Reuben E. Brigety, II is a retired U.S. ambassador and is the current dean for the Elliott School of International Affairs.
In response to the author’s concerns over the Elliott School of International Affairs’ commitment to a strong regional studies program in the Feb. 12 opinion piece by Kris Brodeur, “Lack of regional diversity in Elliott courses holds students back,” I would like to outline why I respectfully disagree with the student’s opinion.
At a recent conference at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, called The Future of Public Diplomacy, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion with the deans of three other esteemed international affairs programs: University of Southern California, American and Georgetown universities.
In response to the question posed by a former career foreign service officer, “Can each of you comment on your respective programs, how do each of you handle area studies? Do you offer area studies courses or do you specifically avoid them?” A synopsis of my response is as follows:
We have actually recommitted ourselves to the importance of area studies at the Elliott School. We now have a full suite of regional studies programs covering every region in the world with a new master’s degree in African studies coming. And the reason we have done that is that it’s important for our students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, to be able to demonstrate a specialization in some region of the world for the following reasons: One, it allows them to show the world that they can specialize in something rather than simply being a broad jack of all trades. And the skill set that one has to develop in order to be able to do that in terms of language capability, historical understanding, cultural competence is a skill set that is broadly applicable in addition to the particular area that one specializes in.
The second reason you do it is because being able to specialize in one region of the world is a gateway to be able to understand other regions of the world. And the third reason is to be able to have our students take a particular functional specialty – whether it be in trade, economics or security studies, and be able to demonstrate competence of that in a particular regional context, so that the regional study in and of itself is not only important, but also when paired with a functional skill-set can be particularly powerful. So, on the continuum of area studies coming in and out of vogue, we think it’s particularly important, we are actually doubling down.
The phrase I used, “doubling-down” on regional area studies, was deliberate. Since I became dean, we have expanded our regional offerings and have added more than 10 undergraduate regionally-related courses. Furthermore, during my tenure, the number of institutes in the Elliott School has increased by three and now include the GW Institute for Korean Studies, the Institute for Disaster and Fragility Resilience and the Institute for African Studies. Each new institute opens doors to students and faculty in the areas of research, grant opportunities, fellowships and international internships.
Our growth is deliberately planned and the curriculum supporting the regional studies programs carefully vetted by our faculty and administration to ensure that GW’s high-quality standards of teaching and academic content are maintained. We take seriously the concerns of all students with regards to the quality of our programs, and I took the opportunity to meet personally with this student and address their concerns directly.
Our commitment to providing excellence in academic preparation and practical skills is what distinguishes the Elliott School. It is the reason we remain one of the nation’s top schools of international affairs and how we continue to develop the next generation of leaders for the world.