Academics, you already know: It’s job market time!
There’s a lot of good advice out there on the technical practicalities of applying to positions showcasing your academic talent. Two of the best examples of the genre are The Professor is In and Beyond the Tenure Track. One of the best things these resources do is reveal the formulae behind successful academic writing and presentations of skills.
While serving on hiring committees at two research universities, and in my capacity as an elected member-at-large of a University Senate on the Diversity and Equity Committee, I noticed that Diversity statements can be hard to write, leading to some very tortured submissions. So I’m here to help you to compose Diversity Statements (and to a lesser extent about how to address “diversity” in teaching statements), for both tenure-track and non-tenure track positions at Universities and Colleges. If you follow my advice, the resulting statements should be both compelling and empower you to further the organization missions of diversity and equity.
Lamentably, much of the authoritative advice on Diversity statements are:
- unhelpful, by comparing Diversity statements to storytelling and personal revelation,
- appear to be ideological screening tests (.e.g. telling you to be specific about their specifics on activism) or,
- are unsystematized forums generating little actionable information
So we have to start at with the basics: the purpose of the diversity statement in a job application, and then give specific and actionable advice on how to narratively describe measurable impact towards that purpose.
The purpose of diversity statements, and requests to identify one’s commitment to diversity and equity in teaching statements, is to showcase those aspiring members of the academics who will enhance the increasingly funded campus diversity and equity efforts.
There are some very common errors in execution to meet this goal:
- Bad: Statements trafficking in white racial resentment trying to subtweet equity efforts, especially in reference to the lack of “ideological diversity” because there are “no conservatives” in academia. (Aside: Have you been in academia? There are so many conservatives and technocrats, especially when it comes to gleefulness in which tenured folks bust up unions on campus and under-pay graduate student labor.)
- Bad: I also see a lot of "allies" talking about black people in condescending terms of perpetual victimhood.
- Bad: I see a lot of folks of color mentioning that they are folks of color, as if being a person of color is sufficient for meeting the laudable and important goals of faculty "diversity". Knowing about your background is nice, but these are job statements, we need to know about how you see your part in the story of campus diversity and equity efforts. Showing up is not enough.
Diversity is a buzzword. But this buzzword is not about what you believe, or a debate about the social good. When used in postings for hiring academic professionals, diversity means: show and tell the organization how you will positive impact and increase the returns on their investments into equity and diversity. Diversity, as an organizational practice, means those employee activities which further the cause of treating each person on campus with ‘equal concern and respect’ for their dignity and potential for self-empowerment.
Better: Diversity statements that focuses on the work of equity and diversity. Excellent diversity statements describe the activities you will undertake, once hired, to further this mission without any additional monetary support.
Important note: From the perspective of organization diversity and equity, any member of the academic community falls under the purview of these efforts. This includes: students in classrooms, students and professional in experiential learning opportunities (aka interns), as well as staff and faculty. The best diversity statements don’t forget these non-classroom based activities in the practice of equity and diversity.
There are five core institutional activities that diversity statements should address, including two core instructional activities for those members of an academic community involved in teaching.
1. Mentorship: Mentorship is an inter-personal relationship that grows the resilience capacities of the mentee by helping mentees translate their past experiences and worldviews into present empowerment to build the necessary mindset and skill base to chart their future paths.
Diversity statements acknowledge (the empirical research on labor markets and the academy) that some members of the academic community have difficulty finding mentors, for any number of reasons. Diversity means how you identify, find and mentor these members of the academic community.
2. Advocacy: In all work communities, the relationships nurtured are a crucial element in career success. Advocacy are those activities by more established persons that involve front-end championing and cheerleading for less established persons. Whereas the work of a mentor is generally inter-personal (one on one), the work of an advocate is largely pro-social, literally shaping opportunity. Advocacy, at minimum, promotes the visibility of those been cultivated, and connects them to career opportunities.
Diversity statements acknowledge (the empirical research on labor markets and the academy) that a variety of sociological factors structure perceptions of capability, often working to limit access. Advocates see promise and shape opportunities for members in the academic community that are often under-served to learn and grow. Diversity means how you identify, find and advocate for these students, particularly among colleagues who harbor and/or promote hostility toward pathways to self-actualization that do not mirror their own.
3. Representation and Visibility: All places of employment and training have to make choices about who is included when representing the interests or voices of their organizations, particularly at the department level.
Diversity statements address how you promote, participate, and shape these representational choices. In which situations would including your voice publicly be a boon, and in which situations would including your voices perhaps limit the representational spectrum? How do you make choices about how to approach these matters?
4. Curricula and Training Materials: All places of employment and training have to make choices about what is included in curricula and professionalization training.
Diversity statements should address how you make choices about inclusion and prioritization when it comes to curricula, and how you navigate challenges to your choices from peers, students, and/or outside forces. This is about both responsiveness, representation, and curiosity in determining what counts as "worthy" of being taught and passed off as official knowledge.
5. Classroom management: Many universities and colleges are distinct from other kinds of workplaces due the instructional activities of (tenured and un-tenured) faculty. Instructional activities include classroom management, as well as grading and recognition of exceptional work. In this situations, research has shown that some individuals and groups are denied the status of full partners in social interactions simply as a consequence of institutionalized patterns and situational constraints. Diversity and equity frameworks reveal that it is unjust to participate in systems of pedagogy which disparage the distinctive characteristics (assigned to them) to groups that are denied the status of full partners in social interactions. When institutions structure interaction according to cultural norms that impede parity of participation, this creates conditions of status subordination.
Diversity statements—and really teaching statements writ large-- should address both how you approach these structural problems with structural solutions, and, the evidence that you are prepared to respond to seemingly ineffective behavior with curiosity rather than judgement. (Believe me, I struggle with this.)