Today, questions around diversity and inclusion are in the front of our collective consciousness wherever we live in the world. This month, British Member of Parliament, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi delivered impassioned remarks about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s inflammatory rhetoric on religious dress. It was immediately preceded by the collapse of the Italian far-right populist, anti-migrant government. Tensions continued to rise between Hindus and Muslims in India and across the border with Pakistan. And all of that came on the heels of the racially motivated mass killing of Hispanics in El Paso, Texas in the United States. Sadly, we are ill-equipped to expertly navigate the challenges. At present, few are taught of the clear dividends from diversity or how to promote equity and inclusion. We are paying a price for that gap in knowledge; it is enabling divisiveness and doubt born of ignorance and lack of skill.
Academic leaders across the country—including several New England institutions—are now strategizing how to ensure students learn to navigate and manage diversity to spur progress. An effort I facilitate, the University Leadership Council on Diversity and Inclusion in International Affairs Education (ULC), brings together more than 25 academic leaders from universities and colleges across the country—including Harvard, Dartmouth, Tufts and Emerson—to tackle this critical gap in education. They are approaching the task with urgency, recently releasing a Call to Action that quickly gained some 250 signatories from their colleagues around the world. Their declaration, which is still accepting additional signatories, asks that schools immediately redouble their efforts to tackle diversity, equity and inclusion issues, so that, upon graduation, students are able to manage diverse environments and foster equity and inclusion in global affairs.
ULC members have concluded that attention to diversity and inclusion issues is fundamental. As Mark Welsh, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, puts it: “To succeed … leaders must have the skills to excel in the diverse, inclusive, dynamic environments represented in communities. They must also have the skills, and the inclination, to foster diversity, inclusion and respect for all citizens in those communities where those things do not currently exist.”
Diversity has always been a feature of the global landscape. Communities include women and men as well as people of different ages, ability statuses, socioeconomic statuses, political perspectives, sexual orientations and gender identities. Ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds also vary. Today, the dimensions of diversity are growing, as global migration has increased.
Immigration is sustaining communities
In New England, immigration is sustaining communities and the nonwhite population is growing. New arrivals are bolstering the labor force, driving entrepreneurship and innovation, and providing different skills than native-born residents. They are also compensating for decreases in the locally born population, helping maintain communities that would otherwise wither. The heterogeneity of people and perspectives is increasingly visible too; social media and information technology accelerate the flow of information crossing communities.
The question is how education can keep up. Welsh and others believe that fully integrating attention to diversity and inclusion issues in graduate schools will necessitate changes in curricula. Yet, to alter courses of study, the school’s community has to be diverse itself, and a culture of inclusion needs to permeate the university environment. These leaders find that the curriculum at a school moves hand-in-hand with the school’s composition and its culture.
To achieve progress in all three areas—composition, culture and curriculum—graduate schools are testing a range of strategies. For example, to ensure a diverse school community requires recruiting students and instructors with more varied backgrounds. A number of graduate schools, including Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Heinz School of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and Yale University’s Jackson School for Global Affairs are supporting efforts to increase the diversity of student applicants through collaboration with the Public Policy and International Affairs Program, which has a board chaired by ULC member Laura Bloomberg, dean of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Other schools are working to increase diversity among faculty and staff by engaging with the International Career Advancement Program supported by the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Financial incentives also matter. Diversity of socioeconomic background can only be achieved through the dedication of resources to financial aid, which close gaps in accessibility. Several graduate schools are striving to increase need-based aid.
Supplementing work to broaden and diversify the pool of student and faculty applicants are efforts to create “blind” recruiting processes and diverse selection and promotion committees. The goal is to reduce the impact of unconscious bias, given research indicating that unequal treatment of women and candidates of color is pervasive. Finally, critical to any effort to increase diversity is the collection and tracking of data on the composition of the school’s community, so that progress—and setbacks—are visible and can be addressed.
Cultures of inclusion
Creating a culture of inclusion, one that is welcoming to people of all backgrounds, involves multifaceted efforts at schools across the board. The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and University of Texas at Austin are among those that have created statements of commitment, as well as offices, committees or point people to advance appreciation for diversity, inclusion and “belonging.”
George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs and the Humphrey School are among those with specific action plans developed to create accountability. A number of universities are offering training to instructors on how to overcome bias in the classroom. Institutions like Carnegie Mellon University are also embracing student initiatives to honor their backgrounds and identities through clubs and events.
Efforts to alter curricula and the material presented are also underway. Most progress has been made at the undergraduate level. Clark University has instituted a diversity and inclusion-related course requirement for all students, as have a number of other institutions such as the University of Massachusetts Boston and Georgetown University. Ohio State University is among those in the process of instituting a similar requirement.
At the graduate level, efforts are more nascent. The Fletcher School offers a formal concentration in Gender Analysis in International Studies, and the Elliot School offers an optional graduate certificate in Global Gender Policy. Dartmouth College, among others, uses guest lecturers and visiting professors to ensure discussions of gender issues on campus. The Kennedy School has instituted a required course for Masters of Public Policy students, “Democratic Leadership Skills: Managing Self and Others,” that addresses diversity issues. And electives focused on diversity and inclusion, indigenous communities, LGBT+ rights, the movement for disability inclusion, and women, peace and security have been offered intermittently at the University of Washington, Princeton University, Colombia University, Harvard University, Georgetown University as well as many others nationwide (and around the world).
The pressure for greater attention to diversity and inclusion issues is only going to increase. As a growing number of college graduates, who studied diversity and inclusion issues as undergraduates, move on to graduate school, demand for course coverage will increase. Already, it is clear from ULC members that students are driving change.
Committed academic leaders across the country are testing strategies to better address diversity and inclusion issues in higher education. That explicit leadership will be fundamental, if the study of international affairs is truly to transform. To combat the violence and vitriol that has been particularly evident over the past few weeks, we must move swiftly to counter negative rhetoric born of ignorance, and ensure full appreciation of the richness we gain from our diversity. No effort could be more important.
Carla Koppell is a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She previously served as vice president for the Center for Applied Conflict Transformation at the United States Institute of Peace as chief strategy officer for the United States Agency for International Development.