Category: Alumni, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Faculty, Featured News, News, On Campus

Title: Alumni Leaders and Guests Guide Anti-Racist Conversations and DEI Efforts at SFS

Date Published: May 13, 2021

This is the fourth story in a 4-part series exploring efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the School of Foreign Service. Read other stories in this series by clicking on the links at the bottom of this page.

As the SFS community strengthens its commitment to anti-racism, centers, programs and committees across the school are engaging diverse leaders to further this necessary work. 

Through events, expanded advisory roles and seminars, these leaders shared how they have dedicated their work to issues in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and their advice for creating more inclusive spaces for dialogue and learning within the SFS community. 

Animating these efforts is a shared dedication to long-term institutional change. By starting conversations about racial justice and recruiting diverse groups of experts to lead them, SFS hopes to make meaningful steps toward becoming a more inclusive and welcoming academic community.

Expanding Board Leadership

In April, SFS welcomed new members to its advisory board, drawing on the expertise of five additional alumni leaders to help direct SFS at the beginning of its second century as an institution. 

The new members, who collectively have decades of experience in government, development, journalism, law, business and technology, will help to guide new practices for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the school in addition to other board duties. 

Alma Caballero (SFS’13, LAS’15), Brionne Dawson (SFS’02), Lulu Garcia-Navarro (SFS’94), Nick Talwar (SFS’95) and Zaid Zaid (SFS’97) will offer new perspectives from their varied professional careers to help SFS advance its commitment to anti-racism and other DEI efforts.

A similar effort took place in the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program, which welcomed new members to its board. Audrey Bracey Deegan, (JD’80, MSFS’80), Michelle Denise Carter (MSFS’96), Paul Fisher (MSFS’03), Pilar Guzman Zavala (MSFS’05) and Izumi Nakamitsu (MSFS ’89) will provide guidance to the program’s leadership team and expand career and scholarship opportunities for its students.

Profile photo of Lulu Garcia-Navarro (SFS'94)
Lulu Garcia-Navarro (SFS’94) is an award-winning journalist and one of five alumni recently added to the SFS advisory board.

“SFS has always sought to bring the world to the school and I want to help push forward that mission,” says award-winning NPR journalist Garcia-Navarro. “I’m very interested in issues of diversity and inclusion, as we look to widen who we bring into the school and how we not only teach them, but learn from them. That all requires great communication, which I am good at!” She continues, “It’s an exciting time to help advise a wonderful institution that is vital to creating the next generation of students who will step into a dynamic world stage.”

Dawson, who serves as senior advisor in the Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, is excited by the prospect of working to shape a new generation of diverse and talented international affairs leaders. She says, “I am proud to be joining the Board of Advisors to share my perspective as a foreign policy practitioner. I look forward to providing input into strategies that improve diversity in national security and enhance student-alumni engagement in furtherance of leadership skills development for foreign policy practitioners.”

Learning from Black Alumni Experiences

SFS has also been highlighting DEI issues through events programming that open up spaces for dialogue on issues that have often been overlooked, including taking stock of the school’s own history as it relates to race. 

On October 20 2020, Vice Dean for DEI Dr. Scott Taylor hosted a virtual conversation between four distinguished Black SFS alumni, who shared their memories and experiences as students and graduates of Georgetown. 

Retired federal judge Cheryl Long (SFS’71), Rutgers University Political Science Professor Saladin Ambar (SFS’90), CEO of Reconstruction and Co-Host of Pod Save the People Kaya Henderson (SFS’92), Facebook Strategic Response Policy Member Zaid Zaid (SFS’97) and Senior Advisor for the U.S. State Department Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs Brionne Dawson (SFS’02) shared their perspectives on how their identities as Black students and professionals impacted their lives. 

A gallery view of a Zoom panel featuring retired federal judge Cheryl Long (SFS’71), Rutgers University Political Science Professor Saladin Ambar (SFS’90), CEO of Reconstruction and Co-Host of Pod Save the People Kaya Henderson (SFS’92), Facebook Strategic Response Policy Member Zaid Zaid (SFS’97) and Senior Advisor for the U.S. State Department Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs Brionne Dawson (SFS’02) and moderated by SFS Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Scott Taylor
In October of last year, Taylor hosted prominent alumni who attended SFS across nearly four decades to share their perspectives as Black SFS students and later as professional leaders.

Their discussion explored how racism, both within Washington, D.C. and on Georgetown’s campus, impacted students of color during their college years, and described the communities, mentors and classes that provided opportunities for Black students to thrive in supportive academic and professional environments. 

Many panelists noted that the biggest sources of support on campus were other Black students, as well as faculty and staff of color. They recommended that SFS do more to recruit and support people of color in its community and proactively connect current Black students with Black alumni to help them as they pursue careers after graduation.

