After interviewing 22 international, immigrant, refugee and domestic students attending Boise State, students in the Intermountain Social Research Lab (IMSRL) have compiled individual student narratives which paints a broader picture of the direction the university is taking. In some cases, it’s not a pretty one.
“All of them were spectacular in one way or another,” said Jamie Thomas, IMSRL student. “One in particular was a gentleman who immigrated here from Mexico at a young age … he’s American in every sense of the word, as far as living in the United States for the better part of his life and he’s been enculturated here; however, his experience in life and at Boise State specifically just spoke to the continuing marginalization of people of color, and in this case, this particular person from Mexico—it was really heartbreaking to listen to and to realize some of the internalized racism he experienced and experiences. In a nutshell he basically felt sort of consciously and unconsciously that he had to ‘act white’ in order to be accepted by the larger dominant social group.”
Thomas’s interview with this student shows effects of the neoliberal ideology incorporated at Boise State. IMSRL students and Arthur Scarritt, a professor who works with IMSRL, define neoliberalism as a logic which promotes and enacts the marketization and commodification of everything, from actual material objects to services, from education to people. This means that students are considered products for the university to make money, but on the flip side, education is a product the university offers to the students.
Under this context, IMSRL students gathered narrative data from student interviewees.
Empirical Question: How the neoliberal internationalization of campus affects conceptions of diversity.
Jamie Thomas’s project: Thomas looked at the role “neoliberal internationalization” (of the campus) played in conceptions of diversity among students in the institution itself. Her thesis was that neoliberal internationalization of Boise State has perpetuated forms of global racism. What she found was that there is very broad inequality among students at Boise State.
“It’s important to note that these are not issues that are particular to these groups (international students, domestic students of color, immigrant students), some of these issues of inequality that we are talking about echo in a more pronounced way with these groups, but these are things that every student experiences on some level, and different students are privileged in different ways, but we’re all getting shit on in one way or another,”
Empirical Question: How the privatization of technology has impacted higher education.
Crispin Gravatt’s project: Gravatt researched technology as a form of privatization of the university. Gravatt expected to find that—with Boise State constantly getting new technologies to incorporate in the classrooms—there would be “stratification” in the access some students had to technology, meaning they wouldn’t feel comfortable with some technologies in the classroom for various reasons.
However, that’s not what Gravatt found.
“There are expectations that professors are up-to-date on the ‘latest and greatest’ which is explicitly recognized as problematic for professors, by students,” Gravatt said. “Students are saying, ‘Yeah, this will hurt professors, they’re a lot more accountable; they have to put in a lot more work, but I deserve it because I’m paying to go to school and I want to be able to use this technology to get a job.’ And a lot of time that’s at the expense of actually fully understanding what they’re talking about in class.”
Empirical Question: How a profit-making mentality affects international, immigrant and refugee student perceptions of education and success.
Luz Rodriguez’s project: Rodriguez talked to international and immigrant students about if and how their perspectives on success and their future were reshaped upon attending Boise State. Rodriguez found that international students had very different experiences from immigrant students.
“Even though everyone can come here, the university would look for the ‘ideal’ multicultural student,” Rodriguez said.
According to Luz, the “ideal multicultural student” would have one or more of the following characteristics: strong English, white skin or having research initiatives, which would bring further funding for the university. According to the students she interviewed, Rodriguez found that students who were not “ideal” struggled to find help and opportunities that were more readily given to those “ideal multicultural students.”
“I think the university has to invest in the language part and they have to treat everyone equally,” Rodriguez said. “The social environment needs improvement. Everything comes down to money.”
Empirical Question: How a market for international recruits influences university funding and diversity initiatives.
Bri Cornwall’s project: Cornwall noticed Boise State “pushing for internationalization” by trying to bring international students to the university to further diversity. Cornwall wondered why Boise State was doing this when the local community already has diversity, specifically in terms of refugees and immigrants. Through her research she found what she terms a “surplus extraction of wealth.” What this means is that Boise State makes implicit promises of resources and academic relationships with instructors in exchange for tuition and fees; however, for international, immigrant, and refugee students, these promises are often not fulfilled. The money gained from these international students being recruited to Boise State does not seem to go back into programs and resources designed for establishing genuine diversity on campus. Cornwall suggested that instead of forcing diversity through recruitment, it would be more beneficial if the university offered more study and have more consistent conversation about topics of racism, privilege and inequality.
Since last summer, these students have read literature on their topic, conducted interviews and prepared research papers to present their findings at the Pacific Sociological Association’s annual conference in Portland, Ore. which was held March 27-29. All the student researcher agreed it was a stressful yet rewarding experience.
“It was a really nice experience,” Rodriguez said. “This was the first time I’ve done something like this. It was interesting to see that research come together. It was a learning experience. You learn what is important and what isn’t to get information across. The process makes you think twice about what you are doing.”
In addition to a future presentation at Boise State on April 21, Scarritt and the IMSRL students hope people take notice of their research, and change (particularly at the university level) might be affected.
“I don’t have any illusions but I believe what I tell my students, that you have to think about the impossible, you have to demand the impossible, because people have demanded the impossible and—both positively and negatively—we are living that now and we’re seeing it as normal,” Scarritt said. “If we demand the impossible now and work towards it … I feel very strongly toward that, that the university is not going in a good direction and the business model is harmful to everything and by and large the university is training students to accept the business model … I’d like to think I’m doing what little I can.”