Keynote: 2017 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs

Friday, April 28, 2017
Andres Stapff/Reuters
Introductory Remarks


Jim Lindsay: Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, CFR


Calvin Sims: President and Chief Executive Officer, International House; Former New York Times Reporter; Former Ford Foundation Executive


Mira Patel: Former Senior Advisor, Small Business Administration and Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff

Following a welcome message by James Lindsay, Calvin Sims, in conversation with Mira Patel, launch the 2017 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs with a keynote address about leadership, mentorship, and diversity in international affairs.

LINDSAY: Good evening, everyone. I want to welcome all of you to tonight’s fifth annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. This conference is jointly presented by the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Career Advancement Program, acronym ICAP, and the Global Access Pipeline, acronym GAP.

I’m Jim Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Besides welcoming everybody in the room, I want to welcome everybody who is joining us via the internet. I want to remind everyone that you’re welcome to tweet about the conference. We’re using the hashtag #CDIA2017.

Do we need to repeat that, Stacey?

#CDIA2107—just trying to be up to date and au courant with the Twitter world.

Now, we are holding the Conference on Diversity and International Affairs for a very simple reason, and it’s this: While America’s ethnic and racial makeup has changed dramatically in recent years, the ethnic and racial makeup of America’s foreign policy community has not kept pace. And that’s a loss for our country. Talented voices and unique perspectives that could enrich our foreign policy debates are not being heard. That loss is all the greater because we live in a globalizing world in which our lives are increasingly intertwined with events and people overseas.

Moreover, our very diversity, the fact that we as Americans have ties to virtually every country in the world can be a great strength in such a complex and challenging world.

Now, our goal with the Diversity in International Affairs Conference is to advance the effort to diversify the American foreign policy community so it looks like America. We hope that you will find tonight’s talk informative and inspiring. I think we have two really special people who are going to talk to you tonight. We hope that those of you who are here tomorrow will find the career skills sessions to be a good opportunity to sharpen your skills. Most of all, we hope the conference will enable all of us to make new friends and broaden our networks.

Now, at the beginning I said that the Council was doing this conference in cooperation with two outstanding organizations, the Global Access Pipeline and the International Career Advancement Program. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these terrific programs, GAP is a consortium of organizations that seeks to create a pipeline from high school through post-collegiate hiring to enhance the quality and diversity of U.S. participation in international affairs.

Now, I really want to thank GAP’s leaders, who include Zarina Durrani, Lily Lopez-McGee, Leah Miller, and Wida Amir.

Now, ICAP is a mid-career professional development program that seeks to bring greater diversity into the management and policymaking decisions in international public service. And I want to thank ICAP’s leadership who include Minty Abraham, Mayra Caldera, and Charlotte Kea.

Now, one person who deserves extra special thanks is Tom Rowe. Tom’s leadership and persistence have been driving forces in making both GAP and ICAP successful organizations. And I’m going to do the following. I would like Tom, Lily, Rita, Minty, Myra, and Charlotte, I believe you’re all here in the room, if you could all stand up. Don’t be shy. Give them a round of applause. (Applause.)

Again, thank you very much. You have all been terrific to work with.

I also want to thank the Robina Foundation which has generally supported and made possible all five of these diversity conference we have held. We greatly appreciate the Robina Foundation’s support.

Now, finally, here at the Council, I owe a big debt of gratitude to a bunch of people, so indulge me for a moment while I single them out. First, I want to thank Jan Mowder Hughes, our vice president for human resources, who is here, who has been instrumental in this initiative.

I also want to thank our unrivaled meetings program for their expert stewardship of this event, like all the events we do here at the Council. And I think you’re going to discover just how good they are today and tomorrow. So thank you, Nancy Bodurtha, Stacey LaFollette, Dexter Ndengabaganizi. And I want to thank Marisa Shannon as well.

Thanks also to Rachel Lumpkin of our events in operations team for making this conference possible. They’re the people who set things up and break them back down and do it seamlessly so that you don’t notice.

Finally, I want to give a special thanks to a member of my time, Shira Schwartz, who has put a lot of hours into making this happen. So thank you, Shira.

Now, without any further ado, I'm going to turn things over to Mira Patel who will be introducing tonight’s keynote speaker, Calvin Sims.

Again, I hope you enjoy the conference and look forward to meeting those of you over the next day-and-a-half. So thank you very much.

Mira, Calvin, if you can come on up, it’s over to you. (Applause.)

PATEL: Welcome, everyone. It’s so great to see you all, especially a room that looks like this in one of those historic institutions.

My name is Mira Patel and I’m here to welcome you to today’s Council on Foreign Relations Conference on Diversity in International Affairs keynote session, which is a conversation with Calvin Sims.

I’d also like to welcome those who are listening and also watching online via the livestream.

You all have a long bio for Calvin in your materials, but just wanted to present some of his background in the context of where maybe we could all go as younger leaders seeking to leverage institutions like CFR, ICAP, and the Global Access Pipeline to begin to sit on the stage like he is.

He is the president and CEO of the International House. And he’s had more than 20 years of experience in journalism as a foreign correspondent and producer at The New York Times and then also fighting for press freedom at the Ford Foundation where he sought to promote the role of free press and journalistic integrity globally.

He’s a native of California. And most importantly, I think, today, he came down from New York where he’s had a really exciting accomplishment. He and his wife have a 6-week-old baby named Marcel, so he probably hasn’t slept a lot. So thank him in the reception afterward.

Let’s dive right in.

So, Calvin, walk us through your leadership journey. How did you get here? And you were an Edward R. Murrow press fellow during your time at CFR. How did you find that experience useful to take you where you are today?

SIMS: OK. And thank you for having me.

PATEL: Of course.

SIMS: And doing a great job of prepping for this.

So I owe a great amount of thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations. I was a journalist for 25 years with The New York Times, half of that overseas as a foreign correspondent and a single foreign correspondent who had a great experience, but at some point you really need to try to make sense of all that you’ve been experiencing. And the Council has a fellowship called the Edward R. Murrow Fellowship which allows a foreign correspondent to come back from overseas for an entire year, spend a year at the Council working on a writing project to really gauge all the experiences that you’ve had and decide where you want to go next in your career.

And that was instrumental for me because at that point Les Gelb was the head of the Council. He had been an editorial columnist for The New York Times. He kind of knew the kind of journey of a foreign correspondent and was instrumental in bringing me to the Council. And it was great because that year here really opened my mind up to think about other things outside of journalism.

Most journalists think that there’s no other profession. We’re kind of like nuns in the convent, and there’s nothing better than actually being a journalist. And so it really opened my mind to seeing you could do something more than just sit on the sideline and call the game, but you could actually get involved. And so that year was instrumental in helping me go back to The Times and shift over to an entrepreneurial part of The Times and then move on to the Council, move on to the Ford Foundation and then on to what I’m doing now at International House. So I-House, the Ford Foundation really came about because of the year I spent at the Council.

PATEL: That’s great. So as you worked with The New York Times in particular and brought the paper online in so many different ways, both through your work as a foreign correspondent, but also from the business side of things, I wanted to talk to you a bit about journalism and diversity, given the content of this conference.

SIMS: Sure.

PATEL: And in particular, what you think the role for diversity in media is. We had talked a little bit about, you know, the digital space was supposed to be this great equalizer, anyone can become a published writer, anyone can become a reporter, in one sense or another.

SIMS: Right.

PATEL: Now anyone can report on issues that are near and dear to them in their own experiences. What happened? The U.S. media is occupied by the same cast of characters and people are increasingly questioning the role of media and its value. How do we think about all this under the landscape of diversity and having an even more diverse U.S. population—

SIMS: Sure.

