Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet offered a keynote reflection on the history and development of the Peace Corps’ intentional engagement with interreligious and intercultural diversity. As Provost Bob Groves highlighted in his introductory remarks, Georgetown has a long-standing connection with the Peace Corps, with 29 Georgetown graduates currently volunteering worldwide and a total of 935 alumni volunteers having served since the agency’s founding in 1961.
Hessler-Radelet opened her remarks noting that there “could not be anything more important in our world today than a discussion of engaging difference and diversity.” An international service organization, the Peace Corps has sent nearly 220,000 volunteers to work in over 140 countries across the globe. Hessler-Radelet shared several stories of Peace Corps volunteers to highlight how volunteers “learn to see the world through their community’s eyes” and are “transformed into global citizens.”
Hessler-Radelet emphasized the mission and goals of the Peace Corps, as well as her goal to have the volunteer corps reflect the diversity of the nation. Celebrating diversity and fostering inclusion is a priority for the Peace Corps, evident through an agency-wide focus on diversity recruitment, combating intolerance through training on Islamophobia, and the establishment of a new Faith Initiative to support volunteers and staff. She emphasized that diversity drives innovation and creativity, and that diverse organizations are more resilient and productive. “Diversity is hard,” she acknowledged, and we have still “not come to terms with diversity.” She challenged the audience to recognize that it can be uncomfortable to engage diversity, and that it requires real, honest reflection and acceptance of one’s own biases. “Life begins at the end of our comfort zone,” she noted.
Following Hessler-Radelet’s address, Vice President for Global Engagement and Berkley Center Director Thomas Banchoff provided additional reflections that emphasized the work of the Doyle Program to support this work here on campus—that engaging with difference “really means listening.” Banchoff sees Georgetown as a “community of discourse” that provides opportunities for reflection, action, and intellectual engagement around themes of difference and diversity.
Executive Director of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) Edward Maloney introduced the afternoon’s panel of faculty and students. Maloney also highlighted Georgetown’s role as an international institution that strives to live out the Jesuit ideals of justice and community—whether across the globe or here in efforts on campus. Professor Michelle Ohnona (Women and Gender Studies, a former Doyle faculty fellow, CNDLS faculty fellow, and the university’s diversity requirement coordinator), served as moderator. Ohnona emphasized her passion for teaching, learning, and pedagogy, noting that the classroom is a “space for transformation.”
Ohnona was joined on the panel by three students: freshman Jasmin Ouseph (SFS ‘19) and seniors Joy Robertson (SFS ’16) and Caitlin Snell (COL ‘16). The students shared their experiences working with diversity on campus and abroad. Ouseph is chair of the Georgetown University Student Association’s Racial and Cultural Inclusivity policy team, a diversity facilitator for Leaders in Education About Diversity, and also serves as an undergraduate representative on the administration’s Working Group on Racial Injustice. Robertson and Snell participated in Doyle student programs—the Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) and the Education and Social Justice Project (ESJ). Both spoke about the impact of those experiences on their perspectives on diversity and culture. Robertson noted the ways studying abroad encouraged her to find more upfront and tangible ways to engage difference on campus, and Snell spoke of the importance of being vulnerable and creating “not just safe spaces, but brave spaces.” The panelists considered how traditional classroom and faculty/student dynamics might need to be transformed as audience questions challenged panelists to think about how difference can be productively recognized and embraced in the classroom.
Concluding with remarks from Michael Kessler, managing director of the Berkley Center, this year’s symposium offered a unique blend of global and local perspectives on the importance—and challenges—of engaging diversity in our communities, as well as the meaningful reflections and growth that all can experience when living and engaging intentionally with each other.
The Doyle Program will to continue to create opportunities—from the annual symposium to programs and events throughout the year—for reflecting, discussing, and sharing the ways we can engage difference in our lives to improve our campus and community.