Fostering a more compassionate, just, and inclusive world
Calling in is a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes; a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.
– ngọc loan trần
Dragons is striving to improve diversity and inclusion within our student body. Take a look at our mission and values to learn more about our approach to education. Our goal is to create an inclusive group experience for all participants. Read on to learn more about identity and allyship on your Dragons program. You will also find information to support people with specific identities, general resources for diversity and inclusion abroad, and practical information about identity-related risks in our Traveling as YOU: A Guide for Specific Identities.
Parents and families of Dragons students should be aware that our programs involve conversations around topics around diversity and inclusion. If you haven’t had the chance to discuss your own family’s values on these topics, we encourage you to do so before your child departs on their Dragons program.
Glossary of Terms
- Allyship: the lifelong work of building relationships of trust, solidarity, and accountability with marginalized individuals or groups
- Bias: a preference for or against a group that affects fair treatment. Bias is often unconscious or implicit, meaning we are not always aware of the biases we hold.
- BIPOC: an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, people of color
- Cisgender: a person whose gender identity corresponds to the gender associated with the sex assigned to them at birth
- Diversity in the student group: the inclusion of many different people and perspectives who are valued for their unique contributions
- Dominant culture: the culture of society’s largest or most powerful social group
- Identity: a person’s sense of who they are based on the social groups they belong to
- Inclusion in the student group: students of many different perspectives feel a sense of belonging and know they are welcome and valued
- LGBTQ+: an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning. The + is meant to be inclusive of other identities, such as intersex, pansexual, asexual, non-binary, and Two-Spirit.
- Macroaggression: large scale, intentional, or overt aggression toward members of a marginalized group
- Marginalization: the exclusion of a social group from the benefits of dominant culture society
- Microaggression: a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.
- Neurodiversity: the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders)
- Non-dominant culture: the culture of a smaller or less powerful social group, often one that has been historically marginalized, underrepresented, and/or excluded
- Power: having influence, authority, or control over people or resources
- Privilege: the benefits of being a member of a dominant culture social group with power
Identity and YOU
Dragons programs are inherently designed to take us outside the world we consider normal so we can learn about different ways of doing and being. Learning how many different ways there are to live in the world is an opportunity to reflect on our own assumptions, change our minds about things, and broaden our view of the world. In addition to learning from the people and places where you travel, you will also learn from rich experiences and differences within your student group.
All of us hold many identities (age, gender, race, nationality, geography, class, religion, etc). Take a moment to think of the different ways you identify. Which identities feel most important for you? Why? On your Dragons program, you will reflect on your many identities and how they fit within your peer group and within a new cultural context.
Some of your identities might represent dominant cultures. A dominant culture is the shared culture of society’s most powerful or largest group (some examples include: white, male, cis-gender, heterosexual, and able-bodied). Some of your identities might represent non-dominant cultures. A non-dominant culture is the culture of a smaller or historically marginalized group (some examples include: Black, Indigenous, Latinx, female, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities). Some of you may hold both a dominant and non-dominant culture identity in the same category.
Beliefs and norms from dominant cultures are often considered “normal” and go unquestioned. As we work together to create a student group environment that is inclusive for non-dominant cultures, one of the first steps is to start questioning “the norm”! The process of examining culture and identity within the student group is an integral part of your cross-cultural learning in a new country. On our Dragons program, we will reflect on our own social location or positionality, the unique combination of identities that influence our understanding and experience of a particular context.
These topics can be challenging and uncomfortable, bringing up emotions like shame, guilt, grief, or pain that come from difficult histories and lived experiences. We can expect to make mistakes and change our minds as we listen and learn more about other people’s realities. We embrace an approach that social justice circles define as “calling in,” which invites us to be patient and compassionate as we learn together.
Questions to Reflect on About My Identities
- How do my identities impact my experience in my home context?
- How might this change in the host country context?
- Which of my identities are most comfortable for me to discuss?
- Which of my identities are least comfortable for me to discuss?