PATEL: —but also as we think about it in terms of international relations?

SIMS: So I would answer that in two ways. The first is, how diverse is the media in terms of the practitioners and the leadership? And there is very little diversity. Even though you may see more anchors who look diverse and see bylines that look more diverse, the real decision-making in the media comes from the executive producers, the executive editors, and the ownership. And so the promise of the digital space was that instead of there being few to many there would be many to many, that anybody could actually produce good content and put it out there and actually make money on it if you got a following.

Well, that really hasn’t happened on both scores. The media is probably less diverse when I joined The New York Times in 1985 30 years ago. There are fewer journalists of color or journalists with diverse backgrounds and experiences today than there was 30 years ago. Some of that has to do with the downsizing and consolidation of the industry. But in addition to that, if you look at the ownership in the digital space of the new websites and also the news media outlets that are in the digital space, the ownership is still pretty much white males.

And so the question is, why? There’s no, technically, barrier to entry. But what there is, is there is the barrier actually to the expertise to produce the content that is actually going to actually attract the readership and the subscribers.

So, in addition to that, there are still barriers that exist for folks who come from diverse backgrounds. So when I joined The New York Times 30 years ago, I joined as a copy boy. You had copy boys and copy girls. And it was the 20 top editors from major college papers around the country. And so, during the day, you did all these routine tasks. For example, if a reporter wanted coffee, they would say “copy” and you’d come running and give them coffee. If they didn’t want to go to the South Bronx because they thought it was too dangerous, they’d yell “legs” and you’d have to go to the South Bronx—(laughter)—and actually do the reporting and call it in.

And so, of the 20 who came in, only one or two would survive the four grueling years of that to actually make it on staff. So you can imagine, they didn’t tell you what types of stories you had to write in your free time, what would impress the editors, you had to figure all that out. And those were the hallmarks of a good journalist.

So, as a result of that, there were far fewer women and people of color who made it through that program to get to The New York Times as a reporter. So that has changed, they don’t have that program anymore. But those were some of the hurdles that one would have to cross to actually get onto a staff like The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. So much of that hasn’t changed today.

It’s also a media landscape that’s in search of itself, in part because they’re dealing with a whole new paradigm of an administration and a new way of communicating. If Donald Trump tweets, you have no control over when he tweets and how he creates a news cycle. It’s outside of the normal way of operating. If he decides not to release his taxes or it could go in an unorthodox way, the media’s trying to figure out, how do you responsibly cover a president that does that? And it’s not just Donald Trump, it’s other organizations and other personalities, individuals as well.

So journalism is not an exact science. It subscribes to certain ethics and principles. But most of that actually has to be made up as we go, and I think that’s what you’re seeing now. A lot of postmortems over, should we cover everything that the president says and the president does? Well, he’s the president and that’s what the media is supposed to do. It’s supposed to articulate what he is saying and when he is saying it. But how often do you do that? When do you cede control of what you’re providing to your subscribers, which is usually a curated product, versus having the president or other individuals drive your own news cycle?

So I think all of this is being figured out in the media. And that’s why they’re somewhat confused. And at the same time, you have this question of, well, what are true facts? Are there alternative facts? What’s a principled news product?

PATEL: Did you think you’d be asking yourself that question, what are true facts?

SIMS: Yeah. Well, you’d be asking it in the sense that, what should you be covering and what should you be presenting to your readers? And that’s also been in the context that now we know exactly who’s reading what we produce, who’s watching our reports, and we know exactly how that contributes to the financial bottom line.

So there are a lot of variables here in the media that’s a bit confusing. But I want to get back to the notion of diversity there, which is that the lack of diversity means that you’re not having a product that is as informative and as based as it should be. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have people who look different, because you have a lot of people of color now in the media, but many of them have the same education background and the same life experiences.

At The New York Times, they used to have a third of the staff actually didn’t finish college. You used to have people who served in the military who became reporters, and they understood what war was like and how to cover it. Now there’s a much more homogeneity in terms of who practices that craft than there was before.

PATEL: Wow. So in terms of the intern “Hunger Games” that those poor copy boys and girls had to go through—

SIMS: Right. (Laughter.)

PATEL: —you said that you just needed to figure it out.

SIMS: Right.

PATEL: And at events like these, mentorship often comes up as something that’s critical. We know that, at least in the private sector, when there are formal mentoring programs, there was actually a Harvard Business Review piece last year, which talked about when there are formalized mentor programs for companies’ managerial elite, that representation of people of color increases by 9 to 24 percent, so a measurable economic output for that company in terms of diversity and then leading to future profit enhancement.

However, we sit here in D.C. where the public sector, many of us at least in the public sector, face challenges getting people to invest in us, or they expect that mentorship to happen organically. And I’m curious how, if you have advice in terms of how we could create space for ourselves to be mentored, and then also how we could lift while we rise and think about ourselves as mentors within this space.

Sometimes the burden of responsibility often falls on us to have to be the ones who reach back, but I also think that’s a result of our lived experiences of often coming to the table with a unique perspective and wanting to make sure that people who have lived a variety of lives are also around that table with us.

SIMS: It’s a very good point. I mean, I think when you talk about how do you actually get someone to mentor you and under what circumstances, and typically managers mentor folks who remind them of themselves. It’s human nature. If the script was flipped, I think people of color who had the senior management jobs, the same thing would probably be happening. So the question becomes, if you’re not being mentored, you can’t find somebody to mentor you, how do you go about getting that assistance?

And so I can look back when I was a junior reporter at The New York Times, again, you were competing against 2,000 senior editors and reporters to actually make it on the staff. Nobody told you what were the stories that would get you identified as somebody who wanted to move up the ranks.

So there was a guy named Al Siegal, the smartest man in the newsroom. He was well known because he liked to eat and he was very wide. (Laughter.) And I remember when the space shuttle blew up, I had been at The Times for six months, and I was a copy boy, but they assigned me to actually write the captions for all of the astronauts who had been lost. And so Al Siegal happened to be close to me as I was writing the captions out and he said, that’s not bad. So I decided that this was the guy I wanted to mentor me, but everybody was afraid of Al Siegal because he was not only bright, but he had a temper, and he was the first guy to read the newspaper when it came off the press. And there were red phones on all the desks. If the red phone rang, it was Al Siegal calling to tell you that you had made a mistake.

So I decided Al Siegal was going to be my mentor. And so I went over to him one day and said, Al, I’d like to take you to lunch. And he said, you’re going to take me to lunch? He said, you can’t afford to take me to lunch. (Laughter.) And he said, I’m going to take you to lunch. And so we went to lunch and had a nice conversation. And he said, what do you really want, what do you want from me? And I said, well, I need somebody to actually look at my copy and give me some constructive feedback. And he said, OK, I’ll do it, but you have to promise me that you won’t get upset.

And so the first session that we had, he said, how did you even get in the door? He said, you can’t write for crap. What’s going on here? (Laughter.) He said, you have two choices. He said, you can be upset and run to HR or you can sit next to me and I’ll walk you through what a good New York Times story is, and that was the beginning. But I got him to adopt me by, you know, having the chutzpah to go over to him and say I want to buy you lunch.

So I think in some cases, you know, you have to be the orphan in the orphanage who really impresses the folks who are out there looking at you. You also have to figure out what the game is, because a lot of times nobody is going to tell you. And you can’t get upset with those folks who are playing the game and being successful. You have to figure out what it is that actually impresses people.

