A little over a year after its formation, the president’s Diversity Initiative has begun to make its mark, in a continued push forward to make Georgetown more representative of all backgrounds.
The academic working group was the third and final group to submit its official recommendations to the administration on Thursday. The other two working groups concentrated on student life and admissions and recruitment, and gave their feedback to the university’s leadership earlier this academic year.
Ryan Wilson (COL ’12), chair of the Student Commission for Unity, said the three committees are progressing toward implementation of their proposals.
“[We’re] starting to address, `What changes can we make . to make Georgetown a more diverse place?'” he said.
The academic working group – centered on restructuring the university’s curriculum to incorporate well-defined diversity-related programs – released its official recommendations at a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon to about 40 assembled students, professors and faculty members.
“[The academic working group] is the group that is really going to impact our campus the most,” he said.
Among the academic working group’s key proposals is the installation of a “diversity requirement,” which would mandate that students enroll in cross-listed courses that promote cultural diversity.
The measure would be a supplemental course that would not add to the number of courses required for graduation, with each student set to take two courses, one domestically focused and another internationally focused, according to the recommendations.
“We strongly believe that the Diversity Requirement can have an immediate impact on the undergraduate curriculum and will help prepare our students to become leaders of an increasingly complex and diverse global community,” reads the group’s recommendation report.
Support for the proposals varied at Thursday’s town hall meeting.
“We are a school that has issues of lack of diversity and lack of tolerance, so I think it is very important to have this requirement,” Carter Lavin (SFS ’10) said.
Charles King, chairman of the faculty in the School of Foreign Service, disagreed.
“I think it is an extremely thoughtful document . but in seeing the curriculum as the vehicle of doing this, we open ourselves to a variety of problems,” King said. “If we are really serious on this issue, we either go further in curriculum issues or find another way.”
Additionally, the group recommended an increase in cultural studies, with African-American studies and women and gender studies each suggested to be offered as a major in addition to the current option as a minor, with Latino studies added as a minor offering.
This proposal, Wilson said, would make Georgetown more competitive on a national scale.
“Most of the schools that we compete against have had [ethnic and cultural studies majors] since the ’70s,” he said.
To this end, the working group called for an increase in minority faculty and staff members, especially as part of the university’s second capital campaign fundraising program, set to launch this fall.
“The university needs to really get very serious about finding the faculty members to make [cultural expansion] possible,” Wilson said, adding that he would not like the working group to lie dormant through the summer. “That’s not a position that we are comfortable with.”
The admissions and recruitment working group, of which Wilson was a co-chair, aims to increase the number of underrepresented students on campus.
According to the academic working group report released Thursday, U.S. News and World Report ranked Georgetown’s diversity of student body 23 out of 25 in terms of racial diversity, a “yield [which is] not as strong as we would like.”
After a series of meetings, the admissions and recruitment working group submitted its recommendations to DeGioia and O’Donnell in December, and these were formally accepted by the university in January.
“Overall for admissions, I think the group did a good job,” Wilson said. “We’re excited about implementing as many [recommendations] as possible.”
Among the group’s proposals were programs to facilitate understanding of the financial aid process, as well as updated Blue & Gray tours to highlight student diversity.
The group also suggested that the Georgetown undergraduate admissions application include a question asking prospective students to ponder the values of a Jesuit institution.
“[The question allows prospective] to really reflect on how our ideals at Georgetown have already been a part of their lives. . That they’ll want to join a community that embraces the same ideals that we have,” Wilson said.
The working group has been influential in the formation of an Admissions Advisory Council, which is slated to officially meet for the first time next week.
The proposal format for the admissions and recruitment group contrasts that of the student life working group, which enacts its recommendations gradually.
“We’re really trying to analyze, `How can we get Georgetown students to talk to each other?'” Wilson said of the student life working group.
Among its first actions, the student life working group implemented a discussion series this semester titled, “A Different Dialogue,” a series of discussion groups dedicated to talks on race or sexual orientation.
These conversations, which are facilitated by faculty and staff members, have kept about a 90 percent retention rate since their first meetings, according to Wilson. In addition to the dialogue series, the group is planning additional programming for next year.
The President’s Diversity Initiative was established last March after a 10-month Student Commission for Unity study of the cultural diversity and discrimination that exists at Georgetown.
– Hoya Staff Writer Bonnie Duncan contributed to this report. “