Though the Donald Trump administration’s concerns regarding the status of HBCUs have been ambiguous at best, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is calling on the schools to be major players in helping to diversify the United States’ agency that deals with international relations and foreign policy issues.

Citing a “great diversity gap” within the U.S. Department of State, Tillerson said on Aug. 18:  “America’s best and brightest are not just from the Ivy League.”

FILE – In this Aug. 22, 2017 file photo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the State Department in Washington. The Trump administration is poised to impose visa restrictions on four Asian and African nations refusing to take back their citizens who’ve been deported from the U.S. officials said Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

He explained: “While our diplomats-in-residence at Howard, Spelman, Morehouse and Florida A&M do an outstanding job ensuring that people understand the opportunities at the State Department, there are more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities and there is so much more we can do to raise awareness about the range of careers at State.”

Tillerson’s mention of the diplomats-in-residence refers to a State Department program that allows foreign-service officials to provide guidance, advice on careers, fellowships and internships to students and professionals. The diplomats-in-residence program represents 16 population-based areas within the United States.

Foreign service officials working as diplomats-in-residence perform roles similar to that of corporate or college recruiters, executing such duties as providing resources and planning events for students and professionals interested in careers at the State Department.      

“I think this is a wonderful statement coming out of this administration,” said Julius Coles, director of Morehouse’s Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership. He graduated from Morehouse in 1964.  “It’s very important in the sense that our country needs to show its representation abroad to be representative of the American people and the population. We are a multicultural society, a multiracial society, and currently the State Department is not very representative of the U.S. population. This has to change. We have to do more to get more of our people into those jobs.”

Tillerson said only about 12 percent of the State Department’s senior foreign service officers are non-White.

“To better understand our talent pool,” Tillerson said, “I have directed the relevant committees to adopt a new procedure. Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate.”

He categorically outlined Black representation within the U.S. Department, saying 9 percent of the foreign service specialists and 5 percent of foreign service generalists are Black. He added that Hispanics comprise 10 percent of the foreign service specialists and 6 percent of foreign-service generalists. Hispanic-serving institutions, such as Miami-Dade College and the University of New Mexico, also will be a pivotal focus of the State Department recruitment strategy.

Before Tillerson’s announcement last week, the Trump administration’s ambiguity has been an unsettling issue for the HBCU community.

Back in February, Trump invited several HBCU leaders to the Oval Office, where he signed an executive order signifying those colleges as important and an “absolute priority” to his administration. But little has happened specifically for the benefit of HBCU schools since that well-publicized gathering, including no appointment of a director to chair the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Tillerson also recommended that the State Department tap more into military personnel as a mechanism to achieve greater diversity.

Additionally, Tillerson stressed a long-term development program to boost advancement of people of color who are current employees of the State Department.

He said, “A big part of developing our minority leadership is identifying qualified individuals five and 10 years before they are ready to become senior leaders, and managing and developing their careers as we do others, so that they are undergoing preparation for those senior roles over time.”