And you also have to think about, what is the mentor looking for in you? They’re going to invest in you, they’re looking for some return down the line. And so as well, when I do my mentoring, I make it clear to those who I mentor that I expect you to do the same thing. And this gets to your point in terms of, what should you be doing while you’re being mentored? You should be passing something on as well and understanding what the contract is.

PATEL: Great. You talked a little bit about human nature. And I think for a lot of us, we’re the first or we’re the only-in-the-room in a, you know, in a variety of different experiences that we have, particularly at work. And I wanted to push on this a little bit, because quite recently, at least in the last five years, there’s been a lot of talk about bringing your whole self to work, that the way to democratize the workplace or educational systems is to be yourself, to talk about your own experiences and that will help change both the conversation in the room, but also have more beneficial outcomes for the organization.

But specifically, when we do, especially I’m saying, you know, for me as a woman of color, as a gay person, for so many of us that have different experiences, we get adverse reactions from people.

And on the notion of this unconscious bias, how do you balance that authenticity through lived experience and your perspective with others’ perceptions? How do you, in terms of professional development, avoid being pigeonholed and defined by something that is not, but is simply one view of how someone might see you? And perhaps controversially, how do you work with those perceptions or push back against how people might view you?

SIMS: It’s a good question. I mean, I think we’ve all been taught to toot our own horn. And the question is, what should you be tooting and how loudly and to whom? (Laughter.) And so there are unconscious bias, we all have them. They come out.

I remember, when I first moved to New York I had the benefit of—I had some friends who were in the real estate business and I lived on the Upper East Side in a doorman building. I was paying $400 a month, which was still expensive for me. And oftentimes when I would come home, when I wasn’t in a coat and tie, from The New York Times, I’d have a pizza and they would direct me to the service entrance.

And then one day, there were nurses, I think, who lived in that building as well. They worked for Lenox Hill Hospital. And there was an African-American nurse who lived on my floor. And one day I’m getting off the elevator, the door opens, there are these two hulking black guys, and I jump back in the elevator. And they said, oh, we’re not going to hurt you. And I said, well, I didn’t think that, but I had never seen another black person in the building. (Laughter.)

So for me, it said I didn’t know I had that inside of me, that I jumped back just because they were strange. I mean, you know, what are they doing here? And it actually started me to think about what unconscious bias is, that we all have it, we’re all socialized. But how do you respond to it? And how do you manage it when you know it can actually come out?

You may have experiences, you may have an education level that many other people in the workplace don’t have. How often should you make them know about that? Sometimes it’s appropriate because it tells them the experience you have so that they could take advantage of that experience and give you opportunities. Sometimes it’s better to stay quiet about some of them. And I think you have to kind of figure that out in terms of, you know, what’s tooting my horn enough, what’s tooting my horn not enough. But they actually do come out from time to time.

PATEL: And the last question, and I’d love to turn it over to the group, but, you know, defer to the rules of CFR in terms of structure, we’re sitting here feet from the White House.

SIMS: Right.

PATEL: It seems like we’d be remiss not to talk about it. And I imagine folks will have questions around journalistic freedom. But I wanted to zero in in particular on your perspective as the leader of International House, as someone who is running an organization focused on international engagement, and is a philanthropic institution in and of itself, and ask you specifically about the role of philanthropy in the Trump administration.

We have the Koch brothers who are doing, from some people’s perceptions, political activism disguised as philanthropy. You also have individuals politicizing their donations at a rate that has not been seen before in terms of giving to organizations like Human Rights Watch or ACLU or Planned Parenthood, that are explicitly donating as a way to, as they see it, push back against the current administration’s policies that are having impact on these organizations and limiting their work, also because the federal government is explicitly either stepping back or reversing position in some of those areas that those organizations focus on.

So what is Trump-era philanthropy? What will we look back on four years from now and say, wow, that was the pivot point, that was the change?

SIMS: So the institution I run is called International House. And we have 700 of the best and brightest global—(inaudible)—who live in a house that’s 450,000 square feet founded in 1924 to actually train the next generation of global leaders through a values prospect, which is that our values really focus on respect, empathy, and moral courage.

So we take one out of about every 20 applicants. And again, they’re 700 graduate students, best and brightest in interns and post-docs, all living together in one house, from a hundred countries. And you would think that it wouldn’t work, but because there’s buy-in from the beginning, we have very little turmoil in that house.

What happens is, is people are challenged day in and day out with the other, with somebody who’s completely different. We have Tibetan monks walking around in robes. We have Muslims, you know, that are veiled. We have every possible diversity that you could imagine there. But they all seem to have been getting along since 1924.

So, from our standpoint, we believe that it’s those values that matter more than anything else. And those values don’t know either political side of the aisle. And so I’m not punting on your question, I’m just saying that we’re just going to continue to do what we’ve always done, which is that the best and the brightest from all over the world come to New York for a graduate education. If we can infuse these values in them, this will last them a lifetime. And we think those values is what really makes global leadership.

Now, to your answer about philanthropy, I consider philanthropy to be the fifth estate. So there was a lot of discourse in the house about the Trump administration, about the executive order and what it meant. And so what I told them is this, is that you can be hysterical or you can try to think about the democratic process of the United States and the democratic institutions and to see how strong they are, that this is a test of democracy.

And so the fifth estate really does, as they say, what the private sector won’t do and what government can’t do. And I think we’ve seen this playing out, that that not-for-profit, philanthropic arm of democracy has actually worked quite well in helping to stabilize where we are.

PATEL: Great.

So we’re going to move to questions after this last one, so start thinking about what you want to ask about.

My final question is actually about the role of public engagement and diplomacy and in particular how you have a public that is increasingly isolated or nationalistic, they aren’t quite sure what the role of government is, particularly in international affairs. You see popular opinions around what the perception is of what we spend on foreign affairs and diplomacy, international development being very skewed compared to what we actually spend.

And we’re seeing a secretary of state now who has a very much a behind-the-scenes role for the first time in decades. Typically, and increasingly over the past 30 years, secretaries of state have used that role to justice international engagement and to justify foreign policymaking as it happens.

I’m curious about how you think about this in terms of the nature of success, whether it’s as a secretary of state, if you were secretary, how you’d think about leveraging public engagement in the different models as you’ve seen them as a journalist.

And then secondly, how do you think about engaging the broader public outside of the D.C. echo chamber, outside of the partisan organizations or the 24-hour news cycle that really don’t seem to be able to be penetrating a large segment of the American population in terms of demonstrating the importance or the role for international engagement, diplomacy, and development?

SIMS: So it’s a very good question. I think that at its heart, there needs to be, in foreign policy, there needs to be a degree of transparency that we really haven’t seen or don’t see that often. And what I mean by transparency is really explaining what is being done and why.

So Gideon Rose, who is the editor of Foreign Affairs and one of my good friends from college, has always said that good foreign policy is not necessarily what should be done, but what can be done. And it sounds simple, but there’s a complexity there in terms of there are plenty of things we should be doing, but we don’t have the capacity to do them because we don’t have the buy-in. And you sort of say, how could you afford to ignore this particular group who’s being marginalized in this particular country? Well, you know, that is really a calculus that every administration has to make. But I think when you’re transparent about it and when you are very open about how policy is really made, and that’s the beauty, I think, of the Council on Foreign Relations, I think there’s a bigger understanding that comes with it. But when you try to simplify it as if we just decided that that’s not in our best interest or not in—there’s a complexity there that I think if you explain it properly and openly with transparency, the public will be much better informed and understand what goes into it.

PATEL: Great. Well, it sounds like International House is the reality show we all need. (Laughter.)

So, with that, I’d love to turn it over to the audience for questions. I think we have mics wandering around, so maybe we’ll start over here and then go back here.

