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Critique of African American women in the African Diaspora seeking their cultural heritage

through studying abroad by Morgan, Mwegelo & Turner (2002)

David Comp
International Higher Education Consulting

Morgan, R.M., Mwegelo, D.T., & Turner, L.N. (2002, Summer). African American women
in the African Diaspora seeking their cultural heritage through studying abroad. The NASPA
Journal, 39 (4), 333-353.

In this peer reviewed journal article, the purpose of Morgan, Mwegelo and Turner’s article
was threefold. First, they attempted to explore the perception of both African American and
African women after meeting and learning about the culture of the other. Second, they wanted to
provide “testimony” on the value of studying abroad for African American undergraduate women
during their undergraduate studies. Finally, the authors wanted to make recommendations to
increase participation of African American women studying abroad. The background of the authors
is of interest and somewhat surprising in a peer reviewed journal. The lead author (Morgan) holds
an Ed.D. and is an Assistant Dean at Northern Kentucky University while Mwegelo and Turner are
both undergraduates from the same institution. While co-author relationships such as a faculty
member/administrator paired with one or more undergraduate students is not a frequent occurrence
in a peer reviewed journal these kinds of author pairings are published from time to time. Finally,
The NASPA Journal is a publication of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
It’s interesting to see this article in a student affairs publication rather than an international
education publication. It is important, however, for literature on study abroad to reach a grater
audience than just the study abroad community and a publication such as The NASPA Journal is a
good alternative.
The literature review is rather weak and there are several main studies in the field that
could/should have been reviewed and included in the article. It is quite possible, although unlikely,
that the authors may have consulted this literature and decided not to analyze or use it to inform
their own research and understanding. Specifically, the literature review starts with a review of the
literature on Diaspora, African American women’s oppression and then segues to issues
surrounding heritage seeking in a study abroad context. The brief discussion of the heritage seeking
literature solely focuses on the positive and does not address any unexpected/negative effects or

difficulties heritage seeking student encounter while studying abroad. Some of the main literature
on heritage seeking in study abroad provide such analysis/results on some of the
unexpected/negative effects of heritage seeking. Another interesting aspect to the literature review
is that on two occasions the authors focus on the participation rates of African American students
and women (tying the two together which is the focus of the study). It is critical that the data on the
participation of African American students be brought into the literature review but the authors are
using the data/results from certain studies on female participation incorrectly. Historically, female
student participation in study abroad has always been significantly higher than their male
counterparts so the manner in which the authors identify higher numbers of female participants
studying abroad as having some sort of “meaning” is incorrect. For many study abroad
administrators and to anyone else familiar with the annual demographic data released on study
abroad by the Institute of International Education in their Open Doors report this data is not a
surprise. The readership of The NASPA Journal most likely is not directly knowledgeable on the
demographic data on study abroad which is perhaps why this data was presented as it was.
Methodologically, the research is quite poor. The authors used their literature review as a
secondary method of data collection. This method to data collection is quite appropriate for the
research study and no concerns are raised here. The area of concern is with the author’s main
method of data collection. Specifically, the primary methodology employed by the authors was
“descriptive qualitative research.” According to the authors, the “research design consisted of a
narrative case study approach to uncover the perception, attitude, and world-view of an African
woman and two African American women as they participated in experiential learning in cross-
cultural settings” (p. 337). This, in and of itself, is fine and perhaps the most appropriate means for
gathering data for these researchers. The problem is that the “narratives” of the African woman and
two African American women who participated in experiential learning in a cross-cultural settings
are the authors themselves. The authors simply wrote rather brief descriptions of their own personal
experiences abroad and apparently analyzed these narratives to “discover” enough new knowledge
and understanding that they were able to make several “recommendations to increase participation
of African American women studying abroad.”
What then, does this research contribute to the knowledge and future scholarship of the field
of study abroad? The answer simply is, “very little.” Despite a weak (and perhaps inappropriate)
methodological approach and essentially advancing no new understanding of underrepresented

students studying abroad in a heritage seeking context, I do believe this article needs to be included
in the related research bibliographies for other researchers to read and judge for themselves.