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

Title: SFS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts Center Student Support and Leadership

Author: Caroline Hamilton, Paul James and Mairead MacRae
Date Published: May 6, 2021

This is the third 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.  

Over the past year, as the Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) has institutionally embraced diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as a central pillar of its mission, student activists advocating for greater inclusion within their school have found renewed support for their efforts. Students are continuing longstanding projects aimed at making SFS a more equitable institution, and they are partnering with faculty and administrative groups to maximize the impact of their actions.

To support an increasingly diverse student body, faculty and staff have also launched new initiatives to support students from underrepresented communities within the school, including low-income students and students of color. Together, engaged members of the SFS community hope to provide more resources for current students while investing in diverse future cohorts.

Fostering an Inclusive Environment

Legacy admissions are a key target for undergraduate students organizers who hope that revisiting how the school recruits and accepts students will make SFS and Georgetown a more equitable place. Along with a group of her peers, Amanda Feldman (SFS’22) has been advocating for the university to end its practice of giving preference to family members of university alumni during the admissions process. 

Photo of Amanda Feldman (left) with Adam Shaham (right). Adam has his arm around Amanda.
Amanda Feldman (SFS’22) worked with fellow student Adam Shaham (SFS’22) to found Abolish the Legacy, a student group hoping to make admissions policies at Georgetown University more just.

“Our push to abolish legacy admissions practices was founded on not only their basis in exclusion and discrimination, but also on their continued perpetuation of a lack of equity in our system,” she explains.

The undergraduate student group, Abolish the Legacy, incorporated community feedback into a petition for senior Georgetown leaders and have found ways to align efforts with other community initiatives looking for their own ways to improve inclusivity. 

While the reception has been positive, Feldman says she hopes that actionable steps are on the horizon and emphasizes that Georgetown has an obligation, as an elite institution, to lead the way on DEI. 

“As a major university and as a feeder school for many important programs, Georgetown absolutely has an impact on the diversity, equity and inclusion of more than just its campus,” she says, citing the number of Georgetown students who go into public service as an example.

Intentional Outreach to Prospective Graduate Students

At the graduate level, staff are also updating admissions strategies to ensure that a career in international service is available to prospective students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Julie McMurtry, associate director of the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), leads the SFS graduate admissions working group, which convenes admissions staff members from graduate programs across the school to share best practices, strategize and collaborate on recruitment efforts.

Incorporating DEI into the group’s work is vital to ensuring that every student who enters SFS programs has the opportunity to be successful in their studies, McMurtry explains. “We are committed to bringing our admitted students into a community where all will thrive,” she says.

Photo of Julie McMurtry. She stands in front of a read brick wall and is wearing a patterned blouse that is white, magenta and blue.
CLAS Associate Director Julie McMurtry leads the SFS graduate admissions working group, which has been working on a number of new DEI initiatives during the last academic year.

This year, the group has been expanding efforts to recruit students from a range of backgrounds and working closely with students and faculty in SFS graduate programs to make sure that the environment new students enter when they arrive on campus places DEI at its core.

The group increased their outreach to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and minority-serving institutions to reach more students interested in international service. This included working with faculty at these schools to emphasize SFS programs’ interest in their students and offer support in admissions coaching. McMurtry and her colleagues also instituted a range of fee waivers across SFS graduate programs aimed at making the application process more affordable for students who come from communities that are underrepresented in international affairs graduate schools or professions.

For the first time, all application reviewers were required to complete implicit bias training, while admissions staff increased the number of touch points they had with prospective and admitted students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. The graduate programs partnered with the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Program — which works to promote the inclusion and full participation of underrepresented groups in public service — to hold special information sessions for PPIA students.

The group also collaborated with three peer schools that are also members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) to host a diversity summit, where interested students could connect with students from HBCUs, HSIs and admissions representatives to talk about DEI initiatives, career opportunities and applying to graduate school.

Throughout this work, the group has been consulting with current SFS students and alumni to hear their suggestions for how to make SFS a more inclusive place.

“We recognize the value our current community has to help us with breaking the boundaries of what international affairs has been, and we want to expand upon that as we move into the future,” McMurtry says. “We are working together to create a stronger network to provide resources for applicants with varied experience with higher education and the application process.”

Building Diverse Cohorts

Associate Director of Admissions at the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program Julie Zhu has found that these intentional recruitment efforts have already yielded a more diverse cohort of students in her own program.

Profile photo of Julie Zhu. She wear glasses, a claret red blazer and a blue and white patterned blouse. The background is solid yellow.
MSFS Associate Director of Admissions Julie Zhu says intentional efforts have created more diversity within the graduate programs’ cohorts.

Compared to the previous year’s cohort, a higher percentage of the admitted MSFS Class of 2023 identify as people of color, and incoming international students call a wider range of countries home.

At MSFS, Zhu and Ja’net DeFlorimonte, MSFS director of admissions, have been spearheading efforts to make applying to MSFS more accessible and attractive for a wide variety of students. 

This year, with the help of colleagues and current students, the team hosted prospective student information sessions in Spanish and Mandarin, as well as English, and updated the MSFS website to include admissions information in six foreign languages (Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic, Georgian and Russian).

MSFS also matched prospective students with current MSFS students of similar backgrounds to provide what Zhu describes as “personalized advice and support” as they begin their MSFS education.

For both Zhu and DeFlorimonte, making sure that their students — many of whom will go on to take up international leadership positions after graduating — reflect a diverse range of backgrounds is key. 

DeFlorimonte explains, “We want the student population to be closer to the diversity of the U.S. population. But it’s not just a numbers game — we want to bring more diverse opinions into the classroom.”

Expanding Career Mentoring for Students of Color

Ja'net DeFlorimonte pictured standing next to a table with promotional material. She is talking to a prospective student who is holding a brochure.
Ja’net DeFlorimonte, MSFS director of admissions, talks with a prospective student about graduate study at SFS. (Photo taken before the pandemic.)

The future careers of SFS students, and the DEI issues graduates may encounter, is also a primary consideration for staff members at the SFS Graduate Career Center (GCC). This academic year, career coach Dr. Mrim Boutla has led a number of initiatives to incorporate themes around identity into the center’s work. 

Through her leadership, GCC recruited more diverse panelists for its JumpStart January events, which connect graduate students seeking career advice with dozens of alumni. The program this year included a panel that specifically explored career navigation for students of color

Boutla also introduced monthly Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) mixers, providing the opportunity for graduate students of color to discuss the issues they face in both academic environments and the professional world. Mixers have included discussions about imposter syndrome, recognizing and responding to microaggressions, building community and handling rejection during the internship and job search process. 

A cognitive neuroscientist, Boutla blends her scientific expertise with the intuition and empathy she has from her personal experience as a first-generation college graduate. Of both Swiss and Moroccan descent, she first came to the U.S. as an international student and naturalized as an American citizen. 

Profile photo of Mrim Boutla against a blue background. She wears glasses and a white blazer. A turquoise ring is visible on her hand, upon which she is resting her head.
Dr. Mrim Boutla, a graduate career coach at SFS, has developed a number of initiatives to support graduate students of color as they navigate their careers.

She and her colleagues at GCC plan to continue to support students from all backgrounds as they navigate the jobs market and to emphasize that DEI can, and should be, a core component of graduates’ future careers. 

She says, “Drawing from our global experiences and my neuroplasticity Ph.D., it is our GCC team’s and my honor to coach our graduate students and alumni as they translate their education into becoming DEI champions while pursuing service-driven careers in the multilateral, government, non-profit and private sectors.”