On the north side of Old Main, a flag with an image of Earth flies just below the Knox flag. Aesthetically, the Earth flag is a bit tacky, but the sentiment rings true: Knox is a global community of teachers and learners.
And while studying abroad provides the kind of cultural immersion necessary to maintain Knox’s global quality, explicitly requiring that certain majors study abroad before they can receive a diploma puts some students, especially those who may not be able to afford the costs, at a distinct disadvantage.
This conversation arose during Monday’s faculty meeting, when a new major in Latin American Studies was approved — with a study abroad requirement. This is not entirely new to Knox, as studying abroad is required for the Integrated International Studies major, but the college does not have grounds to ask more of students financially, especially in the midst of rising costs (tuition, room and board will be slightly below $50,000 next year) and the campus-wide budgetary squeeze to close a perennial budget deficit.
Certainly, studying abroad should always be strongly encouraged for Knox students; appreciation of other cultures and perspectives is a central part of a liberal arts education, regardless of your major. And there are some supplemental financing options, such as the Richter Grant, to cover the extra costs associated with studying abroad.
But those funds are limited. And while making study abroad a requirement would be an implicit statement of the college’s priority and commitment to maintaining a global community, the college is not in a financial position yet to make study abroad accessible for all students — especially with a fiscal situation that threatens to hinder even the on-campus experience for Knox students.
It does make sense to mandate some sort of international experience for certain majors, but such an experience does not necessarily have to take place abroad. IIS majors have interned at global NGOs or worked with immigrant groups to fulfill their requirement, as mentioned during the faculty meeting.
Ultimately, it’s essential that a student learns to think with a global mindset, not where a student learns to think with such a mindset.
In the case of Latin American Studies, it does seem as if exemptions will be granted for students who have well-documented financial need. That is important, but it is hard to quantify how many students will be deterred from completing a major in that area (or IIS) because the chance for exceptions is not listed explicitly in the catalog.
The practice of requiring study abroad violates Knox’s commitment to access and equality in higher education. The college should not lead groups of prospective majors to believe that a particular area of study is reserved for those who can afford it.