Friday, September 02, 2016

Diversity Statements

Around the interwebs, I've been reading about colleges/universities requiring "diversity statements" along with teaching philosophies (and perhaps other statements).  My school, to my knowledge, doesn't require separate statements.  But my department always puts something about diversity, social justice as a qualification in our ads.  I can't speak across the campus as a whole, but in my department, we think it's important.  And we want new colleagues who think it's important.

I've seen some complaints about such ads or statement requirements as BS.  So I thought I'd say a few words about why I don't think it's BS, and why I think it's important.

Some years back, I was in some diversity training on campus and we were discussing putting diversity into the qualifications for academic ads, and one of our deanlings, who taught in Social Work, complained that if contributing to diversity were a requirement, he wouldn't get a job now.  And all I could say was, then you wouldn't get a job, and how could anyone even think they could qualify for ANY job in Social Work if they couldn't contribute in some way to diversity efforts on our campus?  HOW?

The implication of his complaint was that as a white man, he couldn't contribute to diversity on campus, and that such ads would discriminate against white men.  I think that's exactly wrong. 

I know grad students and adjuncts are incredibly busy, and if you're a chemistry student, thinking about diversity may seem alien.  It shouldn't.  (I'm using chemistry as a field where it may seem diversity is unimportant.)

White folks can contribute to diversity efforts.  We can take advantage of diversity training on our campuses, especially training for TAs and newer faculty (since those folks are mostly on the market).  We can contact offices on campus that support students with disabilities, students of color, first generation college students, students who are vets or non-trads, and we can make sure that our syllabi include information about these offices for students, make sure that our materials are accessible, make sure that we think about these students and teach for them, and not just white students who are well-prepared 18 year olds.  (I don't remember ever having a conversation with a person of color that revealed that that person had never thought about diversity.  We may not have gotten to diversity, if, say, we were standing in line at the grocery chatting about the cold weather, of course.)

The thing is, we should be making these efforts as a standard thing, and should be able to talk about why they're important to us.

For those with a bit more time, think about student groups on campus you can support with a small investment of time.  Maybe you can offer students in a discussion a small bit of extra credit for attending a Pow-Wow or talk on campus, or just take 5 minutes every week or two to tell your discussion students about some of the things happening on campus that they aren't already hearing about.  (No need to tell students that there's a football game, but do they know there's a drum group?  a chemistry speaker?)

If you have more time, then you can do some other activities, perhaps volunteer, whatever.

For those of us who care about diversity, we're looking for colleagues who demonstrate that they've worked to gain some awareness, made some basic efforts.  In an English department, we're likely to hear about teaching authors of color, teaching race issues in earlier lit, and so on.  But if you're applying in a chemistry department, you might really stand out if you've thought about how to mentor students of color or women in your courses, folks traditionally underrepresented in your area.  I can tell you that I have colleagues in chemistry here who think diversity is important, and who'd give that application additional attention because that's a qualification for teaching chemistry for our students, and for the students we want to come study here.  Take diversity and social justice seriously; it's not a throw away for many people reading your applications.

If you're a person of color, or a person with a disability, then you've probably already got ways to talk about your experiences and your commitment to diversity.  You've probably already put in the time to work towards social justice in a variety of ways.  But doesn't mean that someone reading your application will know about your experiences and work unless you tell them.  So tell us, please!

1 comment:

  1. This is a struggle we're fighting here at our university.

    When I first came here, my "mentor" literally told me, giving me the syllabus he thought I should teach (all white male Europeans), that "really" he didn't see any need to introduce "new" writers into the canon, that if they were any good, people would have found that out a long time ago.

    Things are better now; but I'm still among the few professors regularly teaching women writers and writers of color. And this isn't because the other professors are *deliberately* being misogynistic or racist. It's just that they (being white guys) just happen to like Hemingway, and Steinbeck, and Joyce, and those other white guys, so why shouldn't they teach those white guys? (Caveat: #notAllWhiteMaleProfessors)

    And they haven't read that many (any) women, or brown writers, so they don't know anything about them, including who is good, so how can they teach them? There's the problem. That's what we need to fix.

    So yes, if these (white male, mostly, sadly enough) professors think they fall short in the diversity department, probably some of them do. But there's a solution to that, and maybe they should look into it.

    I'm just saying.