Book on Global Citizenship Honored as AERA’s Outstanding Publication of the Year

Professor Robert Rhoads and education alumna Katalin Szelényi share their perspectives on diversity in higher education.

“Global Citizenship and the University: Advancing Social Life and Relations in an Interdependent World” (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011) by Robert Rhoads, professor of education in the Education Department’s Higher Education and Organizational Change Division at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and alumna Katalin Szelényi (M.A., ’01; Ph.D., ’07) was recognized as the 2012 Outstanding Publication of the Year by the Postsecondary Education Division of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In April, the authors received the award at the organization’s annual conference held in Vancouver. The award recognizes specific books, book chapters, or journal articles that make a substantial contribution to the literature and/or practice of higher education. The publication is considered to significantly revise the knowledge and understanding of a particular issue in the study of higher education or examine it in a new way; the work may also be an interdisciplinary effort that identifies a previously unknown problem in the community of higher education scholars.

To write “Global Citizenship,” Rhoads and Szelényi interviewed more than 100 students and faculty at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou, China; Central European University in Budapest, Hungary; the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina; and UCLA. The team examined issues such as growing capitalism in China, the integration of Hungary into the European Union, and Argentina’s resistance to neoliberalism and forms of global capitalism.  Back home at UCLA, they studied the experience of international students at an American university – albeit one with a highly diverse population.

Szelényi, who arrived in the United States from her native Hungary in 1998, says that she became interested in identity development from an immigrant’s point of view and that the book examines global citizenship as “a facet of identity that stresses rights and responsibilities.”

“I was very interested in international students’ experiences and the ways in which their identities developed in the United States,” says Szelényi, who is now an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “I was ‘studying’ myself and got interested in this topic in a broader way.”

Rhoads echoes her sentiments, saying that although globalization and global citizenship are ubiquitous buzzwords, “Global Citizenship” seeks to develop a more sophisticated construct by “unwrapping” them and their signification.

“Nearly every university references something to do with globalization, internationalization, and global citizenship in its mission statement, but what does that really mean?” notes Rhoads. “We think of global citizenship as a form of citizenship engagement, not as an identity but as a facet of identity. There are times in our lives when we need to think less about ourselves and more about the collective good. The collective good needs to be informed by global issues.”

Szelényi says that she and Rhoads tried to make sense of the broader definitions of global citizenship by developing a data-driven framework that is relevant to higher education, recognizing the importance of local action backed by a more global perspective.

“It’s really driven by what students and faculty said in a globally informed way or not,” Szelényi says. “Given the significance of [worldwide] crises from wars to environmental degradation, the role of universities in supporting the development of a globally informed citizenship is crucial in today’s world.”

“The book focuses on the challenges faced by universities today and puts an optimistic, action-oriented spin on those challenges,” Szelényi continues. “Because the world is so interconnected, being globally informed is extremely important. We developed a complex model of global citizenship, including our notion of globally informed collectivism. However, we don’t specify the geographic reach of that collectivism; it can be global or local.”

Rhoads says that although universities around the world offer exposure to a global perspective through study abroad experiences, foreign language learning, interacting with international students, and transnational collaboration among faculty, there is more needed to achieve not only a deeper cross-cultural understanding but also a sense of responsibility among students for humanity at large.

“There are two real issues for universities,” observes Rhoads. “How do we help students acquire the knowledge and understanding necessary to think and act globally? And secondly, how do we impact the attitudes and disposition of students to care about global concerns?” says Rhoads. “This is a big challenge, because you can argue that neoliberalism is the defining ideology of today’s campuses and that really focuses on individualism.”

Szelényi says that the concept of a social hybrid that she and Rhoads propose in “Global Citizenship” presents “a different understanding of how cultural inferences and forms encounter each other. For example, when I talk about offshore programs in foreign countries adopting an American curriculum, the local educational standards also find their way into that [curriculum]. It’s not really about ‘us vs. them,’ anymore.”

Rhoads says that hybridization is necessary because of the advent of shifts in national philosophy, as in the case of increasing capitalism in a formerly socialist and communist China, “systems are not so black and white.”

“We have to recognize that society isn’t what it was 30 or 40 years ago,” notes Rhoads. “It’s fairly obvious when you look around the world that we need hybrid systems, that some things should be more socialist or public good-oriented in nature. On the other hand, there are some things that are best left to the market.

“We’re not just talking about the influence of immigration around the world and how diverse regions like Los Angeles are becoming; we’re also talking about this hybrid notion of systems that guide our societies [which is] a product of globalization and increased contact among countries learning from one another.”

Szelényi says that she and Rhoads acknowledge that college students possess a certain level of privilege that presents a greater opportunity to engender a global consciousness.

“In developing a model of global citizenship, we were thinking about the idea that in order to be a global citizen, you have to have certain opportunities, forms of privilege to some extent,” she opines. “If a person is extremely poor, think of the developing world, global ideas are less likely to enter their social imagination, given a host of more pressing day-to-day concerns.”

“Who has the knowledge to think about things in a way that’s informed with deep knowledge about global issues? Not everybody has that opportunity,” confirms Rhoads. “So we think of global citizenship as a form of engagement that is situational. Most college students in the U.S. are relatively privileged in terms of their ability to access and use knowledge in ways that can potentially benefit the world.”

Szelényi asserts that institutions of higher education need “to recognize that some of the most significant issues today require citizens around the world to work together in finding solutions and to recognize that even on the local level, issues benefit from global awareness.”

“It is extremely important for universities to create opportunities for students and faculty to develop forms of critical, globally informed engagement; a form of global citizenship that allows them to incorporate into their thinking the fundamentally interconnected nature of our existence in the world,” she says.