“While I was at Georgetown, I always made sure to reach out and pull the Black SFS students under my wing,” Zaid explained. “I always felt I needed to do that, because other people did it for me…I wish we had more Black students in SFS.”

Sharing Insights from Distinguished Careers

Taylor has also sought to highlight a more diverse range of professionals in events highlighting SFS alumni and their career paths. He hopes that this increased visibility will enable students from all backgrounds to see themselves reflected in the trajectories of speakers and panelists.

On February 22, 2021, Taylor hosted a conversation among several Black women artists about how their identities and experiences as Black women inform their globe-spanning artistic careers. Terri Lyne Carrington, Fay Victor and SFS alumnae Corina Kwami (SFS’10) and Obehi Janice (SFS’09) also discussed how their work translates across borders and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the arts.

A gallery view of a Zoom panel Terri Lyne Carrington, Fay Victor and SFS alumnae Corina Kwami (SFS’10) and Obehi Janice (SFS’09) and moderated by SFS Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Scott Taylor.
Taylor moderated a February panel on Black women in the arts that featured SFS alumnae Corina Kwami (SFS’10) and Obehi Janice (SFS’09).

For Janice, a writer and actor, the fact that Black women are often underpaid or overlooked does not preclude her from creating meaningful work on her own terms. “I have definitely tricked white institutions into paying me to call out things,” she says. Even when she is in predominantly white spaces, Janice strives to make her mark through her work. “I believe Black women are the blueprint. We run culture — we run everything.”

Taylor has also leveraged events to underscore the ways in which students can actively embrace DEI work in their careers after graduation. 

On March 5, 2021, Taylor moderated a panel featuring SFS alumni Haben Fecadu (SFS’08), a senior legal advisor at the American Bar Association focusing on legal justice in the Horn of Africa, Chad Griffin (SFS’97), LGBTQ+ advocate and civil rights leader, and Margaret Huang (SFS’91), president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The discussion explored how panelists have advanced social justice throughout their careers and highlighted their recommendations for building a more equitable future.

Gallery view of a Zoom event featuring SFS alumni Haben Fecadu (SFS’08), a senior legal advisor at the American Bar Association focusing on legal justice in the Horn of Africa, Chad Griffin (SFS’97), LGBTQ+ advocate and civil rights leader, and Margaret Huang (SFS’91), president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center moderated by SFS Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Scott Taylor
As part of an effort to learn from diverse and distinguished alumni, Taylor hosted a conversation among SFS alumni on the front lines of social justice work.

The event marked Huang’s second SFS event this academic year. In December, she joined Professor Anthony Arend for a discussion, hosted by SFS and the Georgetown Alumni Association, to discuss the legacy of American racism, including how it manifests in voter suppression laws. 

“As we’re thinking about how we make our democracy, and the United States, a true democracy, we have to consider, what are the structural barriers that have been put into place to disallow some communities from having full participation,” she said.

Creating Spaces for Dialogue

SFS programs and institutes also used events to provide additional DEI learning opportunities beyond the classroom. 

In February, the African Studies Program (AfSP) launched its Lunchtime Series on Racism & Slavery to explore the historical roots and legacies of slavery in various regions and cultures on the continent. Hosted by Professor Khaled Esseissah, an April 8 event brought together Dr. Stephen King, Dr. Nathaniel Mathews and Dr. Ismael Montana to discuss race, Blackness and the legacy of slavery in North and East Africa.

At a virtual event hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) former Secretaries of State Hillary R. Clinton and Madeleine K. Albright marked the 25th anniversary of the historic United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Both participated in a discussion, moderated by GIWPS Executive Director Ambassador Melanne Verveer, about the progress made in gender equality and human rights since the summit. 

A gallery view of a Zoom event featuring Secretaries of State Hillary R. Clinton and Madeleine K. Albright and moderated by Amb. Melanne Verveer
GIWPS hosted former Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine K. Albright to mark 25 years since the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women.

“I’m certainly going to continue to call for women’s rights, but more important to me now is enabling women to have the power to claim their rights,” Clinton said during the discussion, which was just one of a series of events centering women’s voices in leadership and human rights GIWPS hosted this academic year.

Reframing the Conversation

When the Global Political Economy Project (GPEP) at the Mortara Center for International Studies received a $300K grant from the Open Societies Foundation (OSF) to explore how to center people and sustainability in global market scholarship, principal investigators Professors Kathleen McNamara and Abraham Newman immediately began to explore how they could incorporate DEI into the project’s programming.