Skill-building for Allyship Abroad and At Home
On your Dragons program, you will learn skills for allyship— the lifelong work of building relationships of trust, solidarity, and accountability with marginalized individuals or groups. You will practice allyship by learning the local language, observing culturally appropriate behavior, putting money into the local economy, and approaching your experience from a learning mindset. Many of the communities we visit carry histories of oppression and/or exploitation. As foreign visitors, we may hold power due to aspects of our identity (wealth, nationality, etc.). For some of us, we may even come from a country or community that has a history of exploiting the people we’re visiting. We work to become allies with host communities by centering their voices and stories, continuing to listen and learn, and reflecting on our own identities, privilege, and unconscious bias.
Another key place to learn about allyship is within your student group. Traveling to a new country is a different experience for everybody based on our backgrounds, identities, and personalities. By recognizing that your peers have different lived experiences than you, you can begin to develop empathy with other people’s experiences. For example, in many countries, female-identified students deal with different cultural expectations than their male-identified peers. LGBTQ+ students may have to navigate challenges different from their straight or cis-gendered peers. Students of color may also experience different treatment than white students. Students with heritage in the program location or region may be held to different standards than students who are visibly different from the local population.
For students from the United States traveling on domestic programs, the topics of identity and allyship are even more relevant and important to engage with. Dragons courses within the United States explore the different identities and experiences of their fellow participants within their home context, learning to see a once-familiar environment with new eyes. Students on domestic programs hear from indigenous and other historically marginalized voices, and learn about how they relate to the more painful aspects of the history and current realities of the United States. Instructors and alumni of our domestic programs have shared that because these conversations are closer to home, the experience is even more challenging and rewarding.
One of the best ways to start showing up as an ally for your peers is to listen to their experiences and respect their requests for support. You can begin this process by reading the Dragons resource Traveling as YOU: A Guide for Specific Identities.
Questions to Consider for Cultivating An Inclusive Environment
- Am I educating myself about the challenges that underrepresented groups face?
- What sorts of historical power dynamics exist in the place I’m traveling?
- What types of privilege do I hold in the context where I’m traveling?
- How do I define privilege? What types of privilege do people in the host country have?
- How can I use my privilege to support my fellow students?
- How can I use my privilege to support host communities?
Articles & Books
- Essay from Nepal instructor Rishi Bhandari, who grew up surrounded by international volunteers: “We Aren’t Just Vehicles for your Guilt and Privilege”
- Excerpt from a Book-Length Essay on Colonialism and Tourism in Antigua: A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid
- Book on Indigenous History: An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- The Anti-Oppression Network: Resources from Canada-based Mutual Aid Network
- Building Allies: Anti-Racism Resources for White Allies
- Dismantle Collective: Resources for White Allyship
- Article from Passion Passport: Decolonizing Travel: Going Ethically to Under-Resourced Countries
- Archer Magazine Article on Intersectionality: Culture Coming Out
- Settler-Colonialism Primer: Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory and Practice
- PBS Animated Musical Series: How America Invented Race: The History of White People in America (Episode 1)
- Video Lecture on US Indigenous History: Settler Colonialism and Genocide Policies, from Rosanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- Learning for Justice Toolkit: Expelling Islamophobia
- Article from Cornell University: Diversity Includes Disability: Be an Ally
- Resource from UC Davis: LGBTQIA Ally Tips
- Youth Engaged 4 Change: Being an Ally to LGBT People
- ProMundo Global Article: Want to be a Better Male Ally for Gender Equality? Here are Nine Steps You Can Take.
- Women of Color for Progress: Our Guide to Being an Ally
- Behavioral Scientist article on male allyship: The Hardest Part of Being an Ally
- Resources for Allyship to Latinx Communities: How to Be An Ally Outside of Hispanic Heritage Month
Identity-Related Risks and Travel
Going abroad is a big decision for anybody, and students from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups face even more challenges than their peers in the form of identity-related risks. While traveling abroad, some students may face additional risks to their physical safety and emotional wellbeing due to factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, body size, and income. Identity-related risks can impact the student experience both externally (within the host country) and internally (within the student group). Students may find themselves navigating how an identity is perceived in a particular host country while also trying to relate to the experience of peers who don’t share this identity.
