Dec 142014
The White House summit attendees.

The White House summit attendees.

One of the biggest honors of my life is that I was able to attend the White House Travel Bloggers Summit on Study Abroad and Global Engagement. One of the greatest sadnesses of this wonderful conference, however, was that, despite the fact that a stated aim of the conference was to encourage students from all racial backgrounds to study abroad, nearly all of the bloggers in attendance were White.

Now, I have great respect for the aims of the summit and for the organizers and sponsors of this event. I know that the planners had the best possible intentions in compiling the invite list, putting a huge amount of work into it. However, I am writing this article now to encourage future organizers to remember that the demographics of a conference profoundly impact its goals.

One of the slides from the White House summit.

One of the slides from the White House summit.

“Would you have a conference on women’s rights with over 90% of the attendees being men?” mused my blogging colleague Erick Prince-Heaggans, Board Chairman of A World Beyond Youth Exploration, a foundation to support and encourage students of color to travel.

The thing is, there is no shortage of popular travel bloggers of color who could have been invited. Further, many of these bloggers have a readership that is exactly the demographic the White House #StudyAbroadBecause initiative is trying to reach. My hope is that next time, organizers of events like this will make the explicit effort to make that connection.

A second slide from the White House summit, in which they emphasized their commitment to supporting students of all racial backgrounds to study abroad, given the current imbalance.

A second slide from the White House summit, in which speakers emphasized their commitment to supporting students of all racial backgrounds to study abroad, given this current imbalance.

It is a monumental challenge to put together an invite list that is capped at 100 attendees. I know that many other groups were saddened that they did not receive invitations, specifically Study Abroad professionals and education bloggers. I would argue, however, that the greatest loss in the invite list hinged on racial diversity.

Again, I am filled with gratitude for being able to attend the summit, and am deeply inspired by the goals stated by the White House’s #StudyAbroadBecause movement. However, as someone who has dedicated the last 11 years of her life to public school teaching in a “majority racial minority” district, I cannot remain silent when I see a clear opportunity for positive change.  I have seen firsthand the transformative power of travel for students — particularly students of color and low-income students — and am committed to actions that correlate with expanding global opportunities across races and economic backgrounds.

A third slide from the White House conference. What is good is that this movement has an explicit commitment to racial and economic diversity in study abroad opportunities.

A third slide from the White House conference. What is good is that the #StudyAbroadBecause movement has an explicit commitment to diversity in study abroad opportunities.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments section below.


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  32 Responses to “Why Was the White House Conference Mostly White?”

  1. […] summit seated next to her, and found her instantly engaging and mindful (on her own blog, she noted the lack of diversity among the attendees, something she voiced to me during the […]

  2. As a fellow educator in Boston with you, I just want to thank YOU for voicing the observation – you are stating that there are travel bloggers out there who were not invited. The paradox of the slides from the conference in contrast to the attendees – put them right next to each other!

  3. Thank you for this post! I am in the very beginning processes of starting my travel blog and am Japanese American. This gives me inspiration to work my butt off and hopefully make it to the White House one day! 🙂

  4. […] have ever been invited to at the White House? These two badasses that’s who: badass #1, badass #2. Nothing kills the sexiness of a fun travel blog like using highly charged terms like […]

  5. This is a very interesting issue. I was hooked from the beginning to the end. I find this interesting not only because I’m intrigued by racial issues around the world but because of your take on the problem, how you’re addressing it, and the comparisons made. I also love the visuals and graphs. This is a great article!

  6. As a travel blogger of color myself, I am happy that you addressed this issue. One of the first things that I noticed was the lack of diversity across the images I was seeing from a number of different backgrounds. I am hoping that future summits such as this will be more inclusive of people from numerous backgrounds (Black, Hispanic, and Asian).

  7. Interesting. Looking at the photo, most of the attendees appear to be female too? What percentage of the attendees were people with disabilities? You could go on like this all day.

    • You make a good point! I actually talked about both other inequalities with attendees. Both valid points to take action on in the future!

  8. Good blog and well done for pointing out what can be one of the travel blogging elephants in the room. You could argue that the group was actually truly representative of the ‘industry’ as the very nature of travel blogging means that the younger end of travel blogging especially is over represented by people from white, middle class backgrounds because people who aren’t from that background simply can’t afford to take time out to travel… despite what some blogs might say.

  9. Good point, thanks for reminding everyone how important diversity and demographics are.

  10. Since this was a first-time event and I think it was pretty radical and impressive that it even happened at all. Do any of us know what went into/who was responsible for the selection process?

    Your observation is valid, and I hope in all the post-event analysis a more balance racial mix will be considered when planning the next conference. And Lillie, if the organizers are smart, they will recruit you to help the next time around :).

