A Georgetown University committee found that the representation of diverse authors included among course syllabi in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program increased during the spring 2021 semester.
The Master of Science in Foreign Service Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee was founded last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement to address long-standing systemic inequities in the graduate program. The committee’s work is divided among six components including student engagement and support, institutional responses, staff and faculty, curricular and co-curricular activities, recruitment and admissions, and career support, according to a June 2020 letter from MSFS leadership.
The committee conducted a comprehensive audit of MSFS professors’ course syllabi from the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. The Spring 2021 Syllabus Review showed an increase in female authors, international authors and authors of color included on syllabi. However, despite the increases, the results indicated that white men still constitute the largest percentage of this authorship. The largest identity group of authors, on average across classes, were white men at 47.1%, followed by white women at 21.6%, international men of color at 10.1% and international women of color at 5.2%.
The syllabus review is a part of the committee’s curriculum component, which seeks to foster greater inclusivity in the MSFS program, according to Shanta Devarajan, DEI committee chair and International Development Concentration chair.
“The overall ambition is to increase the representation of people of color, and women as well, in the reading and the syllabi of our courses,” Devarajan said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “A second, maybe more important goal is to bring in perspectives that are more representative of cultures outside the traditional white male Euro-American perspective.”
For this semester’s review, a group of around 20 MSFS students led the review of authorship on course readings under the supervision of one faculty member. Results are based on a combination of professors’ self-reports and students’ independent research for courses in which professors were unable to participate, according to committee members.
The goal of this year’s survey was to establish a starting point for increasing diversity in curriculum and encourage faculty to start thinking about their syllabi, according to MSFS Director of Academic and Faculty Affairs Rebecca Caro, who worked as the students’ academic adviser during the review.
“We’re really aware that there’s no perfect way to group people into categories based on their identities,” Caro said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “This wasn’t really meant to say to faculty: ‘you’re not doing a good job,’ but more for faculty to reflect on what their syllabus looks like.”
The Fall 2020 Syllabus Review found that, on average, white male authors accounted for 56% of syllabi readings, while women and men of color authored a combined 15%. The categories identifying international authors were only added in the spring survey.
Initially, the committee hoped to use the survey’s results to establish benchmarks and goals for representation in future syllabi. However, after collecting this semester’s results, setting benchmarks may be an unrealistic goal, according to Caro.
“As we’ve moved forward, I think that’s become harder for us to implement because we’re realizing that these categories are really fluid and there’s no way to really capture everything,” Caro said. “But we certainly want to see improvements in all of our underrepresented categories. That’s our goal moving forward, to improve in those percentages, and for faculty to be looking at their syllabi each semester, which sometimes they don’t.”
However, diverse authorship is only a starting point in establishing an anti-racist curriculum and does not necessarily equate to diverse values and beliefs, according to assistant professor Arjun Shankar, a member of the SFS Faculty Anti-Racism Working Group.
“The whole point of rigorous diversity is to change something about the foundations of our system because we know that there is something flawed about it. ” Shankar said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I don’t like the word diversity because I think it’s much more about optics and potential for accumulation. When you say diversity, it’s almost short-circuiting the more important conversation, which is how do we be anti-racist.”
Despite these concerns, students are hopeful that the committee will successfully build an anti-racist curriculum in the MSFS. Future students should continue to take leadership in work toward greater inclusion at the program, according to Amanda Suarez (GRD ’21), one of three students currently on the DEI committee.
“I really want the committee to be institutionalized and to be a sustainable body that continues to grow and act and advance this constructive and inclusive framework, to keep that momentum going,” Suarez said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
The well rounded and culturally diverse education that the DEI committee emphasizes is essential for students to better understand the communities they hope to serve after graduation, according to Suarez.
“It’s very key that we have this cultural competency, not only focusing on the representation of the student body or the faculty, but what we’re learning through the curriculum, what we’re doing, the culture and how we’re interacting in the classroom and on campus,” Suarez said.