Saxa Politica: Diversity Initiative a worthy cause

October 1, 2009

Georgetown students got an e-mail last week with the subject, “EVENT: Diversity Initiative, Town Hall Meeting.” Most of them probably never opened it.

It was easy to dismiss the event, and the initiative, as another touchy-feely discussion about making Georgetown a better place. Turnout at the town hall meeting was terrible, according to Ryan Wilson (COL `12).

However, there is much more to the Diversity Initiative than the town hall let on. Although the meeting exposed some of the project’s acute shortcomings, the Diversity Initiative deserves and requires our attention.

These students are serious. And they are making great strides in addressing Georgetown’s deeply ingrained racial problems.

The initiative is not perfect. Some excellent progress has been made, mostly by the Admissions and Outreach working group. The group has drafted well-thought-out recommendations, and is on track to finalize them by the original November 1 deadline.

The other two groups have suffered worrisome setbacks that may render them toothless. The Academics working group has very ambitious goals that are risky and expensive in the best of circumstances: a general education requirement for all four schools that would address diversity and social issues, not to mention African American, Latino American, and Asian American studies programs with endowed chairs.

The Student Life working group is another story. Its goals are more feasible, but the group estimates it will not finalize recommendations until Spring 2010. In order to be useful, it needs to move more quickly.

The Initiative’s largest problem, as the town hall meeting showed, is garnering widespread student support. That problem can only be resolved when the people involved in the Initiative prove to disinterested or cynical students that its changes will affect everyone on campus, and that those changes will result in more than the same old town hall meetings.

This time it’s different for two reasons: the Diversity Initiative includes administrators up through Provost James J. O’Donnell and the students who have the ear of those administrators are aiming high.

If the Diversity Initiative is going to be effective, it needs to recommend, and see the implementation of, big institutional changes. The students, faculty, and administrators involved know this. It’s why they are trying to propose new core requirements and ethnic studies programs.

These recommendations may sound demanding, but if the group aims for anything less, it will risk  being ineffective. That is too great a risk to take when the initiative has the right people at the table, ready to do something real.

However, in order to make the project work, it has to go beyond proposals. The students who are in the working groups know that the recommendations they painstakingly research and draft are nothing without University funding.

Ultimately, their best, and possibly only, chance to see their proposals realized is for the University to make a significant financial commitment to implementing them.

That was what was really at stake last Thursday, before the town hall meeting, when students sat down with University President John DeGioia and asked him to make the Diversity Initiative a priority in Georgetown’s Capital Campaign.

“I think he understood what we were trying to do,” Ryan Wilson (COL ‘12) said. “For that reason, the meeting was encouraging. He didn’t make a firm commitment, but he understood.”

Understanding is promising, but it is not enough. The University needs to know that the students it serves think this issue is worthwhile. Without the support of the student community, especially students who aren’t typically involved in social justice issues, the proposals may get stuck in limbo recommended, but never a reality.

It is critical that when the Diversity Initiative has another meeting, students show up to listen and participate, even if it seems like just another conversation. Progress is being made behind the scenes, but it will fail if we seem apathetic.

Through the Diversity Initiative, we have the chance to change the way this campus works. We can’t afford to throw that chance away.

Take the initiaive.  E-mail Lillian at


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