    • I don’t know details of the selection process. I’d love to be involved in the next one (I hope there is a next one!) but there are certainly people more qualified than me. 🙂

  11. Interesting observation and a good topic to write on. If everyone was white then I guess I should forget about the dream to attend any of such conferences in future … LoL 😀

    • Nonono! My hope is that all of the discussion after this misstep will lead to a much more diverse guest list the next time!

  12. Lillie,
    Can’t rave about this post enough. I can’t believe the event had such a low diversity ratio, given its theme, as you expressed. It is something all travel bloggers need to help with.

    I am very enthusiastic about working with Erick Prince – Heaggans and his A World Beyond Youth Exploration project. Can’t wait to the first conference and the opportunity to work with inner city children. Hopefully the entire travel community will get behind him when it kicks off. We can’t afford to not to IMHO!

  13. This is indicative of travel blogging as a whole. I can go to any travel blogging conference and be surrounded by lack of diversity. I talk about this all the time in almost every session I’ve been invited to speak on, and on endless posts. There are incredibly talented, accomplished travel bloggers of color who would have added tremendously to this conversation, and who would have have brought many of the challenges I have discussed in my own posts about study and volunteerism volunteerism for people outside “the norm”. But, when we aren’t part of “the best” lists, or speakers in conferences, or in award ceremonies, or in major publication features, when the industry fails to highlight the diversity within itself, it makes it that much more challenging for others to “find” us. There were some of us there, and it was interesting the conversations we were having about studying abroad and the challenges and rewards this can bring. Interesting because they differed in many ways from conversations I was having with others, who painted these opportunities as simply something you want, you go for, and you get. So simple, and yet so not everyone’s reality. Loved the conference. Loved being a part of it. Proud to have been given the opportunity to speak out during the season on the issue of diversity. Hope there will be more voices like mine next time : ) Thanks for the article.

  14. I am so glad this article was posted in my Nomadness tribe Facebook group. I am a travel blogger of color so it does disturb me that this conference was lacking in diversity. I commend you for writing it and opening up this conversation!

  15. I think the summit was a tremendous step forward. I’ve often wondered why the travel blog conferences are demographically skewed as well, or why people from Nebraska are less likely to participate, but I’m getting off point.

    I’d love to see more analysis, like is that racial differential is due to lack of ability or personal preference and how it compares in scale to other differentials. It could be racial, and/or it could also be other factors that are correlated with race. I don’t think it is the intention of the organizers, just the first step in solving the problem- to start with the experts in travel and evolve to focus on the key areas of opportunity.

    Have you reached out to the organizers directly about this?

    • Brad, you make an excellent point that diversity comes in all forms, including geographical. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I have been reaching out to the organizers on an ongoing basis for the past several weeks with this message, and the purpose of this article is to show that it’s not just my voice making this point. A number of people have privately expressed this concern, and I wanted to compile it and amplify it so it would have a better chance of being heard and acted upon.

    • I totally agree. I just don’t think anyone knows the perfect participant demographic to balance the population of experts with the population of students- and the best balance of fairness and effectiveness, although we do see some directional opportunities. A snowball starts with a few snowflakes going in the same direction.

      I think asking African Americans what might be causing this a very constructive discussion to identify the issues and illustrate the need to incorporate a potentially very valuable perspective.

  16. I agree with Jessie. It seems like the summit simply echoes the politics we are seeing in general these days. A lack of connection with “the people” the real people. Not the privileged few.

  17. I’ve asked myself that about the travel blogging community as a whole. And believe me, I’ve had my fair share of companies straight up refusing to work with me.

    That being said, travel is a largely “white” thing to do. My mother would say, “Travel is only for rich people.” over and over again to make sure that my Indiana-Jones-obsessed little girl wouldn’t be too disappointed if it didn’t happen. But at the same time – when you’re eating rice and beans 5 days a week, travel is on the backburner of the hierarchy of needs.

    But I agree, I think it is an important thing for people to experience. Understanding and love for other cultures come from travel – I just think that the industry should be more indicative of the population.

    • Well said. Thanks for this comment!

      Part of my point, however, is that there ARE people of color in the industry with a sizable readership. I just wished they had been at the conference this week!

  18. I think it’s indicative of our society as a whole – that people perceive study abroad and international education as a thing for privilege and income, not as something that everyone should – needs to! – do. The more we can reach all students, the better off our society, economy, and world will be. Baby steps, but we need to take them.

    • My thoughts exactly. I’ve not worked in the study abroad realm, but it’s indicative of what I see in the city (Seville, Spain) I live in, which has several big and very successful programs. It’s often perceived that study abroad is for the privileged few. I admire programs at universities like St. Olaf and Towson, who do strive to reach a majority of their students, and offer programs to places outside of the normal London-Madrid-Beijing hotspots.

      But then again, bloggers have the opportunity to reach people in ways that a government PA or press release can’t, and I hope this opens up more dialogue and opportunity. Thanks for writing, Lillie.

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