Q: Hi. My name is Lesley Warner. I’m on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

During your remarks, you mentioned two things, that I could recall, that contributed to your success. One thing you mentioned was that you knew which stories you had to do in order to catch the eye of some of the editors. And the second thing you mentioned is you identified the type of mentor you needed in order to be successful.

And so my question is, given that people of color and women tend to have a confidence gap when it comes to advancing their careers, are there other examples from your career that you think helped you advance?

SIMS: A good question. I mean, I think, you know, none of us succeed on our own. So some of it is opportunity and luck. Some of it in my case, my father played a real pivotal role in giving me the confidence. In fact, he took me abroad when I was very young on a business trip, and we grew up very sort of lower-middle class. I’m from Compton, California. My father was the first of his family to go to college, and my mother as well.

But I think, you know, it’s family, it’s community. But there’s a logic to it as well, which is that, again, if I want to play in this arena, I have to figure out, you know, what it is I have to do to be successful. And nobody is going to tell you that, per se, you know. And you may hate the game, but you can’t be jealous of folks who have learned how to play it. And I know that is difficult. And, you know, you do need confidence.

But, you know, I think affinity groups oftentimes can work to that advantage, or also looking at other groups who’ve faced similar challenges, and how did they as a group start to overcome? All that, I think, comes into play.

But in my case, I think it was my family, it was my father and my mother that actually really played a big role in building that confidence.

PATEL: I think there was a question there.

Q: Good evening. Thank you, Mr. Sims, Ms. Patel, for your time and your insightful comments. My name is Emanuel and I’m a Venezuelan, but I’m also an international student at American University.

My question is, what do you think the role is today for minorities in this country in moving the conversation forward after the election in the current political climate, and what special approach we can take as different groups that have different backgrounds to sort of burst that media bubble and make sure that the conversation does not get stuck in the same voices as they try to move forward? Thank you.

SIMS: So, I mean, I do think there are new avenues to get voices heard, that didn’t exist before. And I think being cognizant of what they are, the social media sites I think will play a big role in what will be the new new media. Sites like LinkedIn allow anybody to actually publish, and they have, like, a global millennial voices arm of LinkedIn that allows young people to actually express their opinions and actually build up a body of work that actually sits with your profile.

And you’ll see increasingly entities like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn actually become in and of themselves purveyors of news. And you can build your own audience there over time. And that becomes more and more influential.

And aside from that is that really continuing to try to be active participants in mainstream media. The New York Times, The Washington Post are still going to be major players as well as CNN in that market, the more people of color and people with diverse experience who actually become a part of those organizations. You may not make a whole lot of money when you first go into them, you may have to figure out how to penetrate. But over time, the audience will help control that.

And if you look at where the audience is trending, people of color, people of diverse backgrounds actually will eventually become the majority of the United States. They will have to appeal to that demographic.

The New York Times is building its business on an international market to who actually wants the content and now can get it without it being printed. They’ve seen surge in their subscriptions during this presidency, as has The Washington Post. That tells us that there’s a flight, I’ll use the expression, a flight to quality, that more and more Americans really want a nuanced and balanced report.

So I think being involved in, you know, those spheres, I think, can make a difference, yeah.

PATEL: So we’ll go here.

Q: Thank you so much for coming.

I actually have a follow-up question on that. So, of course, social media has allowed us to express our voices, and that’s an incredible opportunity that we have now. But with sites like Facebook and even LinkedIn or even The New York Times subscriptions, they are sort of sometimes—they do sometimes turn into, you know echo chambers. So how can we ensure that we’re not just, like, listening to our own opinions being expressed by different people, but also encouraging active communication, listening to people from, like, diverse political backgrounds and diverse political beliefs as well.

SIMS: So you’re never going to get exactly what you want out of any media organization. And I think the digital divide is not access, it’s actually literacy. In other words, being able to distinguish what is actually fairly balanced and true and principled.

And we talk about fake news. That’s the digital divide, a certain large percentage of the American population doesn’t have that capacity to distinguish. And so, again, you were saying, you know, how do you ensure that? Well, you know, there used to be a time if you didn’t like what was being printed in the newspaper, you’d go and knock on the door of the newspaper and ask to speak with the editor or you’d write letters. And how many of us do that now? How many of us actually still come and say you’re not giving me what I really want, or I didn’t think that story was balanced? I think that news organizations are very cognizant, again, of their subscribers and their readership and they would welcome that.

They have also these ombudspeople who actually their job is to actually review the entire news content and to be critical of it. They’re independent, they’re paid by the newspaper, but independent in terms of their assessment. Those are good outlets, too, to actually go to, to say I don’t think we were treated fairly, or I think this piece of the story wasn’t there. And they usually follow up on the comments and the complaints that they actually receive from the readership, so that’s another avenue to pursue.


Q: Thank you so much for your insight. My name is Joy Nuga. I’m currently an intern in geoeconomics at the New York City office. I came down on an Amtrak to see this. I’m also a senior at Hunter College.

And on that note, I feel as though, even as I graduate, the buzz word or the hot-key term is “resistance.” And so for those of us who are interested in pursuing careers in international affairs where it’s more or less a juggling act of merging everyone’s, you know, differing opinions and interests, how do we remain steadfast on our opinions and beliefs while also being diplomatic?

SIMS: A good question. I mean, I think it really does depend on what benchmark you set for being successful. And, you know, sometimes that anecdotal, sometimes it’s qualitative, sometimes it’s quantitative. But I think you have to really sort of take a step back and say, what is it I’m trying to achieve? And how do I get there? And what are the measures of success along the way?

A lot of philanthropic organizations do that. They look at a long-term process with many steps to get to, you know, where you want to go influencing public opinion or influencing influentials. And it’s measured over a long period of time.

It was like that at the Ford Foundation. You know, they’ve got a lot of experiencing in tackling complex social issues. And there’s a methodology to actually having the impact to really studying something, seeding it, and then bringing it to scale over a period of time.

So what I’m saying is that I think you have to really decide what is success and how you actually get there. You know, you could say, you know, I want to take a strong approach to this, but is that the best approach? You know, we talk about moral courage at International House. And we have a seminar that’s given every year by a woman named Irshad Manji. She runs the Moral Courage Project. And she wrote a book called “The Trouble With Islam Today,” and she had a fatwa issued against her. She was very, very outspoken about what was wrong with Islam.

And after five years of that, she actually took a step back and said, I would have had a much more successful time in creating a reform in Islam if I had approached it from a different standpoint. And that’s what moral courage is. It’s not just speaking out against something that’s wrong over there, it’s really speaking out, for the most part, within your own community, but figuring out what’s the most impactful way to do that.

Q: Hi. Thank you for the informative discussion today. My name is Farrell Charles (sp), I’m a global affairs graduate student at New York University, so I came down from New York today like a lot of people here.

So earlier you mentioned, between the mentee and mentor relationship, that the mentee should be offering something to the mentor. So like a lot of people in here, we’re probably young professionals, maybe haven’t even graduated from, you know, our bachelor’s or our master’s yet.

As someone who’s starting their career, what can we offer to someone who might be a mentor, who is already well-established in their career?

SIMS: Actually, I meant with that that you should be offering to somebody that maybe you’re mentoring. But to answer your question, again, I think that somebody who’s mentoring you, they consider it an investment. And I think what they’re looking for is some sign from you that you’re going to—there’s going to be a payoff in the long term. And that payoff may be that they consider you to be someone who’s actually going to take up the mantle that they’ve taken up and giving it to somebody else. Or they may be looking at you as, oh, I’m seeding all these folks within the corporation or the organization, and then when they make their move to take over the corporation they’re going to be with them. You have to, you know, you have to think about it from that sense. It’s an investment. It’s an investment of time. It’s their chip that they’re devoting to you, which they could devote to somebody else, and they want you to prove to them or at least be convincing to them that there will be a payoff, whatever, you know, whatever you perceive that to be.

