Just over a year ago, University President John J. DeGioia called on students to commit to changing the climate surrounding diversity at Georgetown in response to a series of incidents that raised questions about the university community’s attitude toward diversity.
In the weeks prior to DeGioia’s town hall meeting, the statues of the Virgin Mary and of former professor Jan Karski were defaced; Nazi-related symbols were scrawled on a campus wall; THE HOYA published an April Fools’ Issue regarded by many as excessively crude and offensive. According to a report by the Student Commission for Unity published two months earlier, 79 percent of Georgetown students had reported witnessing discrimination by their peers. DeGioia’s town hall meeting became a call to action.
“We have faced moments like this before,” he said at the meeting. “It is important that, in many different ways, in our own voices and often together, members of the university community have taken the opportunity to stand up and challenge offensive and intolerant behavior.”
Officially called the Main Campus Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness, the goal of the initiative is to cultivate respect for diversity and inclusiveness while building a community of trust among students. It has been co-chaired by University Provost James O’Donnell and Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity, Rosemary Kilkenny.
From its inception at the town hall meeting, the Diversity Initiative was divided into three working groups: admissions and recruitment, student life, and academics. The three groups were asked to study the status quo at Georgetown and create proposals for constructive change; throughout this academic year, the products of their work have been presented and received with varying responses.
Admissions and Recruitment
The Admissions and Recruitment Working Group has focused on ways to increase the number of underrepresented students at Georgetown. Foremost among the proposals in its report, which was submitted in December 2009, was the creation of an advisory group to the dean of undergraduate admissions, eventually to be chaired by a new senior-level position within the admissions office.
The group also called for diversity additions to Blue and Gray tours, a new essay prompt in the undergraduate application, funding for travel expenses for Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program students with demonstrated need, further development of the “pipeline” relationships that channel students into Georgetown, and an emphasis on fundraising for the 1789 Initiative.
The report recognized that financial aid would be crucial for increasing the enrollment of minority students.
“Georgetown has to get minority students to apply and consider Georgetown as a possibility,” Yasmin Serrato (SFS ’13), a Georgetown University Student Association senator said to THE HOYA in November (Nov. 20, “Diversity Push Gains Ground”). “Georgetown is competing with other top schools for the top students, and it often comes down to financial aid.”
The university accepted the working group’s proposals in January and has since been working to implement them. The next financial campaign, coming in the fall, will aid the initiative. One-third of the campaign will go toward money for financial aid, which will help in recruitment, O’Donnell said.
The Student Life Working Group was designed to address the ways in which students live and interact with each other in a multicultural community. The student body has faced accusations of
self-segregation in the past.
“We’re really trying to analyze, `How can we get Georgetown students to talk to each other?'” Ryan Wilson said of the Student Life Working Group in April (April 9, “Working Group Backs Diversity Requirement”). Wilson is co-chair of the Admissions and Recruitment Working Group.
Though the group has yet to publish its proposals, it has already begun implementing programs including the discussion series “A Different Dialogue.”
The series lasted eight weeks and focused on understanding the perspectives of others rather than arguing and defending a pre-established point of view. According to Wilson, the series kept a 90 percent retention rate among students’ attendance.
The group also has additional programming planned for the next year. According to the Initiative’s Web site, the group will look into possible improvements for New Student Orientation and Residence Life programming, as well as mentoring and leadership development for clubs.
The final group, the Academic Working Group, has spent nearly a year looking into changes in the curriculum and faculty makeup in order to promote cross-cultural learning and awareness of diversity within the classroom. It has run into the most criticism from the student body because of its controversial proposals to curriculum.
Its initial proposals, which have ranged from the creation of an African-American studies major to two cross-listed diversity curriculum requirements, have generated discussion at multiple town hall meetings for students and faculty alike.
“[It’s] very important we get a conversation generated about these things,” government professor Eusebio Mujal-LeÃ³n said (April 16, “GU Talks Greater Campus Diversity”). “We think Georgetown has not and does not do enough to expose its students to the pluralism that American society has and will have, that the world has and will have.”
Critics of the group’s proposal to hire new and diverse faculty has questioned the practicality of hiring new faculty and creating new programs without significant funds.
According to O’Donnell, the university’s progress toward a major in African-American studies and programs in Asian-American and Latin-American studies may be restricted due to a lack of funding.
While O’Donnell has said that the group will most likely revise their proposal due to student response, the group’s report along with the greater Diversity Initiative has raised a larger question on campus: What exactly is diversity?
As students continue to discuss and decide what diversity means to Georgetown, the working groups will continue to hash out proposals. Their work is not done.
In the last year, the campus has faced new issues regarding insensitivity to diversity. The Heckler published a satirical article in December that many students and faculty found offensive, and new hate crimes and sexual assaults have targeted students.
The Initiative’s work may not be done, but it – along with the continued aftermath of events of last April – have got the campus talking again.
For students and administrators involved in the Initiative’s process, the progress already made is not sufficient, but it is at least progress.
“At the end of the day, the business is to help Georgetown live up to its own best image of itself,” O’Donnell said (April 23, “Provost Discusses Diversity Initiative Progress”). “What we hope [the initiative] does is bring us to a higher level of awareness and effectiveness in what we do; the initiative ends, but the results and work continue.”