Throughout the 2020-21 academic year, the project hosted the GPEP-Race series, a program of talks focused on race in international political economy. Featured scholars included Dr. Robbie Shilliam of Johns Hopkins University, who discussed race, colonialism and the global economy, and Dr. Sonal Pandya of the University of Virginia, who presented on the role of race in foreign direct investment.

Zoom screenshot of Robbie Shilliam and Kate McNamara in discussion.
Prof. Robbie Shilliam speaks with SFS Prof. Kate McNamara about race, colonialism and the global economy as part of Mortara’s GPEP-R series.

Race has long structured how markets work, for example, in how the liberal international order was built, yet our field has largely ignored its role,” McNamara says. “By highlighting the cutting-edge work being done by scholars who make visible the role of race, we hope to contribute to a change in our teaching, scholarship and ultimately, public policy.”

While the pandemic has created many difficulties within academia, both Newman and McNamara say that the virtual learning environment provided greater opportunities, enabling them to more easily host international scholars to share their work.

“One advantage of going virtual as a result of the pandemic has been the ability to engage faculty, students and members of the public from institutions all around the world,” Newman says. Recordings of the virtual events were also made public, enabling more people to engage with the series, including in classroom settings where Newman says that professors have utilized the series to introduce new concepts into their syllabi.

Newman and McNamara hope to build on momentum through their Remapping IR Initiative, which draws attention to other oft-overlooked topics in international politics, such as the role that LGBTQ+, gender and Global South identities play in political cultures around the world.

“The level of engagement has been truly inspiring,” they say, “and we hope that these events have sparked people to continue these conversations in their own communities.”

Putting DEI Into Practice

In addition to exploring the scholarly implications of DEI topics, the SFS community has also used events to identify ways to create practical change within powerful institutions. 

The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy’s Diverse Diplomacy series has connected students with foreign policy practitioners and professionals since December 2018. The series invites diplomats and civil servants from a range of backgrounds to share their insights into the opportunities and challenges of their fields. 

This year, speakers included Ambassador Dereck Hogan, Ambassador Donald Lu, Foreign Service Generalist Mirembe Natongo and others. Many guests used the opportunity to share their recommendations for how the U.S. State Department can improve diversity within its ranks. 

Photo of an interview with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield for the Diverse Diplomacy  Series
Since its launch in December 2016, ISD’s Diverse Diplomacy series has connected students with a number of foreign policy professionals, including U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Lu said, “If we have trouble finding qualified minority candidates, we need to look harder or support development programs that identify candidates with promise and give them the opportunities and trainings they need to succeed.”

By inviting speakers with a variety of racial, ethnic, religious and gender identities and sexualities, the series also provides powerful inspiration for students who are not used to seeing themselves represented in diplomacy. 

This strategy is already bearing fruit. Recent SFS alumnus Isaac Kim (SFS’20) says the series was instrumental in his decision to pursue a career in the State Department, where he will take up a position as a Foreign Service Officer through the Rangel Fellowship this fall. 

“Representation is powerful and hearing from FSOs of color was empowering to visualize myself in a diplomatic career,” he explains.

Other programs have used virtual events as opportunities to gather communities together to confront difficult issues and support one another. 

After a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes — including an attack in Atlanta where multiple people, many of whom were Asian women, were murdered by a white shooter — the Asian Studies Program (ASP) worked with campus partners to host a panel discussion on how to address anti-Asian racism, both at Georgetown and in wider society. 

Moderated by ASP Associate Professor Yuhki Tajima and Associate Professor of Art and Art History Michelle Wang, the event featured remarks from leaders in academia, political advocacy and data science. 

Screenshot of a Zoom screen featuring all panelists at the event exploring anti-Asian racism.
ASP’s panel on anti-Asian racism featured leaders in academia, political advocacy and data science.

One panelist and SFS alumna Agnes Lee — who, as editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal, is believed to be the first openly undocumented student elected editor-in-chief of a flagship journal at a top U.S. law school — spoke about feeling singled out as one of the few students of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent in her Georgetown classrooms, an experience she says is shared by her Asian law professors.

“In law school, there are only a handful of AAPI professors who carry the enormous weight of being the few,” Lee said.

Panelists called for mandatory workshops and trainings on anti-racism for students, more incorporation of AAPI history into Georgetown syllabi and hiring more AAPI faculty and academic counselors to mentor AAPI students.

The event was attended by more than 300 people, which Tajima said was “a testament to the strong desire within the GU AAPI community for acknowledgment of our experiences with racism.”

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, who delivered opening remarks, also stressed the importance of the event, and those like it, which address injustices and connect the campus community in efforts to build a more just and inclusive society.

“Moments when we can be together are important,” he said. “To share our pain and grief and our solidarity.”