PATEL: I think there was one up front here.

Q: Hi. I’m Father Brian Muzas from Seton Hall University. Mr. Sims, thank you for your remarks.

I was very happy that the last thing that you talked about was transparency and the idea that what is possible is good foreign policy. And so I was wondering whether there might be an argument at times for dialing back the transparency. I can imagine situations in which two parties might like to meet in secret and come up with a creative or perhaps even daring solution that would not have been possible under public scrutiny. And so I’m wondering, do you agree that such a scenario is realistic? And if it is, could you give us some guidance about how to think about what the right amount of transparency would be?

SIMS: I think it’s a very good point. And I think what you’ve hit upon is really, for much of its history, what the Council on Foreign Relations has stood for, which is that most of the programming that takes place here, especially the roundtables and the study groups, those have always taken place in sanctuary. Which is that the Council was a place where you could take very influential people from all walks of life and they could come and they could speak freely, knowing that what was said would never be attributed to them, but it would help inform the foreign policy from a lot of different perspectives. And that remains true today. There’s a lot of programs that are open to the public for educational purposes, but a lot of the nuts and bolts of informing foreign policy does happen behind the scenes.

We have sort of the same concept at International House, which is that some of our program is open to the public, but a good portion of it, the difficult dialogues and conversations, they happen in sanctuary because many of our residents come from places that it is just there’s repression, they have never felt comfortable talking about some of the things that they’re about to talk about at International House. So I think that there’s a role for that to inform without being afraid of the ramifications of talking, you know, talking freely about things.

And then I think, you know, the transparency, it’s like anything that you balance out. As a manager, there are some things that people just never need to know or they can’t know, they’re confidential. But I think that that component of it is very important.

We had last year George Takei, who was Mr. Sulu, come to International House. And so I thought he was a little bit old for our demographic, but we had 300 of our 700 residents come out to hear him talk about his American journey. So he was interned as a boy in a Japanese internment camp. And then he became an actor. And he said, yeah, that’s when I became a role model. And his own words, he said, you know, they think Asians can’t drive, but I drove, I piloted the starship Enterprise. (Laughter.)

And then he talked about his LGBTQ activism. And the line for questions was out the door. And they were mainly East Asian men. And the first question was, what do I do, Mr. Takei, when I go home? And so he looked at me and he said, what’s he talking about? And I sort of said, he’s asking you what does he do when he goes back home because he’s now open here in International House, when he goes back home he’s afraid to be openly gay.

And so he gave this great, you know, anecdote about his own life. He said, look, it took me until I was 60-something years old to really live my truth openly. And he said, I was always afraid it would ruin my career. He said, now I’m doing Taco Bell commercials—(laughter)—it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. So I do think that there’s, you know, there is a degree of transparency that you want to do, but a lot of stuff does take place in sanctuary, which I wouldn’t discount.

PATEL: There’s one back there.

Q: Good evening. My name is Bloomia Kinasotu (ph). I am a former Obama appointee. I’m in recovery right now and working on a podcast with all of my free time.

So my question is very simple. This week we saw how consumer buying power impacts products, so we saw with Shea Moisture, a lot of women, I’m sure, here know, the controversy around that. And we’ve seen examples with Uber where consumers found out that the CEO was involved with the president and didn’t like it and made that known with the app.

So my question is, do you feel that there’s a movement that can happen in the media where at some point viewers start to say we’re not watching CNN anymore, we’re not watching FOX anymore en masse to the point where they begin to change the way they present their content?

SIMS: Yeah. You know, certainly, I mean, part of the reason why we had almost 24-hour coverage of Trump was because there was an audience for it. And instead of sort of waiting to the next day, because we have instant news, people sit down and say, now, what’s he saying now and everyone gets really upset. Where really, it’s probably better to wait for the postmortem the next morning to put it into some perspective.

But the answer to your question is, yes, that could happen at any time. That was the beauty of the civil rights movement. If you can’t ride in the front of the bus, you boycott the bus. So when the bus service goes out of business, they’re going to change. And so, you know, consumers have the ability to speak like they never have had in the past. You’re seeing this in the airline industry, we’ve all been frustrated, and now because you’ve got this digital device that everybody can record and post, so there is a degree of new empowerment for the consumer. And you’ll probably see a lot more of that happening. So, yeah, I think that could very well happen.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Sims and Ms. Patel, for your questions and answers.

I would like to know, what do you feel is your most important role or task as president and CEO of International House? And in the same right, what do you feel is the most important role that International House plays in international affairs and in the world?

SIMS: OK. It’s a good question. So I’m the sixth president of International House. I am the first person of color to be president. And the mission is as it’s always been. So International House was founded right after the First World War, the war that was supposed to end all wars, and it was founded in a very grand way up in Morningside Heights. And they spared no expense in building this building to prove to the world that people could live together in harmony.

And they do at International House, in part because our residents self-select to actually be in this environment and to learn. So it can and it does happen. But, again, this is a values-based proposition at International House. We want to infuse in the mind-set, in the personality of these next best and brightest leaders these values so that if you’ve got a new head of North Korea who lived in International House and a new president of the United States who lived in International House, the discourse would be very, very different.

And so that is what I’ve been doing in the three-and-a-half years that I’ve been there, is taking that same mission and restating it and repurposing it for a new millennial generation. And so we do that through a variety of programs. But the basic and as I said organic experience is living with other people, living in these small rooms that we have and shared bathrooms where you’re brushing your teeth and you’re going to bump up against somebody you never thought you would.

We were speaking earlier with a group. I told the Tom Jones story, which is that I-House was founded in 1924. In 1930, there was a guy named Tom Jones who came to International House from the Midwest to be at Teachers College. This is not the singer with the tight pants. (Laughter.)

And so he checks in, he goes to orientation, checks into his room, and then he goes to the shared bathroom. And he’s bought into this whole notion that I’m going to live in this place with all these international people and it’s going to be great. And he opens the door to the bathroom and standing in front of him at that time was a Negro, as he said. And he welcomed him, he said, Tom, you’re Tom Jones, I heard you’re from the Midwest, I’m at Teachers College as well. And he closed the door and ran away because the last thing he thought was that there was going to be a black person in the bathroom that he was going to be sharing.

So he went to the head of I-House and he said, I’m sorry, you know, I thought I could do this, but I want to go back home. And he said, well, why don’t you give it a weekend and think about it. So he thought about it, and he became best friends with this African-American.

And then Tom Jones went on to head Fisk University because of that experience at I-House. And so, you know, it’s no longer really a black-white, you know, demographic anymore at I-House, but there’s a great diversity of people who get exposed for the first time to somebody that they thought or to a culture that they thought or to a religion that they thought they should shun. And it’s living together that changes everything.

And so what we’re trying to do there is to continue this and to find new ways to do it, both in the digital space and in the experiences that we offer. So the mission remains the same and it’s exposure, it’s living with the other, the process of opening up your mind and your personality, your being, to other things that are different and not to be afraid of them. Not so much to embrace them and accept them, because empathy means I’m going to try to understand you, even though I may disagree.


Q: Good evening.

SIMS: Good evening.

Q: I’m Jadayah, the executive director of the International Youth Leadership Institute and chair of the Youth Steering Committee at the United Nations Department of Public Information.

