Performing arts and African American studies professor Soyica Diggs Colbert (COL ’01) will serve as interim dean of Georgetown College effective Jan. 1, a university news release announced.
The Nov. 11 announcement comes nearly a month after Christopher Celenza, dean of the College, announced he will depart Georgetown University in January to take on a similar position at Johns Hopkins University. Colbert will assume the duties of the interim dean position until the search for another dean is concluded.
Colbert has already taken on an increased administrative role in the College within the last year. She was appointed to a vice dean position in January 2020 and has made strides toward redressing systemic racism, including helping ideate and host a college webinar series that focused on the intersection between faculty research and racial justice in October.
In her new role, Colbert hopes to build on the work she took up in her vice dean position as well as on Celenza’s previous goals regarding sustainability and expanding faculty diversity.
“During my appointment, I hope to continue my life’s work of expanding access, working to redress systemic racism, and building stable and equitable structures that support research and teaching for the common good,” Colbert wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Following Dean Celenza, I plan to maintain the transparency of decision making, provide students expanded research opportunities, and cultivate a sense of belonging for all members of our community.”
Celenza joined the Georgetown University faculty in July 2017, when he was appointed as dean of Georgetown College. Celenza also currently serves as a professor in both the history and classics departments. In an Oct. 22 email to the university community announcing Celenza’s departure, University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) said Celenza cared deeply about educating undergraduate students while also spearheading efforts to increase diversity within the faculty and staff of the College.
Celenza called on his colleagues to promote equity and diversity in line with the mission of the College.
“We’ve also really focused in my time here on diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to hiring,” Celenza said. “In other words, making sure not just that we have a diverse community, but that the people who are here feel welcomed and included so that the experience is actually equitable. I think that everyone’s gotta work on that.”
Though proud of the school’s accomplishments thus far, Celenza acknowledged there is more work to do to improve the College, especially in terms of strengthening Georgetown’s commitment to the environment.
“Think about how the environment affects everything, right? It affects law, it affects policy, it affects health, it affects economics, it affects all of the different disciplines you find in the College like the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, the arts,” Celenza said in an interview with The Hoya.
Celenza’s accomplishments while at Georgetown include launching the Royden B. Davis Fellowships, which help fund undergraduate students’ summer research opportunities. He also began the Sophomore Success Series, which connects sophomore students with recent College graduates. Additionally, he directed the Georgetown Humanities Initiative, which aims to make the humanities more accessible to the public by sharing the benefits of humanistic scholarship.
Georgetown is currently conducting a national search to fill permanently the position of Dean of Georgetown College, according to Vice Dean for Undergraduate Education Sue Lorenson.
“The Dean of the College should be a nationally recognized scholar with a proven record of thoughtful and innovative academic leadership,” Lorenson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Dean should be an enthusiastic cheerleader for the enduring value of a liberal arts education.”
Despite Celenza’s desire to continue improving the College, he ultimately made what he called “the hardest decision,” to leave Georgetown to become the next James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.
Celenza hopes to take on new challenges in his next role at a school he already knows well, having already worked at Johns Hopkins before Georgetown. These preexisting connections will help him adjust to the new environment where he will shoulder additional responsibility. Johns Hopkins’ dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences encompasses Georgetown’s dean of the College, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and dean of the School of Continuing Studies, according to Celenza.
“So in that sense, it’s a challenge. There are more responsibilities unfolded in it,” Celenza said. “And I had been there 12 years before coming here.”
Even though he is leaving Georgetown, Celenza said he will carry the Georgetown spirit with him to Johns Hopkins.
“I have not met a student yet who hasn’t had a real interest in service, like serving humanity, realizing that we’re all given privileges at institutions like this and that we need to do something with that, you know, for other people,” Celenza said. “That’s in the air at Georgetown. And one job I have is bringing some of that back to Hopkins.”