Chronicle of Higher Education, More Colleges Are Asking Scholars for Diversity Statements. Here’s What You Need to Know.:
Michelle A. Rodrigues has been on and off the academic job market since 2012. During the current hiring cycle, she's noticed something: Many more institutions are asking her to submit a statement with her application about how her work would advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The requests have appeared on advertisements for jobs at all kinds of colleges, from the largest research institutions to small teaching-focused campuses, said Rodrigues, a biological anthropologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The statements tend to be one page, maybe two. In them, scholars are supposed to explain how their experience can bolster institutional efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. Colleges are under increasing pressure to increase access and completion rates for students from underrepresented backgrounds, the thinking goes, so they should hire faculty members who understand their role in improving those outcomes.
Coming up with material for a diversity statement isn't a challenge for Rodrigues. She's Indian, and her research focuses on women of color in science. If anything, such a statement might seem to give her an edge.
She doesn't necessarily see it that way, though. She's concerned about how search committees will evaluate the statements. She also worries about backlash. Committee members who are skeptical of intentional efforts to promote equity in the academy might even penalize her.
Her thought process reflects some of the anxieties surrounding required diversity statements, which are becoming increasingly common in faculty hiring. At least one institution, the University of California at Los Angeles, has moved to require them for tenure and promotion.
Supporters of the statements say they're a way to ensure that scholars of color receive credit for often invisible labor, like mentoring underrepresented students and serving regularly on committees.
By requiring them in the hiring process, colleges can signal to scholars of color elsewhere that they are trying to diversify their mostly white faculties. And requiring them for tenure portfolios can prompt faculty members already at a campus, particularly white academics, to think about how they might help create a more welcoming culture.
But some academics have sounded an alarm about the statements because they see them as potential political litmus tests and consider them threats to academic freedom. Even people who support efforts to strengthen diversity in higher education have their reservations about how committees might use the statements, among other things. ...
Requirements around diversity statements tend to be vague about what should go in the documents. That's on purpose, because they have to be applicable to different disciplines and to candidates who come from a variety of backgrounds. Yet that vagueness can cause confusion.