This has been really fascinating for me on multiple levels tending to several students who are interested in getting involved with media and also running an organization that does exactly the kind of work as far as exposure and getting to know and understand life from someone else’s point of view.

So I’m curious to know from you, so I-House only holds about 700 people, as you said, but it’s a mission that spans the entire world, that seeks to have an impact in the entire world. So I’d like to know, how can, from your perspective, how can we help as far as continuing to push these kinds of conversations forward, continuing to provide that kind of exposure for the people who cannot fit inside I-House? Because 700, 7 billion, you know, how do we work that out? Thank you.

SIMS: That’s a good question. So there are 20 I-Houses in the movement, New York being the first, and there are 19 others around the world. We have an association that we get together every year and talk about best practices. But it’s really, for us, it’s the alumni. We have 66,000 living alumni all over the world, many of them in very prominent positions. And I could give you the whole litany of people we take credit for because they lived in the house, whether or not we had an impact or not. (Laughter.) Everybody from I.M. Pei to James Gorman, who is the head of Morgan Stanley, to Daisy Soros and her husband, Paul, so a wide variety of luminaries. Even Flora Lewis of The New York Times lived in the house, Lynn T. Price (sp), Burl Ives, it goes on and on.

So I think, you know, when we talk about a lived experience and exposure, what everybody can do is really to really seek out something that you don’t understand and seek to get to know it by having that human contact and engaging in some ways. It’s the engagement, I think, that makes all the difference.


Q: Hello. My name is Elizabeth Yepes, I am a graduate student at the Elliott School at G.W. I’m also a full-time federal employee.

And my question is, so you mentioned about as we move up in our careers, either at the federal level or the private sector, that we encounter more, like, the same group of people in power. And I think that might be a challenge for diverse individuals who want to also be part of those who take the decisions in our society.

So maybe, what are some steps that we can take or, yeah, what are some ways that you recommend are maybe effective to continue or to continue moving up, per se, but also overcome those challenges?

SIMS: So I am—I think, you know, the point that you’re making, too, is that the competition has probably never been more vigorous than it is today because we are a global, you know, a globalized community. You are not just competing against Americans, but you’re coming against the world. And so, with that, you’re sort of asking, well, how do you sort of crack through this barrier because there are not a lot of folks who look like you or are from your background that will mentor you?

And we talked a little bit about this early. You know, it is sort of figuring out what the game is and then deciding, you know, how successful am I going to be in this particular milieu or this particular entity? And if it’s not working, I think you have to sort of reassess and decide maybe there’s another place that’s more open, to my advancement. But affinity groups, getting advice from a variety of people who have your best interests. People talk about setting up a group of people that you meet with regularly to discuss your progress and that’s good because they can be hopefully brutally honest and say, well, that particular door you’re knocking on, that’s really not going to work after all this time, let’s switch gears and go someplace else.

I mean, all this stuff you hear, and there’s no, you know, there’s no magic want or antidote to it all. But I do think that, you know, there are a variety of ways to assess where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

I don’t know if you want to jump in and add, yeah.

PATEL: Yeah. I mean, I think part of—I find it hard to think about, and I appreciate your advice about know the game that you’re playing and decide whether or not you’re good at playing it. Because I think a lot of us, particularly when we’re younger, are incredibly ambitious or excited or enthusiastic and perhaps less aware of the intrinsic challenges that we’ve faced just as a result of being who we are or what we’re interested in.

One thing that I would love to hear your thoughts on and that I’ve been curious about are, you know, how do we think about concrete outcomes, whether it’s coauthoring op-eds with someone more senior who may be able to pull you up and give you exposure in publications that you might not have otherwise? But thinking about how we can create and codify accomplishments and opportunities, particularly in a town that runs on the unpaid intern, which excludes so many of us from day one.

SIMS: It’s a good point.

PATEL: So if you could just fix it. (Laughter.) That would be great and we could all be fine.

SIMS: No, it’s a very good point. I mean, I think this is why a lot of universities have started to actually establish funds for university students who really can’t afford to volunteer their time.

When I was an undergraduate, my parents were scraping to get me through Yale. And I had, you know, the typical university job, which was 15 hours a week. But I wanted to be on the Daily News, which meant that I would have to spend four nights out of the week until 2(:00) or 3:00 in the morning getting the paper out. And I said to my father I can’t do this. And he said, well, what do you make at that little job. And I told him, and he said, OK, this is a stretch, but I’ll do this for one year. And so I was very fortunate.

And really, you know, it was a lot of money for him, but it really wasn’t a lot of money in the scheme of things, but that does make a difference. And I think sort of seeking out those funds at universities, you know, have set up for something like that is important. You really should get some compensation for I think what you do as an intern.

But it’s a good question. You know, I can’t have a silver bullet for it, but I think you just have to be innovative in some way.

PATEL: Yeah, thank you.

And I see a question in the back.

Q: Good evening. Thank you so much for your time today. My name is Amber Whittington and I’m with the United States Agency for International Development. And I am on the Executive Board for Young Professionals at USAID.

And so I’m going to ask you a question about the Millennials. And I would love to hear your feedback and/or your guidance on the millennial international affairs workforce, kind of echoing what my colleague said, but focusing it on the millennial generation. Thank you so much.

SIMS: You just want my assessment of global Millennials? Well, I’m not going to go to the stereotype that, you know, you want everything instantly and you won’t want to pay your dues and you should be running the department right away. (Laughter.) I think some of that sentiment that you hear expressed is just really a reaction to the fact that, you know, you’ve grown up in an era where everything is instant, so why wouldn’t you expect things to come very quickly?

I think that, you know, when I was little, if I needed to figure out how to spell a word, I didn’t understand something, I had to go down to the den and look in the World Book Encyclopedia and that way I remembered it. Because now, of course, a lot of the political, cultural references go over the head because all you have to do is actually Google it to figure out what it is.

But I think, in all honesty, because the house that I run has 700 Millennials, is that I think there is an underestimation for the most part just because there’s a gap here, there’s a generational gap in the same way that my, you know, my parents came of age in the ’60s and ’70s and there was a gap there. And we just have to come to recognize that.

In addition, you know, work as we know it will be very different for your generation than for mine. I worked at The New York Times for 25 years and I could have continued to work there. And that just doesn’t happen anymore. There will be a lot more freelancing contracts. And then also, the type of work that you actually do will change with all the automation and all the technology. I think innovation really comes to bear. When we say innovation, people don’t really understand what that means.

So I’m one of those people who really defends a liberal arts education because I think the ability to reason, to deconstruct, to articulate verbally and to articulate in written form will actually serve you for a lifetime. It’s taking that skillset and knowing how to apply it to the marketplace or the industry that you’re in that will serve you in the long term.

And I think that this generation, more than any, will be able to do that because you start, many of you all, as undergraduates or thinking about businesses and trying to be innovative, and some of them are running businesses as undergraduates. We have, like, I think, 10 people in International House that have companies where they have 10 and 15 employees and they’re in graduate school. That’s sort of unheard of. And so I think there’s just a lot of talent for Millennials and I wouldn’t underestimate where that goes.

But again, I do think that, you know, everybody should know about coding, but coding is not going to be the recipe for a successful career. It’s really innovation in terms of how you take your skillset and apply it, you know, to the social justice issues, to the manufacturing issues, to all the things that, you know, that need these solutions because things have become, as I said, more complex and more global. And if you have that perspective because you’ve been exposed in your life experiences, I think that’ll serve you much better.

How’s that? Is that OK? (Laughter.)

PATEL: Yeah. I mean, a quarter of Millennials engage in the gig economy right now.

SIMS: That’s right.

