When we faculty members from underrepresented groups assume our first tenure-track position, our more experienced academic colleagues quickly tell us to avoid too much service before earning tenure. They warn us that the service demands will be greater on us because we are members of underrepresented groups and that we must find ways to balance participation in our university communities with learning to say no.
After several years on the tenure track at a major research university, I have learned that, in some ways, such advice could not be more accurate. The demands on us are certainly greater, yet service work often gains scant praise at annual review time. If your research agenda is not on track, the many nights you did not get home until 10 p.m. because you served on a panel or attend a student event do not matter much.
But it is also true that faculty members from underrepresented groups are filling crucial needs on campus when they "choose" to become involved in various forms of service. Those needs exist not only because few people like us are on the campus, but also because we often work with those who don’t treat campus diversity issues with the seriousness that such issues deserve.
Thus, over time I have also started to think about how other faculty members -- those who are not members of underrepresented groups -- can become more involved in improving the campus climate. There a few key things they can do to become more engaged in diversity and inclusion efforts. If you are one of them, I recommend that you:
Diversify your professional networks. Whether or not it is for a speaker series, a job search or student recruitment, universities’ efforts at diversity and inclusion often fail because faculty who are not members of underrepresented groups do not have a network that includes a large number of underrepresented scholars or students. As a result, they seem to be less likely to generate diverse pools for key institutional events and activities. The burden, once again, falls on members of underrepresented groups to point out that the speakers on the conference panel or the interview finalists are all white and male. When pools are not diverse, it also means numbers of faculty from underrepresented groups will remain small, increasing our feelings of isolation and alienation.
Thus, you should take time to learn about the work of scholars from underrepresented groups in your field. For example, go to conferences that high numbers of scholars from underrepresented groups usually attend (e.g. the Association of Black Sociologists, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). Many of these conferences are designed to ensure that scholars from underrepresented groups have spaces to convene, network and gain support, but that should not stop you from attending panels and taking time to get to know the work of students and faculty members whom you can recruit to your university. Once you do this, you will find that while there are fewer scholars from diverse backgrounds, there are enough to diversify your speaker series or job-applicant pool.
See diversity as an asset. Research on organizations has shown that diversity can provide a number of important benefits. For example, companies with more diversity have been found to be more profitable, because more diverse teams in workplaces can be more innovative when conducting various tasks. When I look at my own field, most of those programs consistently ranked in the top 10 have more than one faculty member from an underrepresented group. They also have more than one or two graduate students from underrepresented groups. That undoubtedly fuels their ability to produce innovative research and to constantly draw interest from students and scholars around the world. So fostering diversity at your university is not simply a way to pacify disgruntled groups or a way to resolve liberal guilt. Instead, diversity improves the quality of the university. Your department, program or area of the campus will be limited in how successful it can be if it is not composed of a representative group of people.
Get to know your campus differently, especially if you are tenured. Students from diverse backgrounds often ask faculty members from underrepresented groups to be on panels or to advise projects because they are looking for mentorship from individuals with similar backgrounds. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, we are just the only faculty members whom they find visible and approachable. Students are often excited about meeting with faculty members from a variety of backgrounds who simply show interest in what they are doing and make an effort to understand their college experiences. If you attend events hosted by students from underrepresented groups and spend more time in student spaces, those students will see they can connect with you and other faculty members. That’s particularly helpful if you’ve already earned tenure and can spare a few more hours a week than your junior colleagues who are desperately trying to respond to various student requests while finishing research requirements for their tenure packages. It will also improve the campus climate -- which, in turn, improves recruitment and retention efforts.
Perhaps most important, treat diversity and inclusion efforts with the urgency that you treat other institutional issues. When the final lists of candidates for a job search, admitted graduate students and campus colloquium speakers somehow contain no scholars from underrepresented groups, consider the points I’ve made. A lack of diversity has a lasting impact on the campus -- from the quality of life for students and faculty members to the ultimate success of the institution. Instead of falling back on old, tired excuses -- like you were simply unable to find good candidates -- act with an urgency that ensures your university remains a competitive, nationwide leader.