We have all seen the behests included towards the end of a job posting. “ We encourage minorities and women to apply” or “We are equal opportunity employers, and we specifically encourage women and members of under-represented groups to apply for this position.” As a woman of color, these phrases never meant much. They seemed tacked on at the end of every job post. Every institution of higher learning should be working to increase diversity among their faculty, staff and student populations, no? Would I want to work somewhere that didn’t explicitly state this in their job advertisement? The short answer: certainly not. Having done the job market tango several times (and as recently as fall 2013), this phrase became invisible to me. It only received a passing glance as I tried to absorb the announcements, to determine whether I could bend and twist my CV to another job posting.
This seemingly inert addendum at the end of the job call is akin to Batman’s bat-signal. It echoes, “We are here, and we care about hiring you” from the end of the announcement. It is an indicator that they want (or want you to think that they want) to increase the presence of under-represented groups on their campus, to increase diversity. But what do they mean by diversity? In practice, this catchall term means different things to institutions based on their immediate needs, and the needs of the department that is conducting the search. In some instances, you could be the diversity hire if you publicly self-identify as a member of the broader LGBTQ community, or if you are differently physically-abled. In many disciplines, there are so few woman in the field (I’m looking at you Computer Science) that being a woman qualifies you as a diversity hire. In most academic fields, people of color often fill this slot. I have lived my professional life so frequently as the only person of color in the room that I rarely consider what life would be like if I weren’t in this position.
Before arriving here, I assumed that my personal life and (in only some ways) privileged educational experiences had inured me against the bruising that occurs when you are constantly bumping up against micro-aggressions. However, my on-the-job training is illustrating for me how an institutional focus on addressing issues around diversity can impact quality of life for faculty of color. At my small liberal arts college, there are only 200+ faculty members. About 85% of the faculty members self-identify as white. Out of the 15% who self-identify as people of color, only a handful are African-American. Suddenly, this inert phrase has taken on real meaning in my daily life. I am not only marked as the only person of color in many settings – my body, my physical presence ensures that I stand out from everyone else. I am acting as my own public relations director as the students and faculty try to figure out the deal with the new, young, female, black faculty member. This is amplified by the fact the undergraduate population at my last job was comprised of students from various ethnic backgrounds. In that context, there were surely not enough faculty members of color but there were certainly more people of color in the larger university community.
Being the (most recent) diversity hire has taken on additional significance as I am now asked to participate in weekly or bi-weekly campus activities, speaking to issues around diversity. In this position, I am not only expected to partake in community events more frequently than my unmarked peers, but my absence from these events is obvious. There is no sneaking out of a meeting early when you are the sole member of color on the committee. There is no feigning first year ignorance when skipping a special interest meeting. Everyone expects you to be present for the community, to fill in the blanks in broader understandings of crucial topics. This extra work (often referred to as the minority or black tax) is made even more difficult by the fact that many of these events happen after childcare for my 19 month-old ends at 5:30 pm. Who is paying this tax when I do attend these events? My partner, my child, and myself. Who pays when I opt out? The community of color who could surely use more active participants.
We are all too familiar with that dreadful tenure metric (10% service, 50% research and 40% teaching, or some such configuration). What does it mean to your careful calculations of effort when you find yourself taking on an inordinate amount of undocumented service because many of the students of color prefer to speak with you about their career choices, academic progress, and social experiences at the college? Senior faculty suggest that you “learn to say no” This becomes hard when you realize that the students have few other faculty members of color to consult, and this relationship may encourage some students to dig in and invest in this educational experience. For me, this mentorship comes with many rewards including a personal gift of community. But it also comes at the cost of decreased time to complete those things that “count” towards tenure, including research and writing. We are all well aware that no one gets tenure on service alone.
**It should be noted that this problem is not unique to small liberal arts schools. The systematic inequity in our educational system has resulted in college and university faculties that are majority white even when the school itself serves a high proportion of students of color. Students of color at these institutions have expressed the need for increased recruitment and retention of minority faculty (Jones et al. 2002).
As I adjust to my new digs, the students of color and I are finding each other. I am seeking out faculty & staff of color and our allies. I am settling into the intricacies of life as the newest diversity hire on a small campus, with an even smaller population of color. I am learning to honor my personal needs for time at home with my family, the desire to engage with a community of color, and the professional drive to use my time productively and in ways that will be acknowledged when my tenure file goes up for review. When I close my door, pull my shade and hide away in my corner office, I try to remember that I am no good to the community if I don’t get tenure. While I know that there are many folks on campus who never have to consider these questions, I also realize that there are versions of me, different kinds of diversity hires, that are making the same calculations at campuses all over the country.
Jones, L., Castellanos, J., & Cole, D. (2002). Examining the ethnic minority experience at Predominately White Institutions: A Case Study. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1,19-39.