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Academic Advising with Diverse Populations


International Students

International students at DKU are defined as students are not from mainland China. Approximately 30 percent of DKU undergraduates are international students who attend DKU from all over the globe. Here are some important tipss for advisors to know about advising international students:

  • Depending on the student, this may be his/her first time to China. It could even be the first time traveling out of his/her home country. For other international students, they may be very accustomed to traveling or living in many different countries. 
  • Relationship is key. Realize it will take time to build trust in the relationship.
  • Always think of international students in terms of demographics. Many countries where our students come from, including the United States and China, are large and diverse countries, and our students are just as vastly diverse. 
  • Names are important!  Learn to say names of international students correctly. Let students know that you are learning their names If needed, ask them to repeat their name several times or send voice recording. 
  • Be curious. Take time to ask questions to get to know the student’s background, interests, or current events in their home country. 
  • Be patient with yourself and the student. You may have to repeat yourself or ask more questions to check for understanding. 
  • Connect international students to resources on campus (i.e. language and culture center, student organizations, programs…). 
  • Be aware that cultural references (i.e., jokes, slang/idioms) may not be understood and could make certain international students feel more like outsiders.
  • Help students understand the meaning of class participation in the DKU classroom and the value placed on asking questions and contributing to discussions even though it may be contrary to what they are used to in their home culture. 
  • Limit the use of acronyms, abbreviations, idioms, etc. Please explain if you use them.
  • Be a learner. Be open to learn about your students’ perspectives and help them understand the global context that DKU is situated in.

Here’s what International Students are saying:

“As international students coming from completely different education systems, we may sometimes be unaware of available opportunities and unable to take full advantage of the flexible liberal arts education. It is often very helpful when our academic advisors share some exciting opportunities or common paths taken by others such as getting involved in research as early as possible, taking elective courses unrelated to major area, auditing a course etc. Sharing this information as if the advisee does not know anything about the system would be very helpful and supportive.”                     

“Academic Advisors should advise an international student like any other student, but also make it easier for them to access information, resources, and opportunities they wouldn’t know about or can’t easily access. Also, they should keep in mind where the student is from and where they ultimately want to end up (and not make generalizations) when advising them or what classes to take or how to spend the summer.”

In many cultures, it is very unusual for students to stay in touch with their teacher/advisors. If advisors can take the time to send out short emails asking how a student is or if the student is doing something new or interesting, the student-advisor relationship will become stronger.

Give students opportunities to talk about their homeland or culture and be genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Chinese Students

Most Chinese students are very studious and have a high level of dedication and commitment to their education. All Chinese students need to pass the college entrance exam (Gaokao) in order to be admitted to colleges and universities in China. Most of our Chinese students attended Chinese high schools with a primarily Chinese curriculum, so learning concepts in English can be a challenge for them initially. Often times, Chinese students have to work with high expectations from their parents about their academics and also their choice of majors. The parents of most Chinese students will find it hard to relate to the experiences students are having at DKU, which is likely vastly different from their own. It is important to coach the students how to talk to their parents about their experience and articulate their decision-making process to their parents.

For more information about advising Chinese students, refer to NACADA’s guide: Advising International Chinese Students: Issues, Strategies, and Practices.

First Generation, Minority, and Low-income Students 

1GMLI students are a very diverse body with continuously varying and shifting identities. Their identities are not mutually exclusive. In fact, their identities are always ripe for new adaptations and combinations. DKU will inevitably play a significant part in the rise of these morphing identities as the 1GMLI students mature across the four years of study at the university.

1GMLI students will, like any of our incoming students, experience the challenges and triumphs of transitioning to college. Some might transition smoothly while others might find the transition more difficult. Anticipating challenges as a normative process for incoming college students and encouraging the students towards successful transition is critical.

Below are some tips to increase advising effectiveness when working with students who might encounter bias, microaggressions, or difficulty finding their place of comfort and belonging at DKU. 

Active (as opposed to passive) advising: Providing an engaging relationship by frequent contact and check-ins with students. Setting the expectation that advising will be a shared experience in which the student can expect to self-reflect, take risks, and experience growth. 

Encourage academic engagement: Students, in particular 1GMLI, can tend to shy away from engaging faculty, speaking out in class, leading academic group exercises, etc. Advisors can be key in helping students build the confidence required to be fully academically engaged at DKU.

Support to establish reasonable academic and personal goals: Our students are used to achievement. Their ability to reach goals is largely the reason they are attending an institution like DKU. Once here, students can feel at a loss as to “what’s next?” Through the academic advising relationship, students can learn to set goals for themselves with the independence that comes from their entry into adulthood. Through well-established relationships with advisees, advisors can help guide students towards academic and personal goals that are synchronous to their talents and passions. 