Peer and Staff Support
Regular 1:1 mentorship from instructional staff is a key mechanism to support students who may be dealing with additional layers of challenge due to microaggressions, bias, attention, or discrimination. Our instructors are there to support individual experiences and help students to set healthy boundaries and voice their unique needs as they explore a new cultural environment. Just like you, instructors carry many different identities, feelings, and experiences. We are engaged in an ongoing learning process to become better global citizens and are also here to learn from you. We welcome students advocating for themselves and will also check in regularly to make sure we are providing adequate support.
Our instructors work to intentionally craft a healthy and safe peer environment free from discrimination. However, the ability of peer groups to understand and support the challenges of specific identities may vary. We are dedicated to the learning process of students from dominant cultures and push students to evolve in their ability to support all group members. By encouraging group reflection on topics such as identity, unconscious bias, and social justice, we strive to foster an inclusive and respectful group environment. A supportive peer environment is a key place for students of all identities to discuss and debrief challenging topics on the program.
Local Resources, Affinity Groups & Mental Health Support
On our programs, we are often able to connect students with local mentors and activists with shared identities so students can explore and relate to their lived experiences and stories. Before the program, students also have the option to connect with past students in online Affinity Groups, moderated online spaces on the Dragons Mighty Network for people from underrepresented groups that provide a safe place to share resources and experiences with Dragons staff and alumni with similar lived experiences.
For students with mental health challenges on course related to discrimination or identity, we can connect them to a referral list of qualified mental health professionals, including a counselor who specializes in supporting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students. If students already see a counselor at home, we recommend coming up with a plan for how they might reach out if they end up needing support on their program.
Skill-building for Resilience and Boundary-Setting
The beauty of discovering new places and cultures is finding ourselves challenged. All of us should expect to encounter some level of adversity and discomfort while traveling, and prepare to learn about and adapt to a new context. Part of the Dragons pedagogy is resourcing students to become active agents in their own experience as we embrace the challenges that arise along the journey.
Even as we embrace discomfort, it’s also important to learn where to draw the line. Setting healthy boundaries is a key skill in new cultural contexts. This is especially useful if you find yourself receiving unwanted attention or insensitive comments due to one or more of your identities. Instructors can help equip you with cultural knowledge and local language skills to respond to unwanted attention, insensitive comments, or street harassment in culturally effective ways. Remember: just because something is “normal” in the context of the host country does not mean you have to feel okay with it. You may find that some days, the unwanted attention doesn’t bother you, while on other days you feel a need to draw firmer boundaries. If you are feeling vulnerable or unwell, it can be good practice to ask a friend, homestay family member, or instructor to accompany you or help you get transportation with a trusted driver. Always trust your intuition and to leave any situation that feels unsafe.
If you identify as a member of a historically marginalized group, you might already be an expert in assessing your own comfort level in new situations. As you prepare for your Dragons course, there are many ways you can equip yourself with knowledge and confidence for your program. Research local laws, customs, and beliefs toward people of your identity in your destination to assess additional safety and wellbeing considerations for your time abroad. It may also be interesting to connect with the lived experiences of people in the host country who share your identity. Stories of resilience and activism in the place you’re traveling can be valuable sources of information, perspective, and inspiration as you build your own resilience. People with dominant identities can also practice resilience by working on our allyship skills and listening to constructive feedback on how to better support others.
Questions to Consider for Assessing My Own Identity-Related Risks
- Are there specific safety concerns I should be aware of based on one or more of my identities?
- How is my identity perceived in the host country? What stereotypes should I be aware of?
- What history or cultural context should I be aware of regarding my identity in the host country?
- What types of additional support do I anticipate needing from peers, instructors, or others?
- Are there individuals or groups who share my identity that I can connect with in the host country?
- How am I preparing myself to be an ally to group members who experience identity-related risks I might not have experienced or understand?