Category: DEI, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Featured News, News, On Campus, Students

Title: Almost Two Years Since the Creation of the Office of DEI, Black Student Ambassadors Reflect on How it Can Support Students Like Them

Author: Paul James
Date Published: February 28, 2022
Terrence Armstead poses in front of Washington's Capitol building
Terence Armstead (SFS’23) joined the SFS Ambassadors program to support students of color like himself at SFS.

For Terence Armstead (SFS’23), the Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) value of service is personal and immediate. “As a Black man in SFS, where we are so underrepresented, it is helpful to my community and my peers for me to include myself in every effort of service and community advancement,” he says.

Armstead is a member of the inaugural cohort of SFS Student Ambassadors, a new initiative launched by the SFS Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to make SFS a more inclusive place for students from minority backgrounds within Georgetown University. 

The program invites current students to reach out to their peers and prospective students to establish networks of support for newer students and those who are considering applying to SFS.

Through a range of outreach activities, including Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) social mixers, guided campus tours and presentations to local high schoolers, these ambassadors seek to make Georgetown and SFS more accessible for students from a range of backgrounds, especially for students of color and low-income students.

Inspired by Global Anti-Racism Movements

The Office of DEI was founded in 2020 in response to widespread anti-racism movements that spread across the world in the aftermath of a number of police killings of Black people in the United States. 

Khaled Esseissah profile photo
Dr. Khaled Esseissah was one of hundreds of faculty, students, staff and alumni to call upon SFS to make antiracism a core principle of the school. The call to action resulted in the creation of the Office of DEI.

In response to the 2020 murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and numerous others at the hands of police officers and racists, more than 800 SFS faculty, students, staff and alumni issued a call to make anti-racism a core principle of the school. In June of that year, SFS Dean Joel Hellman issued a statement committing the school to the fight against racism and later announced the establishment of the Office of DEI with the appointment of Dr. Scott Taylor as vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion

Beyond campus, SFS community members joined protests, leveraged their digital platforms to raise awareness of racism and contributed expert analysis on how global affairs might more fully engage with the issue of race. 

For many in the Black community at SFS, the moment was one optimism but also frustration that such widespread and international mobilization was only catalyzed by extreme racist violence. 

“This is really a sad moment in our history, of outrage and anger. But it is also a moment of hope, a moment when we see many young African Americans standing up and saying loud and clear, ‘enough is enough,’” SFS Assistant Professor Khalid Essessiah said at the time. “This sends a strong message to all of us to move quickly and act boldly to end racism in the United States and around the world.”

A Personal Mission

Part of that anti-racist work means creating more opportunities for Black students to gain an international affairs education and, subsequently, entry into professional settings where they will have the opportunity to influence global affairs.

Armstead, who came to Georgetown from a public school in Alabama, recalls feeling lost in the SFS admissions process. Even once arriving on campus, Armstead still sometimes found it difficult to find resources that could help him navigate life at the university. 

Deborah Wey profile photo
Deborah Wey (SFS’24) hopes that the efforts of the Office of DEI will encourage the school to do more to embrace diverse experiences and ideas in the field of international relations.

“Georgetown has a great curriculum with an even greater reputation to back that, but I feel that for many BIPOC students they have a hard time feeling a sense of belonging on campus,” he explains. “I hope to be a great resource to students in similar situations like me.”

Fellow ambassador Deborah Wey (SFS’24) highlights the importance of creating spaces where students can learn more from perspectives within communities that have been historically excluded from the white, male-dominated international relations field.

“I really enjoyed my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies (WGST) and my Black Georgetown classes,” she remarks. “While I was already knowledgeable of the topics they covered, they were such eye-opening experiences — I still tell stories about what I learned in them and it’s been over a year since I took WGST!”

Wey also explains how classes like Map of the Modern World and her freshman year proseminar on politics and science fiction provided alternative perspectives. “They deviated from the typical class you’d take at Georgetown and allowed me to learn and discover new things,” she says.

Terrence Armstead sits at the counter at a DC coffee shop.
Armstead has also volunteered with the Georgetown Center for Social Justice’s After School Kids program, which provides mentoring programs for young people caught up in the juvenile criminal justice system.

New International Affairs Perspectives

As ambassadors within the Office of DEI, both Armstead and Wey are able to share perspectives like these to inform improved policy as it relates to students of color at SFS. 

Both students also believe a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion will have implications for the world beyond Georgetown, and will better equip SFS graduates to make meaningful change in the field of international relations. “It is essential to have diverse perspectives as a top priority in conversations aimed at advancing peace and prosperity worldwide,” Armstead says. 

Bringing more students of diverse backgrounds to SFS will require a careful and conscientious approach. 

“I think intentional diversity is very important, especially when we see how often diversity is used to pander rather than to actually serve a purpose for inclusion,” stressed Wey. One of the best ways to create meaningful change, she says, is to focus on faculty recruitment and “hiring more professionals who look like us and are passionate about helping and uplifting BIPOC students.”

Students and faculty who can share their experiences will be a valuable resource for students from minority backgrounds. As Armstead explains, “I have the opportunity to bridge the gap between prospective students and current students so they can gain insights on the intricacies of being a college student.”

Looking to the Future

As Armstead and Wey mull how an SFS education can be put into action across the student body, both students have big plans for their personal futures. 

“After Georgetown I hope to combine the things I’ve learned here and my outside experiences to assist me in a successful career in law and business administration,” Armstead says. “The dream job would be working in the music entertainment industry as a legal representative for artists while having my own entrepreneurial endeavors on the side.” 

Deborah Wey dressed in business casual, photographed in Georgetown's Dalhgren Quadrangle
Wey also serves as a senator and vice chair of policy and advocacy in the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA).

Wey also mentions law as a possible future path. “I really hope to go to law school to study some iteration of civil rights law (immigration, women’s rights, etc) and to work as a civil rights lawyer,” she says.

While they remain on the Hilltop, however, the student ambassadors want to open up pathways for future success for others. As work on diversity, equity and inclusion continues at SFS, Armstead urges the wider Georgetown community to acknowledge the efforts of Black students like himself.

He also encourages Black students to apply to SFS and get involved with diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the school.

Although it is not a responsibility to educate others with your perspective, it is a great opportunity to foster change and a movement toward peace and equity,” he says. If you are a Black student looking to apply to the SFS, you should keep in mind that your perspective in the community and classrooms can be of great value in eliciting growth.”

Wey has similar words of encouragement. “Please do it!” she says. “There is a community here to support you!”