Founder's note: Diversity also means different universities

Legal Justice League by pixbymaia   Custom LEGO minifigures of the first four female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: (l-r) Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Elena Kagan. Set and photo by Maia Weinstock.

Legal Justice League by pixbymaia

Custom LEGO minifigures of the first four female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: (l-r) Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Elena Kagan. Set and photo by Maia Weinstock.

Earlier this month, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued for better diversity on the US Supreme Court, going beyond the definition of diversity as solely based on race and gender: 

“I for one, do think there’s a disadvantage from having [...] five Catholics [...] and three Jews on the court. [...] Everyone from an Ivy League school. And virtually everyone…from New York. There is no criminal defense lawyer on the court." [...]

The first Hispanic Supreme Court justice said having different backgrounds helped the justices “educate each other to be better listeners and better thinkers because we understand things from experience.”

“A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand” 

(From BuzzFeedNews)

When I started Women in Foreign Policy (WIFP), I wanted to show role models beyond gender: I wanted to interview women from all age groups and all ethnicities. I have recently realised that I also need to feature women who haven't come from the same universities that seem to provide candidates for most foreign policy jobs. 

Part of it is my own fault. Two years ago, when I started planning WIFP, my key issue was: how do I get women on the site? So I went to who I knew, my friends from the London School of Economics (LSE) and their acquaintances. It follows that in the early days, LSE alumni were overrepresented on the site. 

However, I have now published over 100 interviews. I don't believe it's chance, but rather a trend, that so many of them went to the LSE, King's College London (particularly the War Studies department), the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University or Georgetown University.

Of course they are respected universities, ranked highly on league tables, and their graduates tend to be successful across industries. But it also means that you end up with a unity of thought. I can spot an LSE grad from a single conversation, before knowing that's where they studied, based on how they frame arguments and their frame of reference.

This goes beyond how people are trained, it also speaks to the kind of students and life experiences these universities look for. Part of the reason might be self-reproductive: as it is known alumni go into foreign policy, prospective students who want to go into foreign policy are more likely to apply. I am also aware that universities aren't the only things that define the people who attend them. 

A key argument for more diversity in foreign policy, or in any sector, is that it can change the way organisations think and act. But if men and women are trained the same way, is that argument still valid? Or should we rejoice that there are more women, including women of colour, graduating from those universities who will be able to frame their points in ways that will talk to the majority, and has therefore a chance to win it over? 

As for my responsibility in this, I want to interview more women who didn't go to the ‘usual suspect’ foreign policy universities. I want to show to girls and current students that even if you didn't study at the ‘right’ university, you can still choose a career in the sector and make the difference you wish. 

What do you think? 



The University Series: What is it like to study at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service?

Georgetown University by Flickr user sillymonkeyphoto. Distributed under Creative Commons License.

My name is Aisha Babalakin, and I recently joined Women in Foreign Policy team as a contributor. This January, I moved to San Francisco from New York City, where I worked for The Glover Park Group, a strategic communications and government affairs firm, and Ara, an African Bone Marrow Donor Recruitment Program. I still serve on the board of Ara, but I moved to the West Coast for a little more sun and to further my interest in design, film, and media. 

Last May, I graduated from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University (The SFS), with a degree in International Politics and Arabic. The SFS, the McDonough School of Business, the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the Georgetown College make up Georgetown University. The SFS is one of the world’s leading international affairs schools. It is continuously ranked among the top 10 undergraduate International Relations schools in the country. Our Faculty boasts of former Cabinet Members (Madeleine Albright), prominent figures in International Affairs, Policy, Law, and Economics (Dennis Ross, Yvonne Haddad, Elisabeth Arsenault, Marc Busch, Anthony Arend), former Government officials (Rajiv Shah) and Brookings Fellows (Elizabeth Ferris). SFS students are fortunate because Georgetown is located in the heart of Washington, D.C. For a politics nerd like me, choosing to attend the School of Foreign Service counts as one of the best decisions of my life. Some of my favourite moments from my 4 years at Georgetown include: 

- “Storming” the White House on the night of Obama’s re-election 

- Venturing to the Supreme Court to hear Oral Arguments for Fisher v. University of Texas (2013) 

- Visiting the National Portrait Gallery’s “Portraits of the Presidents” too many times to count - I could never pick a favorite, but Richard Nixon's comes close

- Attending lectures given by Madeleine Albright, Michael Walzer, Bill Clinton, Muhammed Yunus, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to name a few. 

I also chose to attend Georgetown because I value the university's commitment to its Jesuit values, and to service in general. Being a man or woman "for others" is important to Georgetown students, and the university sets out to instill a sense of community, understanding, and awareness within the student body. Everyone had a different way to serve their community outside of the classroom. In my case, I tutored after school during my first two years, joined the Tour Guide Society, and became heavily involved in "GIVES" - Georgetown Individuals Vocal and Energetic about Service. In my opinion, “community service” shouldn’t be an allocated number of hours per week. Rather, I believe that we should introduce a sense of service into everything we do. 

The most valuable lesson I learned at university is that one has to take advantage of all the resources provided to you. It is important to seek out mentors (whether they be your peers or someone older than you) and pay attention to their advice. I am so thrilled to be contributing to Women in Foreign Policy because I want to do everything within my power to help get more women interested in the topic, and grow the community. If you’re interested in International Relations, you should look up the Summer IR Institute for high school students. 

By Aisha Babalakin. Find her on Twitter | LinkedIn