Recently Goucher’s Title IX office hosted an event called Title IX Talkbacks: Sex and Gender While Abroad. This event provided a space for students who have been abroad or were about to go abroad, to discuss their experiences with sex and gender. The goal of this event was to provide a student centered space where students could discuss their experiences, unpack their struggles, and provide feedback for the Goucher study abroad office. This feedback was given anonymously to the Goucher Title IX office and the Office of International Studies (OIS). Olivia Siegel, a senior and peer educator at the Title IX Office who helped organize this event, said the event was inspired by seeing an issue in the way Goucher addresses sex and gender while abroad and wanting to raise awareness about it: “The Title IX Peer Educators do genuinely care about supporting students and improving the resources we have on campus to address student need. Part of this program was just seeing a need and using the resources we have at hand to address it.”
Siegel spoke about how OIS does not prepare students for processing and addressing sex and gender while abroad. During pre departure orientation students receive general information from several different Goucher departments. At these pre departure sessions, Lucia Perfetti-Clark, the Goucher Title IX Coordinator, explains what resources and support are available while abroad. The Goucher Title IX office can advocate for students in several ways while they are abroad, in the same way Title IX can advocate for students while they are at Goucher. If needed, Title IX can advocate for students if they need to switch host families, request mental health assistance, or for academic accommodations. “Basically Lucia will try to advocate for your needs to the necessary party, but it doesn’t guarantee the host country will cooperate!” Siegel said.
This also means that the OIS doesn’t warn you about going to an area with higher amounts of sexual violence or street harassment. This can leave students without the resources to process their experiences, and can lead to some harmful assumptions about the culture of the host country. “When I witnessed or experienced street harassment and sexism, my first instinct wasn’t to call the Goucher Title IX Office. None of what I experienced at the pre-departure orientation could have prepared me mentally or emotionally for the gender-related issues my friends experienced,” said Siegel.
Siegel spoke about her experiences with processing street harassment in Santiago, Chile. “I found that a lot of our conversations about the topic were fairly superficial—either we were told by our in-country program advisors that this was normal and cultural (which is true), or we turned our nose up at how “machismo” (chauvinist) Chilean culture is. Often we were told this was part of Chilean culture, and came to the conclusion that this was ‘bad’ or ‘backwards.’” However, Siegel did not find that this was a helpful way of processing, nor did it help her examine her own assumptions. “I found neither of these conversations were productive or helped us process and question these cultural differences head-on, or examine our own misogyny and issues related to sexism in the U.S., and how we viewed these issues through an ethnocentric lens.”
Siegel hopes that this event will promote awareness and bring change to the way OIS helps prepare students studying abroad. “Goucher can better promote and identify students who have gone abroad and are invested in these issues, and create a more formal way to contact and seek support/mentorship from these people through OIS from students about to embark.” Siegel believes that students should be given the tools to help them process their experiences, so that study abroad can be a learning experience and so that they do not label something that they may not understand, as she was tempted to do in Chile.
When Siegel has brought up the possibility of warning students who are studying abroad in areas that have higher rates of sexual violence and gender based issues to OIS, she has been told that they do not want to scare students who are about to embark. Siegel responded with frustration, “I’m only going to say that the obvious answer to this challenge, which I shouldn’t even have to mention, is that studying abroad is not supposed to be easy. Goucher should encourage students to go into this experience with an open heart and mind.”