Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to my alma mater, Howard University, as part of the U.S.-India Higher Education Discussion.
It is fitting that this meeting occurred on Howard University’s campus. In 1935, Howard’s former Dean, Howard Thurman, led a delegation to India seeking lessons from the country’s independence movement that could be applied to the racial justice movement in the United States. Secretary Blinken discussed how Howard Thurman’s pilgrimage to India and interactions with Mahatma Gandhi made profound impacts on the racial justice movement at home. When he came back to Howard, he developed his interpretation of nonviolence – not as a political tactic, but as a spiritual lifestyle. Ultimately, these interactions and school of thought influenced a key figure in our nation’s journey: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Howard University is even home to the bust of Mahatma Gandhi the Government of India gave to Dr. King when he was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The King family later donated it to Howard University upon his death. This historical connection unequivocally ties the United States, Howard University, and India together, a connection which continues today as Howard boasts an array of proud Indian American students and alumni, including Vice President Kamala Harris.
The State Department was honored to host this event at Howard University. As we engage more with the American public, U.S. colleges and universities are ideal partners for us for recruitment, research, and innovation alike.
One of our amazing partnerships with U.S. colleges and universities is the Diplomacy Lab . Students at participating schools conduct and lead research around topics including women’s economic empowerment, sustainable development, human rights, countering violent extremism, global health, and energy security. Students then work with their professors and Department officials to generate a final project that may be used to help guide our implementation of U.S. foreign policy abroad. We at the Department value these contributions, and we will also continue to build on programs like the Diplomacy Lab to engage students across the nation.
This visit highlighted a deck of groundbreaking firsts. Howard University is the first HBCU to join the Diplomacy Lab partnership network. After the U.S.-India Higher Education Discussion, Secretary Blinken met with students participating in Howard University’s first ever Diplomacy Lab research project. This was the first time a current Secretary of State engaged directly with the Diplomacy Lab partnership. While at the event, I could not help but reflect on how my professional career as the Principal Deputy Spokesperson has led me back to this event at Howard University.
It was touching to hear Secretary Blinken’s candid words and genuine exchanges with the students at Howard. Many of the students were graduating seniors, and the conversation shifted to what the State Department is doing to incorporate the African-American experience into foreign policy. The Secretary highlighted the work of our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and provided concrete examples of what we are doing to improve, such as gathering aggregate data, fostering paid internships, and empowering leaders and mentors from underrepresented groups. Accountability was something the Secretary spoke about passionately. He understands that it is up to the people with power, like himself, to ensure underrepresented groups are treated fairly and made to feel like they belong here. This charge is something he does not take lightly. While we still have challenges and there is plenty more progress to be made, the Secretary believes the arc of history bends towards justice and that we, at the Department, need to be a part of telling that story.
The State Department is proud to engage and empower students at Howard University and at other higher education institutions throughout the world. We know that the next generation of leaders being shaped there will be the same leaders who will help us tackle the problems of the 21st century, and we look forward to them joining us in the ranks at the State Department.
Learn more about how to get involved in the Department’s programs here.
About the Author: Jalina Porter is the Principal Deputy Spokesperson at the U.S. Department of State.