PATEL: It’s a growing proportion. What I think is always interesting, not that we’re waiting for the herd to die off—(laughter)—but the fact that as we look at the digital economy and digital media space, right, we are all far more fluent within that. It feels very natural to go to Twitter to see not only President Trump’s statements, but also, you know, a Rachel Dolezal holding up a Shea Moisture and talking about, you know, the role of the consumer as an advocate for how they want to spend their money and the social justice issues that underpin it.

I think the real challenge is taking that intellectualism and thought and activism and figuring out how you monetize it, right? I mean, we all have student loans to pay, we all have—there’s a reason people are engaging in the gig economy. It’s not only the flexibility and the ability to be online, but it’s also that there aren’t other options. And to me, I think that’s the great challenge of how you take that liberal arts education or way of thinking about the world and figure out how to create employment opportunities that are impactful on policy, which is, I think, why all of us are in this room.

SIMS: That’s right.

PATEL: Great. Sorry, you were definitely ahead. If I forget people, please just keep raising your hand because I am getting older. (Laughter.)

Q: Hi. My name is Sienna Montero (sp) and I go to—I’m an undergraduate student at Barnard College at Columbia University.

And my question is, based on the fact that you continually reference the game, and I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m a millennial that gives me the audacity to ask this question, but it’s, like, what would it take to change the game or for the game to be kind of nonexistent? Or in what ways does this continual reference and acceptance of the game reinforce its power within public and private sectors?

SIMS: It’s a good question. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

Well, if you make a sports analogy, right, so, you know, a game of basketball, the game of baseball and hockey, they all are changing as new participants come to the table. I mean, look at the Eastern Europeans and how they changed the game of basketball over time.

So I think that in order to change it, you really do have to master what it is and be innovative inside of it. And when I say that, it’s not that you accept it the way it is, you just have to understand how to maneuver it and actually to change it and to make it work for you. So it’s not an acceptance, it’s an understanding that this is the way things work now. But in order to have an impact, in order to be successful, you’ve got to really master it to move it in a different direction.

So I wasn’t saying to be complacent with it. I’m just saying that if you’re going change it, you’ve got to actually master it first.

Q: Earlier you talked about how media organizations are actually much more receptive than we realize to feedback, letters to the editor. At the same time, the media landscape is facing this huge challenge on how to cover the president when he’s tweeting every day, how to cover those tweets when there are outright lies told and, you know, ideas like alternative facts.

And so I’m wondering, what would your letter to the editor look like for the media writ large?

And I think the second part to my question is that there’s a lot of people who actually are not listening to traditional media outlets, like FOX, like CNN, they’re actually listening to or getting their news from Breitbart, they’re getting their news from alternative media sources, from blogs. So do you think it’s effective to actually give them feedback, to write letters to the editor to them when they don’t actually have to comply to any journalistic standards officially? So how do we deal with that kind of media landscape?

SIMS: Yeah. So the letter to the editor would be for principled media organizations to do what they’ve always done, which is to call the game, which is that if you do your reporting, if you’re thorough in your reporting, then you can make an assessment as to whether or not this is true or whether or not this is false. When I was a correspondent overseas, it was much more difficult to do that because you had to come to a place really in short order, master the society of what was going on, because there were all these smoke screens, there were always, as they used to say in Latin America, there are mafias and sub-mafias, you don’t really know who’s really controlling what’s happening. So you have to either be very quick to figure out who knows what’s going on, or you have to hit the ground running and really figure out what the sourcing is.

So, at the end of the day, when the story goes in, you have to be confident that it’s the truth or it has to be couched in such a way that you believe this is the truth based on who you’re sourcing. So journalists have always been tasked with calling the game. If you know your beat and you know it well and you’re well-sourced, you should be able to make an assessment as to whether or not this is true or it’s not true. That’s across the board. And that’s why you go to a principled media organization.

So these other, you know, alternative news organizations that you talk about, anybody can put anything up because there’s access now. And again, it’s a flight to quality. Would you base your investments and your life and your finances on those news organizations? Some people will and the consequences are very grave for those who do that, in the long term.

So that’s why I said the digital divide is really about literacy, you know. How do you know what it is you’re consuming is good for you? The same decisions you make with what you eat has to be the same thing in terms of what you believe and what you base your decisions on in terms of your news consumption.

Q: Hello. My name is Eric Wu (ph) and I’m a junior at Howard University.

And you’ve talked a lot about International House as a place that people from all different backgrounds and all different cultures can come together and live in harmony, despite their cultural differences. So what are the values that you espouse at the International House that seem to have conquered those cultural differences?

SIMS: Yeah. And I have to say that when I say “harmony” it means that there’s no, you know, there’s nobody going to blows and punches, but there are very heated conversations that take place. There are conversations in which people walk away and they feel offended and they complain. And I always say, well, why is it you should never feel offended? And the question is, are you genuinely offended, meaning that you know when you’re offended, you know when someone intentionally tries to offend you? Somebody may not have the nomenclature right or they may not use the politically correct statement, that happens all the time at International House. There may be a cultural misunderstanding. But there’s a commitment on the part of the folks who are there to actually work it out over time.

So I don’t want you to think, like, this is Disneyland for all the, you know, all the international masses, but there’s a commitment to living in that community and actually trying to understand the others. So the values, and they sort of go in this progress, it’s respect, empathy and moral courage. And the notion is, is that if you first respect another person as an equal human being, then you have the ability to show empathy, to try to say I don’t agree with you, but I’m going to understand why you think that way. And then you have the moral courage to act in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise act or in a way that has the best possible impact and outcome. So we sort of do it in that progression.

It sounds pretty good, right? Respect, empathy, moral courage has a certain ring to it.

PATEL: Yeah, right there.

Q: Yes. I thank you for this time and even the questions are amazing.

I think there’s a gap that we haven’t addressed, given the obvious headlines of Mr. Trump. And I wonder your take on a strategic approach to it.

Which is, the institutions that were formally charged with serious diversity issues, from New York Times to Silicon Valley, Washington Post, even as we riot out at—we—out at Berkeley, they all have current and unchanging, so far, structural issues with diversity. And I wonder, this would seem like there’s a moment that you could take an approach to say, don’t you think it’s time that that part of the house began to correct something? This is a major part of that movement, but I don’t hear anything. I hear only the Trump line that the pressure is off of even The New York Times, The Washington Post, our major universities, who all have faculty diversity issues at the Ph.D. level and also at the student level. And I wonder how we might, you know, positively go about saying, OK, this is a moment that we might be able to take advantage of, particularly for the younger students.

SIMS: That’s a good point. I mean, this has been, you know, a longstanding problem. There’s been some improvement. I think we can all say that there’s been some improvement, especially at universities and many of the major news organizations. When The New York Times has Dean Baquet, who is an African-American, who is the executive editor, that alone, you know means that the person who was at the top of that organization has a certain life experience that will be injected into the news copy that flows or the decisions in terms of what is a priority for coverage. So there has been some advancement, there’s still a ways to go.

I think as we see the demographics of the United States population shift, and it is shifting pretty rapidly, and in another generation the Latino vote will be more important than the African-American vote here because of the sheer numbers. And so I think over time, because of the demographic shift, you will see that’s going to have to happen over time.

Again, the ability to produce content very inexpensively, you’ve seen that happen in the motion picture industry, that you don’t have to be a major studio to actually produce something of quality and you don’t even have to have, you know, a movie theater to show it, it can be done online. So the technology has played a role in that and will continue to play a role in that over time.

