Diversity groups prepare for town hall

September 24, 2009

This week, the three working groups created last spring to address diversity issues at Georgetown, collectively called the “Diversity Initiative,” geared up for their first town hall meeting of the school year.
The meeting will be held today at 5:30 in Copley Formal Lounge. University Provost James O’Donnell and Vice President for Institutional Diversity & Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, as well as administrators, faculty, and students who have been involved with the initiative will be in attendance.

The meeting will be a culmination of months of research and discussion on three topics, each addressed by a separate working group: academics, admissions and outreach, and student life. The groups are comprised of students, faculty members, and administrators who work in subgroups to resolve specific issues within the University.

The Diversity Initiative was created after The Hoya’s April Fools issue prompted a complaint from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action and led to protests against the newspaper. A group of students met in the aftermath of the controversey which resulted in the creation of the working groups.
At the town hall meeting, the groups will update the campus community on their research and discussions so far, according to co-chair of the Admissions and Outreach working group Ryan Wilson (COL ‘12). Audience members will also be encouraged to provide their input on the project.

Co-chair of the Academics working group Stephanie Frenel (SFS ‘12) said that she thought many students were unaware of the working groups and their progress. According to Frenel, it is critical that students pay attention to what the Diversity Initiative is doing.

“The changes we’re making are affecting everyone,” she said.

Frenel hopes that the “Academics” group will eventually move Georgetown closer to a diversity-oriented general education requirement, as well as degree programs in African American, Latin American, and Asian American studies.

Co-Chair of the Student Life  Working Group Josh Guzman (SFS ‘10) is focusing his group’s efforts on strengthening the resources Georgetown already has.

“We thought, how can we maximize what Georgetown is good at?” Guzman said. “One major component is increasing visibility for diversity-related programs and market them better to students who wouldn’t normally come.”

Brian Kesten (COL ‘10), who is a member of two working groups, said that often “there’s a sense of paralysis about what students can do… The charge to students right now [is] how can we be part of something that helps the University fulfill its mission?”

Kesten is also chair of the Student Commission for Unity, a group that researched diversity issues at Georgetown last year and ultimately presented eight proposed policy changes to the University last January.
Although SCU is technically separate from the Diversity Initiative working groups, there is substantial overlap between SCU’s members and the members of the working groups.

The organizations are so closely linked that SCU’s structure is parallel to the structure of the Diversity Initiative; the Initiative’s working groups mirror SCU’s three action teams, and the action teams address issues identical to the Diversity Initiative’s working groups.

The Initiative’s working groups, however, are the only groups that have the influence to make recommendations. SCU’s action teams are informal.

DeGioia originally suggested that the working groups make recommendations to the University this November, according to Kilkenny.

Since the groups have formed, they have concluded that the recommendations may take longer to draft than first expected. The tentative new deadline for the proposals is sometime in Spring 2010.

Wilson said his group is on track to draft final recommendations for the University by November. The topics of the proposals range from streamlining the process to applying for financial aid to improving the experience for minority students at GAAP weekend.

“Right now, the subgroups are in the middle of drafting recommendations,” Wilson said. “They meet every week, and we meet as a whole group every other week to discuss the work each subgroup has done.”

The Academics and Student Life working groups are aiming for a deadline at the start of 2010. Frenel explained that the two groups are lagging behind the original November deadline because their programs require more resources.

Over the summer, Frenel and Kesten researched how Georgetown’s diversity-oriented general education requirements and degree programs stack up to twelve other universities. According to the system Frenel and Kesten used, Georgetown is last.

All of the working groups’ co-chairs hope that today’s town hall meeting will encourage students to get involved.

“I just want it to be something welcoming,” Guzman said. “Everyone can join in. This is your campus just as much as it is mine or Dr. Olson’s.”

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Correction: the program is not called “Latin American” Studies but “Latino” (those of ‘hispanic’ decent in the US) Studies.