Student diversity depends on faculty diversity

Photo credit: Giulia Heyward
Photo credit: Giulia Heyward

It is thought that if students of color have professors that look like them, success is more tangible. People of color who are attempting to gain access to jobs in academia face large hurdles in the hiring process and beyond. Despite minority groups in the United States growing infinitely, increasing diversity on college campuses is an issue across the nation. The hope is that growing the amount of professors of color will lead to more students of color enrolling and staying.

Racial diversity in a campus environment improves the learning environment and campus climate, in the long run, if a campus can make changes to attract and retain a diverse population of students,” Professor of music Maribeth Clark said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2013, 79% of all U.S. college professors are white. As of 2016, New College has nine professors of color. The growth plan that was just approved will allow for many new positions to open up in the next four years. Around 10-15 a year. The school has expressed that it will be making efforts to add to diversity with these programs, but there is a long way to go with the percent of minority faculty being only 11%. It should also be noted that the only part-time professor is black. Often, even when people of color are hired, they are under employed and underpaid.

Some other issues that professors of color face are that students are more likely to mark professor of color negatively on evaluations. Since, they often do not look how predominately white students would imagine a college professor to look.

“New College bills itself as an inclusive college,” thesis student Paige Pellaton said. “Which may be true to an extent, but I learned that even our small school is not immune to larger discriminatory trends.”

Although, diversity is something that New College boast is important, there are many ways the school could change to support that claim. As of now, New college’s mission statement does not specify its diversity goals.

On NCF’s website, under Mission and Core Values, “The mission of New College is to offer an undergraduate liberal arts education of the highest quality in the context of a small, residential public honors college with a distinctive academic program which develops the student’s intellectual and personal potential as fully as possible; encourages the discovery of new knowledge and values while providing opportunities to acquire established knowledge and values; and fosters the individual’s effective relationship with society,”

The vague nature of the mission statement is troubling. There are no steps presented to how diversity can and would be achieved.  

Another issue that professors of color face are a lack of resources that address them directly. At NCF, there is a faculty mentor center, but it is not based on personal identities. Support systems that focus on marginalized identities would be helpful for professors of color.

 “Change can be hard, and if the campus leadership fails to allot appropriate resources to support of students from marginal groups, then it’s difficult to maintain any progress it makes,” Clark added. “For a healthy learning environment we need faculty as well as students from underrepresented populations.”

Pellaton explained that she had taken a tutorial called Marginalized Identities in Higher Education with Emily Fairchild, a New College Professor of Sociology. In the class, Pellaton stated that she learned about salary difference among professors. Those who are tenured or on the tenure-track make more and white professors are more likely to have tenure or be on tenure track.

One of the books read in Professor Fairchild’s class, Marginalized Identities in Higher Education, was Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education edited by Kristine De Welde and Andi Stepnick. The book is a collection of narratives and statistics written by and about people who hold marginalized identities that work and have worked in academia. 

“I had never known the salary and time discrepancies faculty face because of their professorial status,” Pellaton said.

I hate the fact that administrators use “diversity” so liberally, as a catch-all term when they either mean they are scouting for more women faculty or faculty of color,” Pellaton said. “I wish they could just say it, rather than making it sound like the college is actually cognizant of and actively looking for other types of “diversity” when they’re not.”

Pellaton explained that although the school does have average gender break down in comparison to other colleges in the United States, she said in terms of racial diversity, we are highly lacking.

I absolutely understand that it’s difficult to attract in-demand candidates to the color because of our location and the salaries we offer,” Pellaton said. “But a lot could be done to support faculty, staff and admins of color now.”

Professors of color, especially women are tasked with many activities such as search committees non-teaching events and non-research work. Even if the professors want to do these projects and activities, they are not weighted as much as research and they do not lead to tenure.

“More diversity is necessary too to lessen the loads of all women and faculty of color,” Pellaton said.

This was an idea that was supported by one of the Dean of University-wide Programs and Faculty Engagement in Undergraduate studies and Professor of sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University.

De Welde also claimed there needs to be more faculty of color, so that the burden of participating in search committees and other service commitments does not fall on a few faculty of color, especially women of color. 

“Women of color faculty are more vulnerable to this racial, cultural, and gendered taxation, what I call the double diversity duty,” Corrine Castro writes in the second chapeter of the book.

De Welde explained that she co-edited the book Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education with Andi Stepnick, a professor of sociology at Belmont University, for two main reasons: 

“For one, my own experiences of gender inequality and being mistreated [in academia],” De Welde said. “Secondly, I wanted to heal and see a bridge between my experiences [both] as an activist and academic.” 

De Welde explained it takes work in every aspect of the community to increase diversity. 

“Intentional diversity in terms of race and ethnicity,” De Welde explained. “People think that diversity will occur naturally, so the effort [they put in] is not intentional, but [diversity] has to be intentional.” 

There needs to be programs for faculty of color before and after they are hired. Being hired is only on of the first steps.

“Supporting faculty of color,” De Welde said. “Will lend support to students of color.” 

In De Welde’s opinion, improving professor’s retention rates, will  increase student retention rates as well.

“I think faculty of color need community, as well as Intellectual and social validation, which can  be academic and social.” 

There have been efforts to add to New Colleges diversity. Student affairs has been working on hiring a Director of Diversity and inclusion. This position was included in the 2008-2018 Master Plan.  

“Every institution strives for excellence,” De Welde said. “Diversity is intrinsic to excellence.” 

Some members of the New College community have began to directly address faculty diversity.

“The faculty passed a motion last year that articulated ways in which faculty hiring could focus on attracting diverse pools and bringing diverse candidates to campus,” Clark said.

“New College is more diverse than when I first got here in 1998,” Clark claimed.   “Our culture is tenacious in ways that make purposeful and positive change difficult.” It often seems like there is some new crisis that distracts the leadership from a focus on diversity, whether it’s the recession or the performance-based funding, or, way back, New College’s independence from USF and then the veto by Jeb Bush of the funding to support that independence.”

Clark has been involved in the planning of The Day of Dialogue. A cross campus initiative that allows for conversations amongst students, staff, administrators and faculty that began last year. Another is planned for this year.

“I think an intergroup dialogue program can help,” Clark said. “We need to have conversations about difference that are extended over time.” We need to cultivate a compassionate approach to difference, including self-compassion, getting beyond call-out culture and a culture of argument and critique that can feel like bullying when it appears on the forum, especially in the context of exchanges about identity.”

New College must actively implement changes if diversity is ever going to increase, and if the college wishes to keep students, staff and faculty of color as  members of the NCF community.

One thought on “Student diversity depends on faculty diversity

  1. I arrived at New College from a high school of incredible ethnic diversity. Although New College was far from an exact match in terms of racial composition, I befriended amazing people from backgrounds very different from my own. I had friends who came from incredibly economically disadvantaged circumstances and were complete high-achieving, community-minded geniuses. Whereas it may be faddish to just call these friends “white” and dismiss them as being relatively innocuous, meeting them was a big eye-opener to me and made my experience as New College more unique than the college experiences of my high school friends who attended elite private colleges that could afford to lure the most competent “minorities” to their campuses.

    “Diversity” is such a mis-used term these days. Little mention is made of the lack of intellectual or political diversity amoung American college proffesors, most of whom are left-leaning. Looking back on my NC experience, I’d definitely wish I’d had more comprehensive exposure to a variety of thought in my social science classes. I enjoy lots of types of people and am always interested in hearing differant points of view. I’d love to have these characteristics appreciated beyond just skin color/gender.

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