Potential measures addressing issues of diversity at Georgetown took center stage at open forum events this week, with a second town hall for the Diversity Initiative’s academic working group on Wednesdsay and a Thursday panel discussion with faculty and administrators.

The academic working group town hall convened for feedback about the proposed African-American studies major and potential curriculum diversity requirement for students.

To start the meeting, professor Eusebio Mujal-León of the government department said, “[It’s] very important we get a conversation generated about these things. 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.” 

Mujal-Leon also said that the different opinions of the members of the working group led to a better understanding and discussion of diversity and the recommendations as a whole.

Students present at the town hall questioned the group’s interpretation of diversity. According to some, the working group failed to agree on a concrete definition for the term, leaving a hole in its recommendation to implement a diversity requirement in the academic curriculum.

According to professor Aviel Roshwald, chair of the history department and member of the academic working group, the diversity requirement would draw on current courses. Of the two courses that fulfill the diversity requirement, one class would cover diversity in the United States while the other would have a global diversity focus.

Marilyn McMorrow, visiting assistant professor in the School of Foreign Service, said at the meeting that she “was happy to see it was grounded in courses they [the students] are taking already.”

Several students asked, however, if keeping the same classes just maintained the status quo and did not truly promote any conversations of diversity.

“We don’t want it to become an avoidance mechanism for the institution,” Mujal-León said.

Some, including Ryan Wilson (COL ’12), chair of the Student Commission for Unity, were concerned with the timeline in which these changes would take place. The academic working group met this question with uncertainty, agitating several of the students present.

“As the founding director of the African-American Studies program, I understand this [academic] process. I am suggesting the committee implement a timeline in their recommendation,” professor Angelyn Mitchell said at the meeting. 

Another recurring topic of debate was hiring new faculty and the creation of ethnic studies majors.

But according to Mujal-León, the university will vote with its dollars, making faculty hiring the most crucial endeavor. Faculty hiring is under the authority of academic deans that run the search committees for such faculty.

“Of course I support the initiative, and every department chair will tell you that they favor increased funding for new professors or courses,” Jordan Sand, chair of east Asian languages and cultures department, said in an e-mail. “Personally speaking, I would like to see greater engagement between east Asian languages and cultures and curricular and research initiatives in other units in the university.”

The addition of an African studies major could potentially draw more prospective students and further institutionalize the program.

“One of the things that deterred me originally from Georgetown was how new the African studies program was,” John Matthew Hopkins (COL ’13) said. “In comparison [to peer institutions] there is a level of accountability . It would be irresponsible for the university to not consider the competition after graduation.”

Overall, many recognized that more feedback and the academic working group’s consideration of the feedback will be necessary to move forward.

“I was surprised there weren’t more faculty members here. I had hoped more faculty members would have been in this room,” Wilson said.

“I feel as if though the committee is very resistant to the opinions of the students . a lot of us are very invested. I feel like we are coming against so much opposition,” Ellie Gunderson (COL ’10) said.

Others present at the event included Veronica Salles-Reese, associate professor in the Spanish and Portuguese department, and Associate Academic Provost Marjory Blumenthal.

The discussion of increasing the diversity of Georgetown’s faculty continued Thursday night as various administers discussed diversity on campus.

Present were Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, Interim Dean Carol Lancaster, associate professor Ricardo Ortiz and associate professor Maurice Jackson.

Each speaker identified his or her views on the presence of diversity at Georgetown.

Kilkenny spoke about the African American Studies program at Georgetown.

“It’s a shame that I can name [the African American professors]. It tells you that we are talking about small numbers of people,” Kilkenny said.

According to Kilkenny, it is important to continue to hire faculty from minority backgrounds. In order to do that, she said that it was necessary to create a climate where those hires can be successful and comfortable.

Lancaster discussed the relatively low number of female professors at Georgetown and attributed this phenomenon to an issue of comfort.

“I don’t think anyone [is] being mean to anyone else – and I see this in government,” Lancaster said. “But I suspect that people are more comfortable with people that look like them and seem like them and that kind of reverberates.”

Jackson told those present that he was concerned about the lack of a timeline for the institution of programs like African American Studies. He predicted current Georgetown students would have grandchildren before that became a reality.

He stated that his two goals for Georgetown were the immediate hiring of a more diverse faculty and increased efforts to recruit minority students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Ortiz said that he had seen progress, but that it was slow.

“I’m basically the only person who Georgetown has ever hired to teach about what is now the biggest cultural minority in the country,” said Ortiz.

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