Provost Robert Groves announced Wednesday the establishment of a standing committee on diversity comprised of select students, faculty and administrators to be housed in the Office of the Provost.
“The Provost’s Committee for Diversity will directly advise me and work with me on issues related to diversity, race, ethnicity and social justice,” Groves wrote in a campus-wide email. “The committee will focus on the student experience — including student life, educational and co-curricular opportunities, and alumni engagement.”
Groves said that the new permanent standing committee — a permanent group that meets regularly — is the culmination of a long process of advocacy on behalf of undergraduate students interested in race, social justice and ethnic diversity.
Diversity committee student members will serve a 15-month term, which begins February 2015 and concludes March 2016. Student applicants from any undergraduate or graduate grade level can apply online for the committee until Wednesday, provided they are available for a 15-month term, including summers. Members will be evaluated and selected by the Office of the Provost.
“Due to the leadership of some undergraduate students last year, a set of concerns and proposals with regard to activities in and out of class, curricular ideas and alumni ideas that would enrich the experience of students from minority racial and ethnic status was proposed,” Groves said. “Those issues came to the forefront and were presented to President DeGioia for discussion and resolution. This was also linked to larger national concerns that manifested themselves in the Twitter campaign of #BBGU — Being Black at Georgetown University — last year.”
#BBGU, a hashtag part of a Twitter protest in December 2013, provided a forum for students of color to discuss their experiences on campus. The Georgetown administration supported the protest, posting about it on the office Georgetown Facebook page and joining the conversation on Twitter. Inspired by the #BBGU campaign, two movements #BLGU — Being Latino at Georgetown University and #BAGU — Being Asian at Georgetown University developed online later in December 2013.
According to Groves, the foremost goal of the committee is to create an inclusive environment at Georgetown through discussion and new initiatives.
“The overarching issue is how can we construct an environment where people are open to those who are different from themselves, that we learn how to understand and work together, and become better through working with diverse groups,” Groves said. “This has impact on the structure of social activities outside of classes, but also whether there are inside-the-classroom issues that we can become better on.”
In addition to tackling issues involving inclusiveness, the committee will explore the implementation of a diversity course requirement that would affect undergraduate students from all four Georgetown schools.
“One issue that we are forwarding now through the faculty approval process is the construction of a requirement that can be met through many different courses in the existing curriculum that would educate with regards to issues of race, influence, power, social relations and so on, to make sure that the curriculum reflects those kind of values,” Groves said.
In April 2009, DeGioia launched a Main Campus Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness in response to a series of bias-related incidents on campus. The initiative, comprised of three working groups that focused on academics, admissions and student life, released recommendations for improving overall campus inclusiveness in May 2010. The university has yet to address many of the group’s recommendations, including a proposal to develop a minority studies program and implement a diversity course into the core curriculum of each undergraduate school. Ferrara said that the new committee will provide a forum to address these problems and make changes that involve the Office of the President.
“We understand the importance of having an ongoing forum to promote greater diversity and inclusiveness on campus,” President John J. DiGioia’s Chief of Staff Joseph Ferrara wrote in an email. “We also understand the vital perspective that students have on these issues. This committee ensures that student voices have a central place in this conversation, something that is very important to President DeGioia.”
The university has a long-term commitment to supporting an inclusive community, according to Ferrara. In October, the Office of the President released an initiative to fund cultural and advocacy group heritage months. The Office provides $500 in funding each year, and $1,000 for groups with demonstrated need, to fund events such as LGBTQ History Month, Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
“The President’s Office will be working closely with this committee, and we are hopeful that this effort will have an impact in the near and long-term,” Ferrara wrote. “This committee is a long-term commitment — over the course of many years, we will be deeply engaged in strengthening our efforts to support a diverse and inclusive environment.”
Aubrey Guthrie (COL ’08, GRD ’12), an advisor to the committee, believes that continual feedback and engagement with the greater Georgetown community is essential to the committee’s future success.
“As they conduct their work, members will work to gather information and feedback from the Georgetown community,” Guthrie said. “Student leaders who worked with us to plan the committee emphasized three broad areas to focus ongoing work: student life, academics and alumni engagement. We anticipate the committee will engage in each of these areas and may also decide to undertake new projects and build connections between existing efforts on campus.”
Prospective committee applicant Sebastian Velastegui (MSB ’18) said he values the approach that Georgetown is taking in regards to issues of diversity, race and ethnicity.
“I think having this committee is a great start because it shows that Georgetown is taking initiative on this dilemma that we have on campus; it is a great way to power through these problems and to find tangible solutions to engender everyone into a closer, tight-knit Georgetown community,” Velastegui said.
Students representatives from GU Women of Color, The Georgetown Solidarity Committee and the Black Student Alliance, groups involved with pushing for a diversity course requirement, did not respond to requests for comment.
Groves said that this committee is not serving to just address the concerns of today, but also the issues of diversity and equality in the future.
“This is going to be a permanent committee, it is not going to be something that will be created and will fade away. It is now a permanent locus for these kind of issues to bubble up and be resolved at the highest levels of the university,” Groves said. “We care about this; we are going to make it work.”