How to address diversity and identity in your Peace Corps application
One of the Peace Corps’ three goals is “to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.” One way the Peace Corps accomplishes this goal is by reflecting America’s rich diversity in our Volunteers.
Over the last 57 years, Peace
Corps Volunteers have showcased our rich and multifaceted diversity and served
as cultural ambassadors in 141 countries. I asked several colleagues to answer
key questions on why they believe diversity is important and where throughout the application process it might be discussed.
Justin: Do you think it is important for the Peace Corps to recruit and select diverse applicants?
Natalie, diversity recruiter: Yes. Understanding and comprehending that the word "diversity" is deeper than black, brown and white is key. Americans, regardless of the shade of their skin, make up a variety of intersections that creates a unique experience and reality for each person.
Harris, placement officer: Of course! Some cultures have an idea of the United States that is homogeneous and exclusionary of the complexity and history of identity in America. There is a great article on the Peace Corps website by a Filipino American Volunteer serving in Thailand that reflects the perspective that some in other cultures have of the U.S. It is important for the Peace Corps to recruit various backgrounds (such as age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender identity, religion and many others) as it adds a narrative to the American identity that many people of other cultures may not realize.
Justin: What is/are some good time(s) to discuss topics related to diversity and identities during the application process?
Natalie: In the Volunteer description on the website, the Peace Corps briefly mentions the living conditions a Volunteer may face if they identify with a particular intersection. Though this an okay start, the conversation needs to continue with recruiters and the interview process.
Daurie, placement officer: I would highlight the motivation statement and résumé (especially involvement in clubs or organizations representative of diversity/identities) as spaces to highlight diversity. During the interview there are several places to discuss identities, but some applicants do a good job of highlighting their own identities while demonstrating their ability to work effectively with others who are different than they are.
Justin: How did one of your identities work to benefit you during your service/time abroad?
Daurie: During my time in Mexico, I think my identity as a woman was beneficial to my work as a teacher. Since most of my Mexican colleagues were women, it was easier to establish rapport and trust with them in circles that were often created along gender lines. I also had the opportunity to show my fellow teachers and students an example of different gender norms. While I dressed professionally, I did not wear skirts or heels like many of my Mexican counterparts.
Harris: My Muslim identity actually helped a lot within my community. I served in Madagascar, where Christianity is the religious majority, but Islam is probably the second biggest religion there. I was curious to go to one of the four mosques in the community to see how differently they practiced and decided to attend a Friday prayer. After attending and praying, it spread like wildfire that the foreign English teacher at the middle school was Muslim. It excited so many people... It certainly was a way that I could connect with many in the community and it honestly made integrating into my community easier in some ways.
In summary, the Peace Corps actively seeks out and values candidates who provide unique perspectives to service. The identities we bring with us to service provide challenges and benefits during our 27 months in country.
From starting to think about your application, talking with a recruiter or during your interview, there are many opportunities and resources available to consider how your identities will come into play.
Justin Tabor is a placement officer. He served in the Philippines from 2008-11 where he taught English and education subjects at a community college. Harris Javed and Daurie Mangan-Dimuzio are also placement officers. Natalie Felton is a diversity recruiter based in Chicago.