Ismaila Whittier, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, remembers the moment he applied to become a Foreign Service officer, propelled in part by Mr. Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
On Jan. 6, as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Mr. Whittier watched events unfold from his parent’s house in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and felt “secondhand embarrassment.” How could he promote American values abroad when they were being upended at home, he wondered.
Mr. Whittier, who took the Foreign Service exam in February, applied for the job, which he had not pursued when Mr. Trump was in office because of the administration’s “lack of respect” for multilateral agreements like the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accords.
“President Trump was very unusual,” Mr. Whittier said. “That’s what completely put me off of joining the Foreign Service.”
Despite Mr. Biden’s pledge to “re-engage the world,” multiple candidates for the Foreign Service said they remained aware that the State Department had a lot of room to improve, specifically on issues of diversity.
The agency, which has a reputation of being “pale, male and Yale,” has been pushed to reckon with its record on race. State Department data showed that only 80 Black Foreign Service officers and specialists were promoted in the 2019 fiscal year, meaning 1 percent of the over 8,000 diplomats who competed. As of last year, of the 189 ambassadors serving in embassies overseas, only three career officers were Black, while four were Hispanic, according to the American Academy of Diplomacy.
The Biden administration said that tackling the lack of diversity in the diplomatic corps would be a priority. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in February that the department would hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer. In recent days, Mr. Biden has received criticism from lawmakers for not naming enough Asian-American candidates to senior roles.