So the demographic shift, you know, the continual sort of internationalization of the American population, which some people believe that is what Trump is pushing against and his constituency, again, no longer primarily a black-white conflict, but it’s an international conflict with the in-flow of very highly educated foreign nationals who want to contribute to this country like immigrants have in the past and who have a lot to offer.

And so as this transition takes place, I think what you’re seeing is a lot of the pushback. This pushback, I think, is patently un-American and you’ve seen the balance of power in this country actually take hold in many cases. These judges that have weighed in, this is a test of our democratic principles. I think it will make us stronger in the long term. I’m more optimistic that many of my colleagues, I don’t think the sky is falling down, but I think there’s a lot of concern about what’s happening.

But so far, I think we’ve actually seen a leveling that a lot of people didn’t think would happen. Doesn’t mean that you should be quiet, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protest. We tell all of our residents at International House that that’s part of the process. But we do tell them that do it in the best possible way to have the best possible impact.


Q: Hi. My name is Ivan Escamilla (ph). Thank you again for coming to speak with us.

I wanted to bring back your point on respect towards people, but then submerge it in the virtual sense. So often now I see that it’s so easy to start a debate online in Facebook or Twitter or what have you and then just see them as this sort of avatar, this symbol, and the lack of an actual physical presence lets people sort of just kind of go crazy, you know, in terms of conversation. If your candidate loses on Facebook, you’re so quick to just defriend them or block them or whatever without any sort of awareness of your own bias.

So what are sort of the ways we can approach this? Or how can we even approach people that are challenging us? What’s your insight on this?

SIMS: Well, it’s a good point. I mean, I think all of us who read comments and chat sites, you sort of give up after a while if it’s going in a certain direction. You can usually tell what biases somebody has. And you can actually learn a lot from a lot of these chat sites and the comments that people give, whether or not it’s on products or on politics. But in many respects, you know, I like to read online chats and commentary when there is somebody who moderates it so that, you know, they can sort of stop somebody from going too far or if the conversation is not flowing in the right direction they would actually serve as a moderator, as you are, so that it’s more focused and informative. And, you know, you can tell which sites do that and which don’t.

But, of course, it’s easy to lob these grenades and the one-liners and to attack somebody, somebody’s inability to actually write fast enough so there’s, you know, misspellings and then they attack people for that. You know, that’s the stuff you want to avoid.

But I do think, you know, there’s still some value to that, that it does bring people to the table. And if they’re actually reading and, you know, there’s some salient points that are being made and some insights, you can learn from that. But I still stay away from sites that don’t have a moderator, because it can get out of hand.


Q: Thank you. Earl Carr. Thank you, Calvin.

SIMS: Hi, Earl.

Q: How do you engage an individual that doesn’t value diversity, for example a boss or a colleague? How would you engage them?

SIMS: A good question. Wow. (Laughter.) So I’m thinking of this documentary that I was watching with my wife recently on PBS. And I have to remember it.

PATEL: Was it “Accidental Courtesy”?

SIMS: Well, no. There was an African-American guy who is friends with all of the grand wizards of the Klan. Is that what it is? OK, you know exactly what it is.

PATEL: It was powerful, yeah.

SIMS: It was very powerful. So, in the beginning, I just said this is a sideshow, you know, he has all this Klan material at his house and he can actually sit down and talk with them and eat with them. And we kept saying this has got to be a joke. But the more you watch it—and so what he says is he says, if I’m speaking with them, then they’re not fighting against me anymore, I’m having a dialogue with them. And however I can keep that dialogue going, that means that gives them less time to go out and, you know, and do bad things to other people.

And so he believes that if you can convince somebody to have a dialogue, whether or not it goes anywhere in the beginning, that that’s the way to actually start the process of convincing them and changing their minds if they start to see you more as a human being. So I think it’s finding some way to engage them, even if you know they don’t like you or that they’re predisposed to think something about you, I think trying to engage in that.

But I’d be interested in hearing what you think of this.

PATEL: Yeah. It’s a PBS piece called “Accidental Courtesy.”

SIMS: Yeah.

PATEL: It is visually just—it takes your breath away, positively and negatively, to see these things. You know, I think there was in that documentary there was a very real question and tension about, are you excusing people’s behavior? Must there always be an expectation that those of us who come from—who are, by virtue of background, identity, politics, et cetera, who are inherently less empowered than those in power, is it always our responsibility to extend a hand? Must we do that?

And it’s, I think, a hard question to conclude on. The only way things will change is if we do that to people in power and if people in power are willing to unclench their fists. But I think the same could be said for international affairs and how well that’s worked.

And down the aisle, I think you’ve been waiting quite a while. Yes.

With the Russia reset, yes.

SIMS: Yes, that’s right. Yeah.

Q: Hi. My name is Maram Abdelhamid. I’m the founder and president of Liberty and Access for All, a nonprofit here in Washington, D.C. that trains the next generation of leaders to go into civil society jobs.

My question for you, since you come from The New York Times, that you see now that there’s a consolidation of really media outlets, there’s not really a chance for people to write op-eds that actually will be published because most newspapers now are really one, it’s Gannett or whoever it is. And you’ll see that not only is it the same story over and over again, and maybe, like, a change in the Metro Section, but also there’s a lack of covering real international news.

So, for me, for example, to go to—maybe I’ll go and read The New York Times or foreign relations and then maybe the Canadian newspapers or the media outlets or Al Jazeera. But outside of that, you don’t really have real news that is coming from outside, and so it creates this selective empathy. So what is your thought about that?

SIMS: So are you saying that there’s not enough competition? Is that what you’re saying, out there or?

Q: It’s not just—it’s not just enough competition, but it’s not even—(off mic)—media outlets that own the—(comes on mic)—yeah—so that own the media, if you will. So you’ll see that there will be—so, like, you’ll see the front page of, I don’t know, The Denver Times or whatever, it will be the same thing as, you know, The Picayune or something like that. I don’t even think this exists, but it’s just—yeah—

PATEL: So the consolidation of media is resulting in the narrowing viewpoints that are being shared.

Q: Yeah, exactly.

PATEL: With this, also we will ask you to—if you wrap in any concluding thoughts as well—

SIMS: Sure.

PATEL: —as you tackle—(laughs).

SIMS: So, I mean, I think there has been a lot of consolidation, but there still is, I think, vigorous competition within the news business. And so last night was the Overseas Press Club awards in New York City. And the reason why they matter so much, they only exist, the Overseas Press Club, is really to have this awards program. And because those awards are given to the best international news coverage around the world in all different, you know, different type of media, from the internet to newspapers to radio to television, this is why we need these news organizations to continue to actually engage in foreign reporting because it is valued with this award.

It’s expensive to do. It’s dangerous. It’s never been more dangerous than it is today. But you still do have a decent number of news outlets who are out there doing it, including some newcomers, like ProPublica. This is a not-for-profit site that was funded by a big philanthropist. And they’ve won several Pulitzer Prizes, you know, for their coverage, both internationally and nationally.

So, yes, we wish that there would be more, but, you know, the news business is actually driven, for the most part, by profit. And they used to be cash cows where you could dump a lot of money and send reporters all over the world. That has changed. But there’s still a lot of folks who are still out there fighting the good fight.

I mean, it used to be you could put this bad on that said “press” and nobody would go after you because the freedom fighter or the rebel or the terrorist wanted to get their story out. They no longer have to rely on the media to do that, they can do it themselves.

But again, I just want to say that there’s less than there were in the past, but there’s still some good folks who are out there, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, who are still fighting that fight and putting their lives at risk to actually get the news back.

PATEL: Great. Well, thank you so much, Calvin.

SIMS: OK. Thank you.

PATEL: Please join me in thanking him and good luck at the conference. (Applause.)


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