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

Title: SFS Puts Diversity, Equity and Inclusion At Center of School-Wide Mission and Programming

Author: Paul James and Caroline Hamilton
Date Published: April 22, 2021

This is the first 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 link(s) at the bottom of this page.

In June 2020, after George Floyd’s murder and the widespread Black Lives Matter protests that followed in its wake, SFS faculty, students, staff and alumni came together to issue a call to center anti-racism at the heart of the school’s mission. “SFS should affirm its commitment to racial justice by making it a foundational principle and enacting concrete changes toward its achievement,” the call read. “SFS should advance scholarship and practices that respond to structural inequalities that have long shaped the modern world. By standing for racial justice, the SFS will inspire commitments to global service that truly reflect the transformative potential of cura personalis.”

That July, in response to the call to action, SFS adopted anti-racism as a core principle and appointed Dr. Scott Taylor as inaugural vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Taylor took on the role after serving as director of the African Studies program, where he continues to teach as a professor. 

The position was created to design and implement measures for better representation and opportunities for underrepresented communities across the school, including in undergraduate admissions and curriculum, school-wide events programming and faculty and staff hiring. Taylor’s office also facilitates collaboration between leaders working on DEI initiatives in other departments, programs, centers and institutes within SFS.

Professor Scott Taylor has served as vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) since the position’s inauguration in July 2020.

Building Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Taylor explains that he assumed his new role at a time of shifting priorities for the school.

“Prior to last summer, the commitment to DEI was, at best, rhetorical,” he says. “It was a latent priority.”

After a wave of police killings of Black Americans in the summer of 2020, however, priorities changed. “To the school’s immense credit, it responded to the national and global outrage in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths in particular, by recognizing the systemic devaluation of Black lives,” Taylor says.

Since its inception last fall, Taylor’s office has coordinated school-wide DEI efforts and complemented various initiatives within individual programs and departments. 

“We’ve seen tremendous receptivity to the DEI agenda among students, faculty and staff,” Taylor remarks. “My office did not originate that energy, of course, but we’ve been able to build on it, draw on it to advance our agenda and achieve numerous successes already.”

The DEI team has supported efforts to establish new graduate scholarships for students from underrepresented communities within SFS’s graduate programs and divert more resources toward recipients of Rangel, Pickering and Payne fellowships. All three fellowships provide financial support for graduate students from historically underrepresented communities within the ranks of the federal government who are preparing for foreign service careers in the U.S. State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We play a coordinating function in an effort to maximize our resources and make sure we’re all swimming in the same direction,” Taylor explains. 

His team has also collaborated with faculty and student leaders from across the school to develop syllabi that include more diverse perspectives. 

Taylor stepped down as director of the African Studies Program to fulfill his new duties but continues to teach both undergraduate and graduate students at SFS as a professor in the program.

Amplifying Diverse Voices

To address systemic issues that transcend beyond SFS, Taylor has worked with faculty and staff leaders to organize training sessions and workshops on race, racism, microaggressions and implicit bias. In the fall, as part of their orientation, all new graduate students were able to attend anti-racism training and an event exploring the role that questions relating to diversity, equity and inclusion play in international relations scholarship. Faculty and staff have attended various DEI training programs throughout the year, including on implicit bias and microaggressions.

In October of last year, Taylor hosted prominent alumni who attended SFS across nearly four decades to share experiences they had as Black students.

Building a more diverse and inclusive community for the long-term is also a top priority for Taylor, and his team have been supporting the development of new recruitment strategies to bring more diverse cohorts to graduate and undergraduate programs. These include initiatives like promoting SFS graduate programs to students from historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and minority-serving institutions  and identifying ways to engage with Washington, D.C.-area high school students through new summer programs. 

Taylor says he has worked hard on outreach to student-led organizations at Georgetown, “to coordinate our efforts, but also to ensure that student groups invested in DEI and antiracist principles know they have a dedicated partner in the SFS Dean’s Office.”

“I am also quite proud of the enormously successful events we have been able to hold, celebrating the amazing achievements of SFS grads from diverse backgrounds,” he continues.

Throughout the year, Taylor has moderated numerous panels featuring alumni whose lived experiences and careers advance the cause of racial and social justice. In October, SFS welcomed four prominent Black alumni — who attended SFS across four decades — to reflect on how their Georgetown experience impacted them as students and determined their later careers. 

Taylor moderated a February panel on Black women in the arts that featured SFS alumnae Corina Kwami (SFS’10) and Obehi Janice (SFS’09).

On February 23, in celebration of Black History Month, Taylor moderated a panel discussion of prominent Black women artists, including SFS alumnae Corina Kwami (SFS’10) and Obehi Janice (SFS’09), who spoke about how their identities as Black women intersected with their international careers in the creative arts. 

Most recently, on March 5, Taylor facilitated a discussion between human rights lawyer Haben Fecadu (SFS’08), LGBTQ+ advocate and former president of the Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin (SFS’97) and Southern Poverty Law Center president and CEO Margaret Huang (SFS’91), which explored their work as civil and human rights leaders. 

“We have to find allies in unusual spaces,” Huang said of building coalitions for social justice. “We have to understand that the answers may come, some of them, from other parts of the world, but also that we have to wrestle with the historical legacy here if we’re going to be able to try those strategies here.”

Looking to the Future

Taylor knows that some of his top priorities will take time, especially as the university weathers the logistical and financial difficulties posed by COVID-19. For example, the vice dean hopes to support the hiring of new faculty members of color when the hiring freeze imposed during the pandemic is lifted. 

“Being remote is difficult,” he says. “The financial constraints of the university have been difficult for all members of our community, and I’m grateful that, despite those challenges, we’ve been able to make genuine headway.”

Until the university can return to normal operations, Taylor and his team have been making the most of digital events like last month’s panel with SFS alumni on social justice work and coalition building.

While the physical and financial challenges of the pandemic have made for an unusual start for the new office, Taylor is nevertheless confident that his team can ramp up efforts when on-campus operations resume. 

“We’ve been able to make great strides, but there’s so much more we can do once we return to a more ‘normal’ existence in SFS and at the university,” he says. “Many of our projects are still in their nascent stages. Maintaining the commitment will be the next challenge.”

However, as he looks to the next stage of his work at SFS, Taylor knows that his efforts, and those of his colleagues and students, will have an impact far beyond Georgetown’s campus. 

“Structural racism, inequality and discrimination are American as well as global problems,” he stresses. “Even if we are fortunate enough to eradicate them from the SFS, our community — and perhaps especially our graduates as future global leaders — must continue to combat these evils in the world.”