Why We Love #HBCUsatState

8 minutes read time
A group of State Department employees, many who are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, prepare to support the HBCU Foreign Policy Conference at the Department of State.
A group of State Department employees, many who are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, prepare to support the HBCU Foreign Policy Conference at the Department of State.

Why We Love #HBCUsatState

The U.S. Department of State is proud to host the eighth annual Historical Black College and Universities (HBCU) Foreign Policy Conference in Washington, DC later this week. The goal of this conference is to provide students from HBCUs and other Predominantly Black Institution (PBIs) with information about the United States’ foreign policy priorities and existing career opportunities. This year’s conference will include expert panels of HBCU alumni who currently work in foreign affairs and will for the first time feature diplomatic simulations facilitated by the State Department’s U.S. Diplomacy Center

The conference will welcome approximately 200 students and faculty from almost fifty different HBCUs and PBIs across the United States. As Amber McIntyre, one of the conference organizers, noted, “The State Department Bureau of Public Affairs’ diversity efforts to engage the American public is very important to us. It’s a pleasure to be able to welcome the talent, innovation, and excellence that HBCU students bring each year to the conference. We want to make sure that students of all backgrounds and from all corners of the United States know that the State Department is eager to engage them and to convince them to bring their talents and skills to the foreign policy table.”

Below are a few thoughts from State Department employees who are also HBCU alumni and are excited about the upcoming the conference providing an opportunity to share the importance of their higher education experience as well as diversity in international affairs.

 Jared Yancey, Career Development Officer & Bethune-Cookman University Alumnus

“My decision to attend Bethune-Cookman had everything to do with our motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.” As a Foreign Service Officer, I have an opportunity to do just that, SERVE. The Department of State continues to increase their efforts to recruit and retain an inclusive workforce that is reflective of the diverse country that I represent every day. I would encourage anyone to explore this life-changing career.”

Ashli Savoy, Digital Media Officer & Bowie State University Alumna

“Today the United States is more diverse than ever -- and that is one of our core strengths. Not only is embracing this reality a matter of social justice, it is often at the heart of our nation's most brilliant ideas, perspectives, and solutions. This is true not only in the United States; all around the world we see more peaceful, prosperous societies in instances where women, racial and ethnic minorities, and gay and transgender individuals are both integrated and empowered.  As an alumna of an historically black university, I am encouraged to see the uniquely culturally aware, adaptable, well-rounded, and agile perspective that this next generation of HBCU leaders and global citizens bring to some of today's most complex challenges. As they reach out to people of other nations as students, business leaders, citizens engaging others on the internet, or even diplomats working to promote American interests, these attributes will be essential to building and cementing bridges of cultural understanding. More importantly, they will be on the frontlines of showing the world the best of the United States.”

Danielle Hawkins, Digital Media Officer & Hampton University Alumna

“Diversity is important in international affairs because it is a visual representation of what it means to create equal opportunities for people of different backgrounds, whether based on culture, religion, race, gender, or values. Diversity allows one to learn about something new and unfamiliar. When we embrace diversity, it reveals that even though we do not all come from the same background, we are more alike than we are different. As an alumna of Hampton University, I was always taught the importance of diversity. Despite attending a predominantly black university, I knew that the world outside the walls of my HBCU would be different. Embracing this reality was okay because my experience at Hampton reinforced my understanding that diversity is what makes the world what it is today.”

 Jaclyn Cole, Digital Media Officer & Howard University Alumna

“Like many kids, especially those growing up in a household with an immigrant parent, I thought becoming a successful professional meant being a doctor or a lawyer; maybe an engineer. It is not until I walked on the campus of Howard University that I saw there was a different world than where I came from, one that contained a whole new world of opportunities if I just applied myself and found my niche. The day I walked into the Ralph Bunche Center -- the international affairs center named after the Howard professor and Nobel Prize winning African-American Diplomat -- changed my career trajectory and life forever. Since then, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service to serve my country, learn about different cultures, acquire a wide array of skills, and travel the world. The diversity of people and perspectives I experienced attending an HBCU has help me to serve the complex mission of the Department of State, which includes valuing cultural exchange and advancing U.S. foreign policy interests. It is my hope more HBCU graduates will join the ranks of the Department. Their skills and presence are needed if we are to embody democracy and diplomacy to its fullest.”

Zakiya Carr Johnson, Director of Race, Ethnicity, and Social Inclusion Unit in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs & Howard University Alumna

“I was once told by a professor that there is no room for a critique of foreign policy that includes race, gender, or ethnicity considerations. But life has taught me that lack of understanding, deep-seated ethnic tensions, persistent inequality, and resource scarcity can exacerbate conflict and destabilize whole regions.  Durable peace has its foundation in inclusive and equitable societies.  Flash forward nearly 20 years and I now work to make sure that our programs and policies in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs are rich with engagement of people of African descent, women and girls, indigenous peoples, etc. The issues which impact all human beings can touch the lives of historically marginalized groups in different ways. By understanding these differences, respecting the diversity of perspectives, and learning from our experiences at home we can help us advance U.S. foreign policy abroad.”

Barbara Alston, Public Affairs Officer in the Office of Public Engagement & Jackson State University Alumna

“Part of diplomacy is understanding the impact of U.S. policy decisions on foreign relations. The ‘diplomatic process’ includes engaging countries who have differences in languages, culture, and values. Just as the Department actively engages other countries, it is equally important for us to seek and invite diverse American audiences to participate in diplomacy. When I was a student at Jackson State University, I had no idea that such great foreign affairs careers existed. As a proud Department employee, one of my passions is exposing  African Americans, rural communities, and other minority groups to the conversations and careers that form foreign policy.” 

Jennifer Saporia King, Foreign Affairs Officer in Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs & Spelman College Alumna 

“Diversity is important to me because working with people from various cultures creates an environment of diversity in thought. Diversity in thought is significant in analyzing international issues from different angles especially to generate alternative solutions to problems. For example, I once worked in Turkey on Syrian affairs and coordinated a women’s workshop on democracy and voting. During the event a woman remarked, 'Nothing will change because it is tradition, men will not allow it to change.'  At the end of the session, we were invited to make remarks. I stood up and said, 'I heard one of you say that nothing will change because it is tradition.  However, I can remember when I was young (1976) and my grandmother told my brother he couldn’t be a fireman because he was Black. In 1994, I joined the Navy and served as an Arabic Linguist. During my orientation, the commander said, "it is nice to see some Black faces in the audience because up until 20 years ago a Black person could not join the Navy except as a cook." After I spoke a girl came up to me and said, 'I’m so happy you told your story because I’m Kurdish. I told my parents I want to become a diplomat. My parents said that I could not be a diplomat because I’m Kurdish. But because of your story, I’m going to be a diplomat!' This encounter taught me that everyone has a story to tell and Black history can be used to shape the world’s history."

If you are interested in learning more about this year’s HBCU Foreign Policy Conference, follow the #HBCUsatState on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook this Friday, February 17 for updates from participants and speakers.  

Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.

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Jaclyn Cole

Contributor bio

Jaclyn Cole serves as one of the the Managing Editors of DipNote, the U.S. Department of State's Official Blog.