The Wide Open World of Diplomacy

David Wellman and LAS Dean Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco

Grace School of Applied Diplomacy Director David Wellman talks about his background, his research and his hopes for the new school

The excitement in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS) is palpable. Ever since the announcement on Sept. 10 that a new school—The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy—has been added to the college’s already impressive portfolio of educational programs, LAS faculty and staff have been busy putting together the myriad parts of this ambitious, multidisciplinary endeavor.

Anchoring it all is David Wellman, an associate professor of religious studies and now the inaugural director of The Grace School. Wellman, who has been teaching at DePaul since 2005, seems to have been readying himself for this opportunity his entire career.

David Wellman and LAS Dean Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco

“My undergraduate degree is in international relations, and I was actually training to be a diplomat when I was younger,” Wellman says. “Over a period of time, I decided that I wanted to be an academic.”

The book that emerged from his dissertation, “Sustainable Diplomacy: Ecology, Religion and Ethics in Muslim-Christian Relations,” was “foundational to my work in diplomatic studies.” Wellman is “very interested in the idea of the ecological crisis as providing a common language in diplomacy. I tell people that regardless of who you are, I know three things about you. I know you need clean air, potable water, and arable land, and you don’t get to have any of those things that you don’t work and play well with others.”

Playing well with others is the essence of diplomacy, but The Grace School has an intentionally broad definition of who engages in diplomacy.

“I think that we’ve become confused, particularly in the United States, about what a diplomat is because a lot of our more recent Secretaries of State have been politicians,” Wellman says. “In my opinion, a politician is often not an ideal diplomat, because a politician is conditioned to be concerned about winning elections.

“I think that being a diplomat is a higher calling,” he continues, “one where you’re devoted to the process of building bridges and creating sustainable relationships. Most laypeople turn on the TV, and they see two heads of state shaking hands and agreeing on something. What they don’t realize is that moment is the product of many months, if not years, of work on the part of many nameless people who work very, very hard to educate those two heads of state on the history of the relationship and then to engage in all of the negotiations and mediation that would lead to an agreement of some kind.”

Wellman just described the traditional role of a governmental diplomatic corps, but The Grace School embraces a broader approach to diplomacy called transprofessional diplomacy. “We want to train people who would like to take the foreign service exam, but also people who are interested in practicing diplomacy in many other areas—businesspeople, scientists, artists, educators, community organizers, clergy members and activists, among others,” Wellman says. “That is what has guided our program and the creation of the 16 concentrations that students can choose from at the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

Finally, when asked to define a diplomat, Wellman says, “I’m really persuaded by diplomacy scholar Paul Sharp, who says that a diplomat is a useful stranger who has intentionally stepped out of the context of specifically identifying with a particular group, though he or she is definitely a part of a group, to put their feet in a systematic way into the shoes of others to understand how the well-being of another group is intrinsically connected to the well-being of their own group. When you think about these people who are citizen diplomats, what unites them all is that they were individual people who, through tenacity, courage, and creativity, made themselves into these figures for change.”

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