By Elizabeth Barahona, Class of ’18

As part of my thesis on the history of Latinx students at Duke University, I researched the history of the Woman’s Student Government Association (WSGA). I found that they were involved with the labeling of “foreign” students in what later would become Duke University. In the 1960s the Woman’s Student Government Association had established an exchange program. Duke women had studied abroad and in students from other universities abroad came to Duke for a semester. In 1963 the WSGA recommended and passed to change the name of their Foreign Student Committee. A proposal made in 1963 addressed that the word “foreign” had negative connotations and recommended that it be changed to “international.” The proposal justified the change by arguing that the word “international” had the connotation of being a two-way exchange and that this exchange was more in line with the type of programming made by the committee. The proposal did not mention the negative connotations that were associated with the word “foreign.” However, the justification for the word “international” hints that the students may have seen the word “foreign” as a divisive term, creating a separation between them and us and an unequal set of power relations. As implied by foreign vs. international wherein all student belonged to a nation. This proposal was the only time that Duke students had made an effort to influence the way the administration handled a larger student issue, in this case, foreign students.

 

The renamed International Student Committee organized an exchange program where they would fund university
students from other countries to study at Duke. The committee also worked on allocating funds to educate students about the affairs of students studying abroad, connected students with community service work through the Y.W.C.A. and funded the international club in the 1963. The exchange program began in 1963 with a partnership with the Free University of West Berlin. This exchange program may have been inspired by the national push for students to study abroad. This program was born out of Cold War issues, there was an effort so that students could become U.S. ambassadors in friendly nations. The goal was to have two women’s college students exchange places with two female Free University students. The committee wanted to have a cultural exchange as well as an academic one. That year, Elke Fricke and Ina Roesing came to Duke and studied for a year at the undergraduate level.


The exchange program faced several problems. They experienced a lack of communication between the committee and the university about the academic level of the students, there was insufficient planning on behalf of the Duke committee to provide medical insurance to the students. Ina had to leave the program early because she experienced an accident and needed medical attention. A problem that followed the exchange program was a lack of funding. The student committee was not able to allocate enough funds for the program to run in its entirety every year. In a committee report written in 1966, the students complained that the men’s student government was not able to help them monetarily because they had not established a counterpart to the International Student Committee. In fact, during the entirety of the men’s student government from 1925 to 1969, they did not create a committee or proposal addressing international students. The WSGA’s involvement with the international exchange program and in attempting to influence the university speaks to the ways that the women were more involved in the larger Cold War efforts than the men. This is an example of how women were strong advocates of specific Cold War policies. This example of the WSGA’s involvement in policy change is an important marker in the history of Latinx students because it is an example of how students wanted to label one another. It also speaks to how “foreign” Latin American students were received when they arrived to Duke University.