Coach by holding students accountable: Coaching, by holding students accountable for their academic decisions, actions, progress, and growth, prepares our burgeoning adult students for full independence beyond college. 

Encourage resource use: Academic advisors can normalize for 1GMLI students the use of campus, academic, and other resources. Advisors should make it clear that resource use is a part of the intended academic experience of DKU. 

Reinforce belonging: Effective academic advising should reinforce for students that they BELONG here. Our students should feel fully woven into the fabric of the DKU community.

Navigate cultural differences competently: Many of our students are deeply identified with their race, culture, and/or ethnicity and with that comes, at times, a great deal of expectations regarding the purpose of attending college. Many of these expectations are often coupled with the idea that college is a pre-professional step towards a long-held career goal for the student and his/her family as well as community. 

Once a student arrives at DKU, s/he might, for the first time, consider that his/her intellectual pursuits are different from the longstanding expectations of those who have supported his/her academic pursuits. This conflict can create significant psychological, emotional, and relational distress for the student. Academic advisors, if they have competence in navigating cultural conflicts, can be essential to helping students really think through their dilemma, communicate their desired path of intellectual study effectively to others, and find opportunities to explore their interests via research opportunities, study away, and/or community engagement activities. These types of opportunities can often help family and the community understand the broad reach of major areas of study with which they have no familiarity. 

What is the advisor’s role when students experience microaggressions, racial conflict, sexual identity slurs, or other acts of intolerance? 

Many of our students will have much history of experiencing messages and acts that convey they do not “belong” or are the “other.” What tends to shock them and cause distress when it happens after they arrive at DKU is that they expect college to be a place of safety to fully engage their identities in harmony with others without threat of psychic or physical harm. Unfortunately, college campuses tend to mirror the international and national tensions regarding political, cultural, ethnic, or sexual identity differences. Many students find it very hard to come to terms with this fact, especially while living in such close proximity to those who might voice their opposition to their differences. This will often result in significant psychological, emotional, academic, and social distress. 

Academic advisors can be very helpful in providing an open and safe space for students to admit their sadness, disappointments, fears, and frustrations. By building solid relationships with advisees, advisors can use their credibility to refer students to campus and community support services. This support does not mean that advisors have to be experts in cultural diversity, but it helps immensely that advisors are cognizant about the ways cultural, race, ethnic, and sexual identities impact the lives of all students in ways they will have not experienced prior to living away from home communities and in the closed confines of college. 

What to do when a student brings up an issue concerning bias and/or microaggressions?  

Listen empathetically. Affirm the student’s experience. Be open to what your student’s concern is and don’t feel as though you must solve, defend, or reason through the issue for the student. As a matter of fact, these occasions of active listening provide an opportunity to introduce students to support services such as CAPS. This is also a great time to foster conversations between students and their academic deans who can also provide academic supports for students having issues related to bias on campus. It is important to follow up with students who have reported bias and/or microaggressions to you. An email, phone call, or meeting can go a long way in helping students understand that their issues of concern as well as their well-being are important to you, their academic advisor. Students having experiences that result in believing that their college advisor hears them, sees them, and is a keeper of a safe place to be vulnerable academically and socially can go far in helping them towards success.

LGBTQ Students 

Perhaps the first thing to understand when working with LGBTQ+ students is that there is a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation is about physical and romantic attraction and emotional attachment to others while gender identity is about the extent to which one identifies with or resists the traditional gender role that is culturally associated with one’s assigned sex. Gender expression is then how you chose to express your gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, behavior, etc. Knowing the differences in these identities is vital to begin your advising relationship with LGBTQ+ students.

It is also important to note that many of these identities are not considered to be binary. Sexual orientation identities may include gay, straight, queer, pansexual, asexual, and more. Gender identities are also along a spectrum, including feminine, masculine, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, transgender, and more. While it is important to be aware of these labels, do not make assumptions or assign labels to students or individuals.Some individuals prefer to not to label themselves at all, while others are very committed to a particular label for specific reasons, and many embrace multiple labels. It is important to be respectful of LGBTQ+ students and give them the space to announce their own identity if they so choose.

The extent to which LGBTQ+ students are comfortable sharingtheir identities upon arriving on campus varies as well. Some have been out for several years in all phases of their life, and some are only out to friends. Others may be only out to members of their families, and some have been denying their identities for years. While we may have some LGBTQ+ students who will be out on our campus, there may be even more LGBTQ+ students on campus who are not open about their identity. The level of “outness” of an LGBTQ+ student will likely profoundly influence how they experience themselves and DKU.

