Make It Mandatory: A Proposition From One of SIPA's Resident Tokens

By: Indira Martinez

Peruse SIPA’s website, and you’ll quickly come to understand the brand that this institution wishes to present to the world. On the homepage you’ll find a slogan: “Where the World Connects.” With one click, you can reach the “Diversity at SIPA” page, which advertises SIPA Students of Color, the Diversity Committee, and a seminar series on race and policy. You’ll encounter information about the diversity of the student body, and read a mission statement that uses the word global not once, but twice, in the span of one sentence.

The core curriculum, however, tells a different story. Political Foundations. Economics. Management. Financial Management. Quant. Capstone. Internship. According to SIPA, these are the essential ingredients for the creation of a competent and responsible policy practitioner. Suddenly, the emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and global perspectives is nowhere to be found. There is a word for this. It’s called tokenism.

Ironically, SIPA isn’t even good at it. On the aforementioned “Diversity at SIPA” page, two of the three offerings (SSOC and the Diversity Committee) were founded by student activists who created space for themselves when the institution would not. The third offering, the seminar series on race and policy, has only one upcoming event listed. It happened in October. No seminars are scheduled for this year.

The administration's failures have real world consequences. The recent SIPASA budget fiasco was an ominous premonition of the ways that SIPA students will engage with the world beyond Morningside. But are students to blame? We have a responsibility as scholars to stay informed about the topics pertinent to our practice. However, this does not absolve SIPA of its responsibility to ensure that all graduates are adequately trained in the highest possible degree of ethical accountability. Inclusivity is not optional. Our core curriculum should reflect that fact.

In the past, the demands of student activists for a mandatory course on Diversity and Inclusion have been met with a number of predictable responses. Change takes time. The student body is too internationally diverse for a standardized course on inclusion. Creating a new course would be logistically challenging. From the perspective of an advocate, the ease with which these statements can be refuted is appreciated. However, their simplicity suggests a darker truth. SIPA is only interested in diversity insofar as it can be used to advance its image. Let’s address the excuses anyways.

  1. Change takes time.

    True, and I might forgive this excuse if any efforts were currently underway to enact meaningful change. There are none, so this excuse is revealed for what it truly is - a stalling tactic.

  2. The student body is too internationally diverse for a standardized course on inclusion.

    This is the part where I wait for someone to point to a single place on the globe where issues of diversity and inclusion do not exist. While I’m waiting, I’ll lament how this excuse is used to squander real opportunities for international dialogue and solidarity in favor of superficial ‘photo ops’ in front of flags.

  3. Creating a new course would be logistically challenging.

    By calling upon expertise generated within the university, such as the School of Social Work’s recent experience implementing a mandatory inclusion course, SIPA can make significant progress towards fulfilling its obligations to its students and the wider global community.

 As we have been told time and again, SIPA graduates will go on to become world leaders, lauded innovators, and celebrated academics. Unfortunately, they are currently doing so without a basic understanding of the issues that shape our world. A cursory examination of history both ancient and modern reveals the dangers of that negligence.

As long as SIPA’s core curriculum is rooted in the ‘colorblind’ approach of the past, we are doomed to repeat history’s mistakes. With nationalism and extremism on the rise across the globe, we do not have the luxury of taking our time. The belief that we ever did is the illusion of privilege. ‘Good intentions’ mean nothing. Do the work.