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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

State Department Representative Speaks on Equity in Diplomacy

A representative from the U.S. Department of State discussed embracing identity in the foreign service as part of the Diverse Diplomacy Leaders Speaker Series, an initiative that connects Georgetown University students with foreign policy practitioners. 

The Jan. 18 event featured Desirée Cormier Smith, the State Department’s first special representative for racial equity and justice. The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, a center within the Walsh School of Foreign Service that studies future challenges in diplomacy and domestic politics, hosted the talk. 

In her role, which falls under the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Cormier Smith spearheads efforts to protect marginalized communities around the globe. In the moderated discussion, she shared both personal and professional experiences from her time working in foreign service to explore the importance of diversity in diplomacy.

Cormier Smith, a political science and psychology major at Stanford University and a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said she had not always planned on entering a career in diplomacy.

“I like to call myself the accidental diplomat, because growing up I did not know there was such a career. I did not know that the State Department existed. I didn’t know that there was a thing for me in the State Department,” Cormier Smith said at the event. 

Cormier Smith studied at Oxford University in England, an opportunity she said gave her one of her first exposures to racist treatment in foreign service.

“Some of the formative experiences that I had with racial discrimination or racial injustice actually happened to me overseas,” Cormier Smith said. “The first time I was called the n-word, I was studying abroad.”

Despite challenges with racism, she said her background and identity were also strengths that enabled her to bring a unique perspective to the table.

US Mission Geneva | The Diverse Diplomacy Leaders Speaker Series hosted a conversation with Desirée Cormier Smith, the State Department Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice.

“Many of us are multiple things at once. I am a Black American woman, so I need my Black American identity or my identity as a woman. I bring all of that with me and all of the history and the inspiration from my family and my community,” Cormier Smith said. 

Prospective diplomats, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, should bring their own distinct identities and cultures proudly to their work, according to Cormier Smith.

Cormier Smith said she feels it is important to have a State Department staff that reflects the United States as a whole, not just the most privileged members of society, in order to better serve the American people.

“Why wouldn’t we harness the unique diversity of our country? Why wouldn’t we want an institution that is supposed to be representing the American people, why wouldn’t we want it to look like these people?” Cormier Smith said.

While reiterating her commitment to racial diversity, Cormier Smith said it’s equally necessary to recognize the various kinds of diversity that exist and the intersectionality of multiple identities, all of which add value to foreign policy.

“We’re talking about gender diversity. We’re talking about LGBTQ+ persons. We’re talking about people with disabilities. We’re talking about regional diversity. We’re talking about people from various religious backgrounds,” Cormier Smith said. 

An alum of the Pickering Fellowship, which provides fellows with a fully-funded master’s degree in exchange for at least five years working in the foreign service, Cormier Smith said she recommends getting involved in foreign affairs while in college through internships.

Reflecting on her journey from Girl Scout to diplomat, Cormier Smith said she feels immense gratitude and a sense of fulfillment from her career in the State Department.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Cormier Smith said. “And it’s such a privilege to be able to serve my country and my community.”

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About the Contributor
Jack Willis
Jack Willis, Executive Editor
Jack Willis is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service from St. Augustine, Fla., studying international politics. He won his middle school spelling bee. [email protected]

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