young, introduced her to few relatives and spoke little about growing up in a segregated city. Her mother, a “dark-skinned” woman, was reluctant to share information about her experiences working as an Army nurse during World War II.

“I grew up not knowing where my parents came from or about the generations before them,” Savoy said. “I wanted to find my home. I needed to know, or I would continue to feel the emptiness I grew up with.”

The Leverett, Mass., resident is a self-described “Earth historian” who enjoys investigating the contours of the land to examine how the past helped shape the present. “Trace” combines cultural history, Savoy’s personal history and geography to tell a story about race in the United States. The book explores the way landscapes feature both broad national dialogue and voices that have been silenced by dominant culture.

Savoy said the book helped her answer questions that had “haunted me over time.” “We have quite a searing national history, and that past lives with us still,” she said.

During the March 11 discussion of “Trace,” Savoy read, beautifully, from a few chapters. She recounted the checkered history of Washington, D.C., reminding the packed room in the Providence Athenaeum that the country’s first president chose a location for the nation’s capital that would perpetuate slavery. For many years, she noted, a slave market was a common sight in the political center of this new “land of the free.”

“Washington wanted the capital near his plantation in Virginia,” said Savoy, noting that the White House was built on a tobacco plantation. “It had to be where slavery remained unmolested.”

She spoke about the things her childhood textbooks taught her about America — Native Americans, although in her books they were called Indians, for example, were useless, and blacks were once slaves. As a child, she wondered, “Will I be a slave?”

After the race riots of 1968, Savoy, then a young girl, wondered, “Should I also hate?”

Savoy noted that before 1963 the names of some 200 places in the United States contained the word “nigger.” The offensive name still lingers in places today — for example, the family hunting camp of Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who ran for president in 2012 and 2016, is called “Niggerhead.” Visit the U.S. Bureau of Geographic Names Web site to find others.

Christina Bevilacqua, the Providence Athenaeum’s director of public engagement, bought “Trace” on a whim during a visit to New York City in December. She described Savoy’s book as a memoir, an explication of geographical history of the American landscape, and a personal excavation of the histories that have been erased from that landscape. She said it’s written by a geologist, but reads like something written by a poet.

After reading it, she reached out to Savoy to ask her to speak at the Athenaeum.

“I was especially happy to be able to present Lauret in our lineup ... she’s writing about a dimension of the national conversation on race that I haven't seen in any of the many incisive books and articles examining this national moment, namely the way that the history of race can be literally traced in the land,” Bevilacqua told the audience. “By the end of the book, I was seeing the world around me in a different way.”

A teacher, earth scientist, writer, photographer and pilot, Savoy’s courses at Mount Holyoke College explore the stories told of the American land’s origins, and the stories told of people on this land. The author of several other books, Savoy is a past winner of Mount Holyoke College’s Distinguished Teaching Award, has held fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution and Yale University, and is a fellow of the Geological Society of America.

Frank Carini is editor of ecoRI News.