Women in International Relations discuss experience, share advice

Sophomore Haruka Noishiki, president of a new club on campus for women in International Relations, poses for a photo in the Fletcher School on Apr. 24, 2019. (Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily)

In recent years, women have gained a more prominent role in international relations (IR). While gender disparities have been known to exist within the field, the extent of such disparities varies within different IR concentrations. Meg Guliford, a doctoral candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, mentioned that, while women may now be better represented in certain sectors of IR, women are still the minority across the board.

“[I’m] not saying it’s great, and there’s room for improvement, but the attention that women receive now as both practitioners and scholars has increased [to] where the idea that we will not have all male panels [is more common],” Guliford said.

When Eileen Babbitt, professor at The Fletcher School, started working in IR, there were very few women. During a seminar for a dissertation fellowship she received from the MacArthur Foundation, Babbitt was the only woman present.

Babbitt spoke further to her early experiences as a woman in IR.

“I had to learn to speak up, and it was not easy to do,” Babbitt said.

Yet Babbitt feels the balances are shifting, with more women going into this kind of work.

“I think it’s much better now for women. First of all, our numbers in this field are much greater, so you can actually find … mentors who are women,” Babbitt said.

Along with finding mentors, women have more opportunities now. Babbitt highlighted Foreign Policy Interrupted, an organization dedicated to publishing articles by women scholars in IR, and the International Studies Association, an international network of scholars which provided a whole day of networking for women before the conference.

Tufts undergraduates have noticed these gender imbalances as well. Senior Eva Kahan saw the gender disparity playing out while working at the Pentagon through a fellowship. Kahan oftentimes stood as the only woman in the room during her time in the nation’s capital and, even at Tufts, Kahan has seen these gendered differences. Case in point: She found herself as the only woman in a Middle East to World War I history recitation.

Despite these experiences, Kahan values the strong community here at Tufts.

“[It has] helped me develop a set of skills and a set of ways of talking about gender that help me navigate this … weird, biased space,” Kahan said.

Kelly Greenhill, associate professor and director of the IR program at Tufts, spoke about her view on being a woman in IR in an email to the Daily.

“I don’t think of myself as a woman in IR, but rather as a person in IR. So, for instance, if asked, as I occasionally am, what the woman’s perspective is on a particular issue, I always answer that I cannot and would not venture to speak for women. Rather I can only speak for myself, about my own views and my own knowledge,” Greenhill said.

Sophomore Haruka Noishiki observed gender dynamics during Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC), an Experimental College class run by the Institute for Global Leadership that covers a different topic in IR each year. Prompted partially by these experiences, Noishiki has been part of a group of students who started the Women in IR (WIIR) student group at Tufts.

“The general idea of Women in IR is to create a space for … undergraduate students interested in working in or studying IR … [and] building a space where students can find other women who are interested in related fields,” Noishiki said.

The group organized a speaker panel, complete with brunch and networking opportunities, as its first event. Three Ph.D. students from The Fletcher School, each with a different area of expertise, shared their experience as women in IR. Noishiki reported a positive response from attendees.

“A lot of the people there were really supportive of starting a group like this on campus and having events catered towards understanding how women can build careers in IR, but the event was open to anyone who was interested,” Noishiki said.

When asked about goals for WIIR, Noishiki hoped the group would remain accessible to all, as well as eventually becoming a Tufts Community Union-recognized club.

“I hope that it stays an open group that’s welcoming to women of different backgrounds and also [women] with different goals who are interested in IR as an academic field or IR as career path, because I think those things can mean different things,” Noishiki said. “I think my biggest goal for this group in the long run is for people to be able to build connections that last beyond Tufts and that are actually fruitful.”

Kahan, who has been heavily involved in the Tufts IR community, feels the environment here at Tufts has had a positive impact on her experience studying IR.

“I felt really lucky because at Tufts I feel like I was exposed to a lot of different international communities and international opportunities,” Kahan said.

In Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES), Kahan noticed a significant gender bias, particularly in the area of security. At Tufts, ALLIES has worked to provide a space for women working in security to talk to and support each other.

Through ALLIES, Kahan has hosted a variety of extracurricular events to discuss what it means to be a woman in IR. This included a workshop on elevator pitches and a long conversation about mental health. Kahan wants to provide underclassmen with the support that empowered her when she first started out in the field.

“A lot of what I’ve done, and a lot of what I’m excited to keep doing as I move on out of Tufts, is just working [one-on-one] with other women and figuring out where they’re at and how I can help them,” Kahan said.

Student groups like ALLIES and WIIR are working to foster a space on campus for students interested in IR. Greenhill also shared her advice for those who are just entering the field of IR.

“You’ll produce better, far more interesting work if you study things about which you are passionate and care deeply … Go where your interests lead you, rather than [try] to game the system, follow fads or fit yourself into someone else’s model of what you ‘should’ study,” Greenhill said.

Guliford advised students not to be discouraged by Introduction to International Relations (PS 61). She said the class provides students with a broad swath of what IR is; each professor who teaches the course often has a slightly different focus, allowing students to take any direction within IR moving forward.

“Find the thing along the way in [PS 61] that you’re like, ‘I want to know more about that,’ and take your next class in that,” Guliford said.

She went on to emphasize the importance of having tangible skills. For Guliford, this means learning how to code, even if just at a base level.

“It’s becoming increasingly important to understand how to be both a good consumer of quantitative analysis as well as, in some cases, [a producer] … of it yourself,” Guliford said.

Specific skills such as coding, Geographic Information Systems and econometrics set Tufts students apart once they graduate, Guliford added. Babbitt echoed Guliford’s point about having skills and experience. Demonstrating proficiency in a second language stood out as a particularly crucial skill for Babbitt, with a corresponding experience being time spent in another country, whether through travel, internships or study abroad.

Kahan spoke about the importance of reaching out to people. As a first-year, she didn’t realize how willing to help people in the same position or field would be.

“Not just women, but [for] pretty much everyone whose office you can go to here [or] at think tanks, at other universities, at organizations or companies that work in your desired field, if you can go to them and say, ‘I’m interested in what you do and want to do it as well or better,’ they’re often really excited to see someone who actually cares,” Kahan said.

Finding allies and mentors in this field is something Babbitt believes to be essential. Tufts is a great place for this because the people ahead open doors for those who come after them.

“This is where mentorship is really important, because people can call someone to help you get an internship or suggest a topic that you might not have thought about or a whole set of readings that hadn’t occurred to you. That itself starts to open doors that continue to follow you throughout your career,” Babbitt said.

Guliford was adamant about her last piece of advice.

“Never in an academic capacity, in a professional capacity, or often in a personal capacity, preface [a question] with ‘This might be a dumb question,’” Guliford said.

Guliford has had many students in her classes ask her questions individually that they had not asked in the class which may have sparked further discussion. This happens particularly with the women in the classes she has taught or TA’d for. She believes that this deprives “classmates of seeing you in your most excellent state.”

“You’ve still got to step up. You’ve got to practice courage at low levels when the cost is so low. For you to raise your hand and ask a question, the cost is so low,” Guliford said.

Just because women are there, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically included in the conversation.

“People aren’t going to wait on you, and they’re going to stop looking for you if you don’t step up. If there’s a space open, you have to step in it because, much like power vacuums in the world, somebody will get it. Vacuums don’t remain vacuums for long,” Guliford said.