A major component in the lives of LGBTQ+ students is the reaction of their families to their identities. Some students have very supportive parents who may themselves be advocates. Other parents may be accepting of some parts of identity and not others, e.g., a father who can accept his son’s gayness, but not his genderqueer identity.

There are several models of LGBTQ+ identity development. Most of them outline a process much like the following:  

  • Experiences incongruent feelings with traditional gender roles and/or sexual attractions  (silence, denial, repression)
  • Seeks information/confirmation (questioning, exploring, seeks confirmation of identity)
  • Seeks self-identification (This is who I am. Remember this is a process and the student may move back and forth on self-acceptance)
  • Seeks acceptance from an “inner circle” (often friends before family)
  • Looks for community (I want to find others like myself with whom to socialize, start to date, seek mentors)
  • “Coming out” on a broader level which may include embracing a more activist role

It is important to remember that development is ongoing and fluid. Development can be influenced, for example, by a change in context like becoming a member of an unaccepting social group, applying for jobs and internships, and traveling for global education to a country that is either much less accepting or much more accepting. 

Incidents of bias and hate directed at LGBTQ+ students may happen on our DKU campus. These incidents may range from jokes and insensitive comments made in the classroom, to hate graffiti written in the dorms, to heckles as they walk around the campus, to disdain expressed from a visitor to campus, to threats left on their doors, to denial of their existence through examples given in the classroom, to a lack of “out” faculty mentors. While experiencing one incident is intolerable, imagine when you experience multiple incidents every day and it never stops. Even strong and resilient students need allies.

What can you do to better prepare yourself to support LGBTQ+ students?  

  • Educate yourself. There is a lot of good information on the Internet. Choose professional sites first like PFLAG, GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, and National Center for Transgender Equality.
  • Examine your own bias. We all have it because we are not immune to cultural influences and need to hold ourselves accountable. 
  • Take a training. The Office of Undergraduate Advising will provide training in diversity and working with LGBTQ+ students.

LGBTQ+ students have their antennae up all of the time for allies as evidenced by this statement from a recent Duke University alum:

Exploring my LGBTQ+ identity was some of the most “important” coursework I undertook at Duke and integrating my identities (black, lesbian, student, and poor, yet incredibly privileged to be at Duke) would be critical to my success. Yet, it wasn’t on my academic advisor’s radar at all. How helpful it would have been if it had been included.

You may be asking – So when and how do I address sexual orientation and/or gender identity with an advisee? Of course there is no one correct answer, but here are some tips that might help.

Pay attention to their language. What pronouns do they use to describe themselves?  If you are uncertain, you could begin a conversation by using the pronouns you use to identify yourself when you are introduced to them, e.g., I use the pronouns she/her/hers. This small gesture then allows them to identify what pronouns they use. Because you cannot really distinguish someone’s gender identity by how they look, you could simply include your pronouns for every student you meet. 

When to bring up the topic is another challenging question. As the student’s academic advisor your primary task is helping them succeed academically. If they are struggling with their academics, ask them if there are things happening in their life that might be getting in the way of their academic success. If they bring up trouble with friends, family, or dating, ask them general questions like, “Would you like to say more about the issue?” or “I’m happy to listen if you want to talk about it.”  Then, follow their lead using the tips outlined above. If you show them you are friendly and that your office is a safe space for LGBTQ+ students to talk and your language is inclusive, they will be likely to open up to you about what is challenging them. 

Finally, advisors are not immune to the influence of the ubiquitous existence of bias against persons who are LGBTQ+ in the culture. Bias can be exhibited in many ways including: outright prejudice or discrimination, ignorance of the special issues facing LGBTQ+ students, stereotypical thought processes, and insensitivity. Therefore, self-examination is an important step in preparing to work with advisees. 

Some questions to ask yourself when thinking about eliminating your own bias include: Do I attend workshops or presentations related to LGBTQ+ identities and issues? Do I have a current understanding of the most salient issues facing LGBTQ+ students by reading popular books, watching popular movies, and being aware of news stories?  How much have I read about LGBTQ+ identities and relationships including their historical struggles with oppression and discrimination? Have I considered the multiple levels of discrimination experienced by persons who are LGBTQ+ or who also are members of inter-racial or intercultural families?

Remember, bias is present whether we acknowledge it or not. We all have bias. It is unexamined bias that can cause the most difficulty. Staying open to opportunities to expand your knowledge and experience of the LGBTQ+ community will strengthen your abilities and confidence and better prepare you to work with LGBTQ+ students.

Inclusive Language

Here are some additional resources about inclusive language and enhancing our understanding of diversity.