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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Tufts Women in IR opens dialogue around Intro to IR curriculum diversity

The Fletcher School, Tufts' graduate school of international affairs, is pictured on Oct. 14.

Tufts Women in International Relations has opened a dialogue with students and faculty regarding the lack of equal representation of female and nonbinary voices, as well as people of color, in the curriculum for the Introduction to International Relations class. This action was inspired by students who have voiced concerns over the inequality in authorship. 

Ellie Murphy, who studies international relations and sociology and is the current senior adviser and former co-president of Women in International Relations, explained why the organization wanted to address this disparity.

“Last semester, WIIR decided to have an internal discussion about how race impacts studying International Relations at Tufts,” Murphy, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “After hearing many group members reflect on their qualms about the curriculum, it became clear that many of us felt that the syllabus did not incorporate enough female and nonbinary scholars, and scholars of color into the curriculum.”

Murphy said she felt many of the readings in the Introduction to International Relations course were written by white, male authors and that many non-Western perspectives were missing.

“I still believe that there is a tendency to assume that Western thought is the 'standard' way of studying political science/international relations," Murphy said. "I felt that I wasn’t exposed to the full breadth of the field as the focus was on Western schools of thought.”

Women in International Relations is a student-run organization for "femme-identifying people interested in the field of international relations," according to the group's mission statement. It strives to build "a safe space for dialogue, empowerment, and career building."

The student group hosts events in tandem with its sponsor organization, the Institute for Global Leadership. Within the past year, Women in International Relations’ programming has included hosting female speakers who work in international law, fostering a mentorship program, and holding discussion-based seminars about various world issues. The group also hosts open-forum talks about international relations within the Tufts community. It was during one such event that members conceived the idea of drawing attention to the issue of diversity in the Introduction to International Relations curriculum

"Last semester, we wanted to have a discussion centered around race and International Relations," Alyssa Pak, co-president of Women in International Relations studying economics and international relations, wrote in an email to the Daily. "We prepared various questions on these sources for attendees, which led us to talk about how we see Western influence in our own Introduction to International Relations curriculum. We thought that the discussion went extremely well, and as people shared their thoughts and ideas, we reflected on what efforts we could make to diversify our education." 

She said the organization is targeting the Introduction to International Relations class specifically because it's often one of the first classes that students who are interested in international relations take at Tufts.

With this desire to make an impact on the curriculum, the organization created a questionnaire to gather feedback from students in the international relations community. It surveyed general opinions of respondents and asked questions targeting inequities within the course. Women in International Relations also sought suggestions for future readings as well as thoughts to mention to coordinators and professors from the international relations program. 

According to Pak, approximately 72% of the survey's respondents indicated that they felt the Introduction to International Relations curriculum did not include an adequate number of female and nonbinary authors. Similarly, 74% of respondents said they felt the curriculum lacked adequate representation of authors of color.

Pak added that many respondents offered suggestions for potential readings that would incorporate more voices. 

The student group is using the survey's results to enter into discussions with faculty about influencing the curriculum.

“We’re currently in the works of planning our first meeting with a faculty member,” Pak said. "We think that it’s definitely a step in the right direction and that other Tufts students would really appreciate being able to see more representation in the world of IR, especially given that Intro to IR is often one of the first classes that IR students take at Tufts." 

Richard Eichenberg, an associate professor in the political science department who has taught Introduction to International Relations in previous semesters, shared his views on the organization’s work.

"I fully support their efforts to diversify the curriculum, not only in the Intro IR course, but in all courses on international relations and indeed in political science more generally," Eichenberg wrote in an email to the Daily. "It’s urgently needed, and long overdue." 

Murphy and Pak are looking toward the future developments of this project.

"We plan to work with the broader Tufts community throughout this process to ensure that we hear as many perspectives as possible when trying to address the discrepancies with the curriculum. We hope to meet with professors in the coming weeks to discuss the possibilities," Murphy said.

Pak echoed Murphy's sentiments.

“We wanted to start with a smaller and hopefully attainable change," Pak said. “We think that it's definitely a step in the right direction.”