AU sees improvements in diverse faculty hires
Some students say diversity efforts won’t come fast enough to impact them
After students, staff and faculty led calls for more diverse faculty at AU, administrators say they are seeing improvements in hiring faculty of color at the University. But several students, particularly black students, say progress is not being made fast enough.
Over the past two years, AU has hired more faculty of color than previous years, according to data from AU’s academic reference book. Part of the reason behind the hires, administrators say, is a greater sense of accountability that came with the new Inclusive Excellence plan, the University’s diversity and inclusion strategy unveiled in January.
According to preliminary data for the 2018-2019 academic year, over one-third of the 70 new faculty members self-identified as Hispanic or non-White.
“We’re pretty happy [with the data],” said Acting Dean of Academic Affairs and Vice Provost Lisa Leff. “We’re not done, but we feel like we’re moving in a good direction.”
The University employed 901 faculty members in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to AU’s academic data reference book. About 19.5 percent of those faculty self-identified as Black or African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian-American, American Indian or Native Alaskan or Multiracial. That’s a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year.
When looking at faculty diversity in the school as a whole, the impact of hiring more diverse professors may seem less apparent since the increases are small, Leff said. But each year can help make a difference, she added.
“From a student perspective, every year, half of your instructors are people who were hired in the last couple of years,” Leff said.
This year the University hired 25 new faculty members as AUx advisor-instructors, and 14 self-identified as ethnically diverse, according to data from the Office of Undergraduate Education. AUx, which became mandatory this semester, is the first-year experience class meant to help students in their transition from high school to college. Assigned to 76 students or fewer, these first-year advisors have a greater opportunity to connect with their students, said Jessica Waters, the dean of undergraduate education and vice provost for academic student services.
“This really was a multi-year effort to completely revamp the first-year experience,” Waters said.
A campus climate survey taken in spring 2017, prior to a hate crime that targeted black women at AU, reported that only 34 percent of Black or African-American students felt that AU is committed to creating a sense of belonging. Leff said she recognized that the lack of racial and ethnic representation among faculty contributed to these results.
“We know students of color do better when there are faculty of color,” Leff said.
To make sure first-year students could establish mentorship relationships with their advisor-instructors, Waters said they made deliberate efforts to hire diverse candidates.
“We wanted the most expert and the most diverse, and recognizing that those would probably be the same thing,” Waters said.
“I have no role models”: Students say lack of faculty diversity has shaped their college experience
For many students, the progress AU has made in diversifying its faculty is difficult to see. Isabella Dominique, a junior and the vice president of AU’s NAACP chapter, said she appreciated that the Inclusive Excellence plan included faculty diversity, but she still had some doubts.
“It’s something that won’t ever impact me because I feel like they won’t get hired fast enough,” Dominique said. “At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if I never had another black professor.”
Senior German Figueroa said the lack of representation has affected him personally.
“It’s really sad that I see my professors are all white and the people that serve me are all black. It’s teaching me to internalize those things,” Figueroa said. “I associate smartness with whiteness and service with blackness.”
Dominique pointed out the history of D.C. as the “Chocolate City” and the existence of “smart black people everywhere.” Despite this, Faith Gay, a junior in the School of International Service, said she has researched successful African-Americans in her field to prove they exist.
“It seems like that’s not reflected at AU,” Gay said.
Both Leff and Waters acknowledged that students often seek faculty mentors who look like them. For some students of color, those mentors can be hard to find.
“I have no role models [at AU],” Figueroa said. “I would like the future generation to have more role models.”
Dominique said one of her best friends studying justice and law has a professor who is a black woman and a district judge.
“She always tells us, ‘Oh my god, I want to be like her. I love her, she’s so amazing,’” Dominique said. “I feel like when kids see stuff like that, it’s like ‘my dreams are actually achievable.’”
This is the first year that Dominique has had a black professor, and she said she sees the representation affecting her personally, too.
“I feel safer in a way,” Dominique said. “If some kid said something really stupid, I’d know he’d be there to defend us.”
University says they’re paying more attention to diversity in recruitment process
The Office of Undergraduate Education was charged last year with leading the search for AUx advisors. Waters and her team partnered closely with the Office of Human Resources, which had been doing a pilot for diversity and recruitment. Human Resources led Waters and her team through a year-long training on diversity and inclusion before the search for faculty hires for the 2018-2019 academic year.
First, Human Resources helped identify places to advertise the position and recruit candidates where they were likely to get more diverse individuals. This active recruitment is part of a University-wide practice called target of opportunity hiring, where the University bypasses normal search procedures to recruit and create new positions for professors. The process was designed to hire professors like Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, who founded The Antiracist Research and Policy Center last year.
Before applications came in, the search committees also participated in a training on implicit bias. That training is now mandatory for all members of search committees, Leff said.
For example, if a committee member argues that a candidate simply isn’t a good fit, a person designated as the diversity and equity chair should prompt that member to provide evidence. This awareness of implicit bias is also a prominent practice in hiring new professors, Leff said.
Beyond resumes and interviews with search committees, candidates completed writing exercises, such as writing sample emails to students and colleagues, and taught a mock class to volunteer students, faculty and staff, who also gave feedback to the committees.
Many of the University’s current and upcoming strategies to improve faculty diversity look similar to those that Waters and her team used in hiring the AUx advisor-instructors.
“We really far exceeded expectations and I think we need to do that everywhere, all across campus in all the hiring we’re doing,” Waters said.
Still, Dominique said that she’d like to see the University make greater progress in diversifying faculty — sooner rather than later.
“That was one of the very few things I feel like black students actually asked for, was representation,” she said. “I feel like AU is very slow to ever make progress on genuine efforts to actually impact the black student experience.”
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's October 2018 fall print edition.