A Request for Grace: Senior SCS Administrator Reflects on Her Professional Journey, COVID-19, Racial Justice, and More

The Georgetown School of Continuing Studies and campuses across the university are engaged in intentional planning and development of racial justice initiatives that support Georgetown’s aspiration to be more fully a “community in diversity.” At SCS, a series of initial activities have informed the school’s efforts to address challenges for racial equity and inclusion in our academic setting. These activities included listening circles with faculty and staff, open fora with students and alumni, and dedicated channels for all SCS members to communicate with school leadership about their racial injustice experiences. All of these steps are leading toward the formal creation of a Diversity, Equity, Belonging & Inclusion (DEBIC) Council that will build on existing diversity and inclusion work and support new programs to advance these goals. More information about DEBIC and how students and alumni can participate is expected early in the fall semester. 

In this week’s Mission in Motion, we spent some time with Dr. Kristen Hodge-Clark, senior assistant dean of program planning at SCS. In addition to her core responsibilities at the school, Dr. Hodge-Clark has been participating, along with a core group of colleagues, in the formational work of DEBIC. She reflects on the importance of racial justice at SCS, her personal and professional journeys, the challenges facing Georgetown, and more. 

In this week’s Mission in Motion, Dr. Kristen Hodge-Clark, SCS Senior Associate Dean of Program Planning, reflects on her personal and professional journey, the ongoing work of racial justice at SCS, and more.

How are you doing these days? How have you and your family been during these challenging times? 

During this time, all things considered, I am doing well. I say that because I am thankful for the home that I have, employment, family, and health insurance among the many other things I’ve been able to maintain. I’ve become more acutely aware of these blessings and am much more mindful not to take them for granted and to find ways where I can help others.  

My family has been managing ok as well. With two young school-aged children and no in-person summer camp options, along with the reality of distance learning looming again for the fall, we’ve had to find new ways to keep them engaged and to manage life. Candidly, some days are better than others. I struggle with moments of guilt but also recognize the need to give myself some grace. These two opposing forces are a regular part of my life these days. I realize that we are all trying to do the best that we can. But the challenges of this pandemic are not abstract for me and my family. The interruptions of COVID-19 are painfully very real. 

One of my uncles recently tested positive for COVID -19 and has recovered well, but it has given me new meaning and a new relationship to the virus now that it has hit my family directly. Not to mention, in the midst of the pandemic, we’ve had to grapple yet again with what it means to be Black in America and remind ourselves of the extra precautions we must take to ensure our family’s safety. As with the global pandemic, the challenges of racism are not just concepts for me and my family. We live with the dynamics of racism, racial injustice, and a lack of awareness about inclusivity and equity on a daily basis. I am grateful that we as a country seem to be awakening to this reality as a result of this current news cycle but there is so much work yet to be done. 

Can you share more about your role at Georgetown SCS? And how your personal and professional journey led you to the work you do now at the university? 

In my current capacity as senior assistant dean of program planning, I lead the development of new credit-bearing programs and credentials along with the review process for existing programs. A central component of this work includes market research. I am energized by my position at Georgetown SCS because it gives me an excellent opportunity to extend the reach of access to our educational programs. Increasing educational access is one of my core commitments and I am excited by collaborating with others to ensure that more people can benefit from a Georgetown education. 

Most of my career has been within the space of higher education and in leading and developing applied research—dating back to my role as policy analyst at the Association of American Universities (AAU) and more recently as former VP over our division of programs and research with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB). The thread of research is what led me to SCS not only in my current role, but also in my role as a lecturer teaching research methods for our education program evaluation certificate program. Having the perspective of a faculty member enhances my work in degree planning. These dual roles help me balance the healthy tension of the macro and the micro—keeping a broad perspective on research and data about the economy and the marketplace with a sensitivity to the needs of individual students. 

You have been involved in leading ongoing efforts at SCS to develop the school’s capacity to become a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and racially just community. Can you share what your hopes are for this work at SCS? 

One of my ultimate hopes for the racial justice work I have recently been a part of can be captured in one word—sustainable. I hope (and pray) that the groundwork we are laying now is sustainable and enduring for many years to come, if not forever. It’s easy to give lip service to these issues, but the true test is in clear action and change with no expected end date. While a test of this work is how focused we remain on action, it is clear to me already that sustainable action will flow out of continued dialogue, listening, and planning. I am heartened by the commitment that so many across our community have already made to this work. 

Whether that takes shape in the form of regular forums, listening circles, new courses, or more diverse hires, my hope is that the commitment to these areas persists regardless of who is leading this work today or tomorrow. 

There is uncertainty in higher education these days as we approach the coming fall semester. Do you have any advice for fellow administrators, faculty, and staff about how to proceed through these times? 

The only advice I can offer speaks to the response I provided to your first question—grace. It seems that we can’t go 24 hours without some new challenge, change, or event happening that disrupts our well-intentioned plans. That includes things as small as spotty internet connections and missed Zoom meetings. We are all doing the best we can and I encourage us to all extend grace to ourselves and each other. There is such a valuable learning opportunity in these challenging times, but making good on that requires taking care of ourselves and the people around us.