Dear Members of the SIPA Community,
I am writing to update you on SIPA’s renewed efforts to foster greater diversity and inclusion within our community. Increasing diversity and inclusion are core commitments of SIPA and Columbia University that I believe make us stronger as an academic institution, more tolerant and understanding of individual differences and perspectives, and more effective at identifying and, ultimately, combatting racism and discrimination in the U.S. and around the world.
As President Bollinger has stated, “Columbia University is not innocent of the structures of racism that have afflicted America. Yet we also have a history of confronting invidious discrimination and anti-Black racism. There is still much more do to.”
I agree fully with President Bollinger. Now is the time to reflect on what needs to be done to challenge the persistence of racism in the US and globally, including specific ways in which SIPA can contribute to that crucial task. As I recently wrote to a group of SIPA student leaders: “We seek a SIPA that is more diverse in terms of its student body, its faculty, its staff and its curriculum, more intellectually attuned to race, equality, and justice, and more effective at advancing—through research and teaching—public policies that combat racism and promote justice, opportunity and dignity for all people everywhere.” Working with the Diversity Committee, as well as faculty and staff, and other interested students, we will be working on many fronts to help make SIPA an even more meaningfully diverse and inclusive School.
Our initial efforts span the breadth of the School:
- School-wide Self-Assessment. At the urging of students, we have inaugurated a self-assessment of diversity and inclusion at SIPA. This self-assessment – which will draw on input from throughout the School, as well as outside expert third parties with expertise in DEI matters – will lay the foundation for a diversity report that will be made public before the end of the 2020-21 academic year. This self-assessment process will examine academic and non-academic dimensions of SIPA; review actions previously taken, those currently underway and gaps to address; and consider steps to be taken and goals for the future.
- Programming and Conversations. In consultation with the Diversity Committee, we are planning a series of conversations in the fall to consider SIPA actions and progress in key areas such as student recruitment and financial assistance, faculty recruitment priorities, curricular perspectives, anti-racism education and other areas. We expect faculty will initiate other events, based on their areas of expertise. Along with the self-assessment process, these conversations will be important steps toward increasing transparency around SIPA’s past efforts to advance diversity and inclusion, and helping develop a strategic plan and goals for the future.
- Courses. We are expanding our course offerings and are adding new courses on race, social justice and public policy to the SIPA curriculum. Building on an initiative that began last June, we are working with faculty to recruit adjunct instructors from underrepresented minorities and introduce classes in spring 2021 and beyond that focus on race, social justice and public policy.
- Capstones. We are expanding our outstanding experiential capstone program to include new projects and clients, particularly in New York City, that focus on social justice and anti-racism. SIPA undertakes a number of capstones every year that focus on a broad range of social justice issues, including inequality, poverty, migration, conflict and many other subjects. We intend to add additional capstones related to race and social justice in the coming academic year, with an eye toward projects in Harlem and New York City.
- Faculty. We are continuing our efforts to prioritize diversity and race and public policy in our faculty hiring. While we have been on a positive trajectory over the past several years and hired remarkable scholars in many fields, our efforts must be redoubled.
- Financial Aid. Increasing financial aid has been a top priority since I became Dean. It has been a key element of our capital campaign, which has helped expand our financial aid budget by more than 100% since fiscal year 2014. We have developed an approach to awarding financial aid that more fully considers financial need as a factor in making our award decisions. This year, we are putting more funding into financial aid than ever before. Building on this work, we will launch additional fundraising initiatives in the fall, including a campaign focused on support for under-represented minority students.
- Student Programming and Support. In recent years, our Office of Student Affairs, working closely with our students, has expanded diversity programming on behalf of SIPA students and our entire community. Going forward, SIPA is determining how best to further strengthen our administrative efforts in support of a diverse and inclusive community. We currently are in a hiring freeze but this will not deter us from thinking further about this objective.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of our efforts, but I hope it conveys the seriousness with which we are approaching the importance of SIPA’s diversity in all dimensions of our program and activities. I know other University-wide plans are also underway and SIPA will be a partner in those efforts.
I am grateful to the many students, faculty, staff and alumni who have reached out to me directly over the past several months to share your concerns, your ideas, and also your encouragement. I believe this is a unique moment for all of us to work together to identify areas for improvement and make the changes that will benefit the School for many years to come. I thank you for your participation in this effort, and I look forward to keeping you updated on our plans and progress over the coming academic year.
Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs