Cura personalis, the Jesuit motto integral to a Georgetown education, is an important part of what makes our university special. With this in mind, the Academic Working Group of the Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness recently became the third group of University President John J. DeGioia’s Diversity Initiative to release its recommendations for making Georgetown a more diverse university community. Unfortunately, the academic team’s recommendations do not drive at the real diversity problems that plague the university.
By now, most students have heard about the suggestions of the Academic Working Group. The most well-known, and controversial, proposal advocates instituting a mandatory diversity requirement that every student take two diversity-based classes – one domestically and one internationally focused – as part of his or her general education courses. This would not add additional classes to the requirements for graduation; rather, classes will be cross-listed from among those already offered.
The problems with the pitch are numerous. As the committee’s report clearly states, the group could not define “diversity” itself. Thus, it is not clear how these classes would promote diversity, domestic or international, since those designing the new regulations struggled to find its meaning.
Secondly, the diversity requirement, in many ways, should be beneath both the students and faculty of Georgetown. In recent years, high schools across the country have considered similar measures to emphasize the importance of varied perspectives. This movement is constructive for high school students as they struggle to understand and grasp the larger world around them.
For Georgetown students, though, it should be unnecessary. Any individual admitted to this institution should have some idea of how other cultures live and thrive; if they don’t, they likely do not belong here. Moreover, the wide breadth of majors and minors that Georgetown offers should mean that students already are learning about diversity and multiple perspectives in their classes. If not, there is good reason to implement some of the more logical changes the Academic Working Group suggested, such as placing an emphasis on hiring a more diverse faculty and creating additional major programs for cultural and ethnic studies.
Certainly, part of a well-rounded education is learning about individuals and ways of life that are both different and sometimes unfamiliar. However, the diversity problem at Georgetown has never really centered on student intellect or exposure in the classrooms. With one of the top five undergraduate international relations program in the country, I doubt most students are unaware of the diversity of peoples and ways of living that exist in the world.
Instead, the problem has always been getting students from different backgrounds to interact face-to-face on campus. While Georgetown’s student body and faculty could always be more diverse, the real problem remains getting students to step outside their comfort zones and meet peers different from themselves.
I doubt any student would disagree this is an issue. As a senior, I have witnessed the problem firsthand. There has been little diversity at the numerous events I’ve attended throughout the year for seniors, with large subsets of seniors missing. Unsurprisingly, the only event I attended where I saw a diverse group of seniors was the Last Chance Lecture from Daniel Porterfield, the co-chair of the Admissions and Recruitment Working Group.
Granted, my experience could be a product of my own self-selection. It is possible that other events had a more diverse representation of the senior class. Nevertheless, for Georgetown to rid itself of the stereotype, and frequent reality, that it is an institution where the student body is self-segregated, there is much work to be done.
Instead of trying to legislate diversity, the administration and student groups should focus on events and activities that voluntarily bring students of varying backgrounds together to interact; the results will be much stronger than any coming from the adoption of a diversity requirement in the curriculum. We all have the same goal; we just need to make sure we are adopting the right strategy to accomplish it.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at thornburghthehoya.com. Worldwise appears every other Friday.
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