Doyle Symposium 2014

Engaging Difference to Make a Difference in Curriculum Diversity Goals

On April 15, 2014, students, alumni, faculty and staff gathered together with Provost Bob Groves and Vice Provost Randy Bass to discuss how best to bring deeper encounters with diversity into Georgetown’s core curriculum. The conversation built on last year’s symposium exploring the Jesuit roots of Georgetown’s educational program, and was designed in response to ongoing conversations about diversity and attention to diversity on campus. Participants considered and evaluated concrete goals and strategies for ensuring that students encounter different experiences and perspectives within the Georgetown community and in the world beyond the Hilltop.

The Provost began the conversation by detailing the background that led to the university’s present efforts. “Georgetown is committed to selecting and cultivating students who will go on to be global leaders, and in today’s world that means leaders who are comfortable and confident working with people from numerous backgrounds and across significant cultural differences.” He pointed out that while everyone comes to Georgetown from a specific environment, all of us are multi-dimensional human beings. This means diversity is something we have in common. Nevertheless, when we arrive at Georgetown, we come to a location with a particular culture. “We need more than just demographic diversity; rather, we need to ensure that Georgetown’s culture is one that allows all of us in our rich diversity to flourish.” He related that several months previous an important segment of our student population candidly pointed out to the administration that we have significant work to do in order to make this ideal a reality. The Provost concluded by expressing the administration’s commitment to this goal.

Building off of the Provost’s address, Randy Bass noted the importance of structural, institutional, and curricular diversity at Georgetown. Highlighting curricular diversity, he endorsed UC Santa Barbara’s statement that “A university expresses its most basic values in its core curriculum.” The question then, is how do we ensure that our core curriculum reflects our goals with respect to diversity? Additionally, he focused on knowledge, skills, and dispositions and the ways that these three dynamically interact. “People argue that you can’t teach dispositions – though you can work to cultivate them. If it’s something that is cultivated, how do we best foster dispositions for positively relating to diversity here at Georgetown? And what are the specific practices or locations where this is most likely to take place?” Relating his research with alumni to represent the locations where formative experiences occur, he noted that no one draws pictures of lecture halls. Instead they draw pictures of tables and chairs – sites where formative dialogue takes place.

In addition to comments by the Provost and Vice Provost, responses were delivered by Lauren Reese (alumni ’12), Seun Oyewole (SFS ’14), and Sherry Linkon (faculty, SFS).

Lauren noted some of the powerful opportunities for exploring diversity, reflecting on identity, and participating in difficult but formative dialogue at Georgetown, beginning with her experience in the Young Leader in Education About Diversity program. There were also frustrations – including her observation that conversations like the one taking place at the Symposium are not new, which raises concerns about their overall efficacy. She concluded with her hopes that the concrete curricular changes under discussions will lead to sustainable change.

Seun noted both positive experiences vis-a-vis diversity at Georgetown as well as a growing awareness that more is needed. This is particularly true with regard to students clustering together in homogenous groups. More opportunities are needed that bring students together. Of particular note were his experiences working with Georgetown’s Aspiring Minority Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs.

Sherry Linkon drew on her experience leading an interdisciplinary team of eight faculty members at Young State University over the course of two years to design a required course on diversity. From this she offered a series of tensions that need careful consideration and balance: constructive intra- and inter-group dialogue, complexity and coherence, scale and intimacy, and action and sustainability. She expressed the critical importance of navigating each of these tensions without losing any of them.

In the wake of these comments, Randy led participants through a series of exercises reflecting on, evaluating, and discussing nine draft goals for engaging diversity that will inform the university’s working group for revising the core curriculum. This rich discussion likewise included an opportunity for participants to share the locations and practices at Georgetown that have been central to their own engagements with diversity, in order to ensure that Georgetown builds on its strengths.

This year’s symposium allowed participants an inside view into current changes underway with regard to diversity at Georgetown. It also served as a platform for animated dialogue and constructive criticism of some of those changes. In addition to providing this opportunity for participants, this event will directly impact decisions that will shape Georgetown University as it moves into the 21st century.

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