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After Trump victory, women’s leadership dinner takes on ominous tone
Diplomatic Pouch / November 21, 2016

By Larry Luxner

When the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security planned its Nov. 15 annual dinner with “Marking Transitions” as its theme, the transition its members had surely envisioned was Hillary Clinton making history as the first woman president.

But now that Donald Trump — and not the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state — will be moving into the White House in less than two months, the mood at this year’s gala was anything but festive.

“Many of us are still feeling quite down that we didn’t break that highest barrier,” said Melanne Verveer, executive director of the institute, which after all was established by Clinton, who remains its honorary founding chair.

Verveer, nominated by President Obama in 2009 as the first U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues, blasted the Trump election campaign — and specifically the hatred and bigotry it unleashed against Muslims, Hispanics and anyone who disagreed with his “Make America Great Again” rhetoric.

“I want to say to our non-American friends tonight: This is not who we are, and the rest of us will not allow this attack on our values, undermining good people and allowing intolerance to take place,” she said. “A lot of us are really feeling it. We have Muslim students, undocumented students. I know there’s great fear everywhere. They’re afraid of what might be out there.”

Rosemary Kilkenny, Georgetown’s vice-president for institutional diversity and equity, echoed that concern.

“As we face the disturbing campaign and the even more disturbing result, let civil discourse reign and mute the voices of hatred that we sometimes hear,” Kilkenney, a native of Guyana, said as she blessed the meal. “We have an urgent challenge facing us, but we will triumph.”

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security was established in 2011 and is housed at the university’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. Its mission: to examine and highlight the roles and experiences of women in peace and security worldwide through cutting edge research, global convenings and strategic partnerships.

At its broadest level, the institute is a continuation of the mandate articulated in Resolution 1325 of the United Nations Security Council, which was adopted in 2000. It reaffirms “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” and stresses “the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

Nevertheless, the Nov. 15 dinner was an intimate affair, attended by only 50 influential women gathered around five tables at Georgetown University’s Riggs Library.

The all-female guest list included four foreign ambassadors posted to Washington: Albania’s Floreta Lula-Faber; Ireland’s Anne Anderson; Kosovo’s Vlora Citaku and Luxembourg’s Sylvie Lucas; the latter joined the D.C. diplomatic community only two months ago.

Other officials included Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith; Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Celeste Wallander, special assistant to the president and the National Security Council’s senior director for Russia and Eurasia; Evan Maureen Ryan, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs; Sarah Sewall, undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights; and Elissa Slotkin, assistant secretary for international affairs.

Also at the dinner — which featured fall greens with sugared walnuts, seared Atlantic salmon and wild rice and orzo pilaf, and for dessert, crème brûlée — was Deborah Lee James, 23rd secretary of the U.S. Air Force; Rep. Nita Lowy (D-New York) and NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Final remarks were offered by Karen Kornbluh, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and now executive vice-president of external affairs at Nielsen.

In fact, the only man to speak was Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, who offered his guests a warm welcome. He highlighted the school’s Jesuit roots and the fact that it is the nation’s oldest Catholic institution of higher learning.

“Our way of life calls us to support the formation of our students, and as an institution of responsibility we have to contribute to the common good,” DeGioia said. “This tradition encourages us always to engage with one another to solve the most pressing problems of our time, like empowering and recognizing women. We want to thank you all for your exemplary commitment to service, and all you do.”

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