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January 23, 2018
At the University of New Haven, 76.38 percent of all employees are white, according to data compiled by the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) Council. This figure is comprised of 73.67 percent of faculty and 77.49 percent of adjunct employees. These numbers tower over the ethnic makeup of employees of color, whose numbers lie in the single digits. The combined forces of all “non-white” employees, (Hispanic, Black or African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native, unknown and two or more races) equate to only 23.62 percent, with the closest contender being Hispanics at 7.4 percent.
Other figures show tremendous lows with the amount of employees in some areas nearly zeroing out. Of all employees at the University there is only 1 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, who is among administration, and only 2.61 percent of all faculty are Asian.
Diversity is more than just having a face of color in a classroom. Students of color are directly affected by not having a diverse faculty, and those effects are seen in the classroom.
Zanaiya Léon, a Diversity Peer Educator and the Vice President of Elite Step team, said she doesn’t feel the lack of diversity amongst faculty and administration at her school has affected her much, because she knew the school was a predominately white institution (PWI) – schools with a population 50 percent or more, white.
Nonetheless, Léon recalled an ethics and diversity course where she often found herself disappointed with the depth of discussions in the classroom when it came to topics like the civil rights movement, and protesting.
“Although [ the professor] was very knowledgeable he still took a lot of his information from the perspective of a white male,” she said. The responsibility of offering “nuance” to discussions fell in the hands of her and the three to four other black peers she had in the classroom.
Despite being the ones to bear this responsibility, said Léon, they were not always able to contribute to the conversation, because they didn’t always have the time.
The scope of this issue goes beyond the students of color in the classroom. Often, a lack of these serious conversations can allow negative behaviors and attitude from other students.
“I, and maybe a few other of my peers, have experienced things differently and we may get ridiculed or get excessive questioning when we’re trying to explain our perspective,” said Léon.
Nathalie Perez, a sister of SIA said, when people see her, they think she is white. Since she was racially mislabeled, her peers once openly expressed hurtful opinions in front of her.
“There have been situations when I’ve had classmates talking and they’ll be hating on people that are immigrants, or other people, and then I start speaking Spanish and they’re like ‘oh my god, whoops’,” she said.
The climate of the classroom is a result of the approach a teacher has in their class, the way they teach, and the things they say. In one of Perez’s classes she felt a teacher opened the door for students prejudice behavior.
“There were some people that were like really not for diversity,” said Perez, “the way [the professor] acted allowed them to just open up and be more open about that specific opinion and it made people uncomfortable.”
She said she found that a lot of opinions in the classroom were one sided when not taught by a diverse teacher, and that some students would hold back during discussions in the classroom.
Unlike Léon, Perez was not prepared for the culture shock that came with going to a PWI.
“I come from somewhere where there’s like so much diversity… everywhere you go you see someone different,” she said.
The undergraduate student body at the university is 64.85 percent white. Students from areas where diversity is commonplace, can have a hard time adjusting to a new climate like a PWI and white students who are used to being in the majority can struggle with adjusting to life through a new lens.
Samantha Duncan, another sister of SIA, talked about how diversity can help white students as well. In life, not every person encountered will be of the same ethnic or racial background as you. Therefore, she believes it’s important to familiarize yourself with the way others view the world.
“You’re going to encounter so many different people from so many different backgrounds,” said Duncan. “It would be helpful to know how to handle those situations, and to have that experience in college so that when you get out in the real world, you’re able to carry yourself better.”
During an Q&A with University of New Haven president, Steven Kaplan, he said that the reason there are not more diversity hires at the university is because there are not enough applicants.
“The biggest challenge is not hiring people of diverse backgrounds, it’s getting them into the applicant pool,” he said.
In an opinion piece she released for the Hechinger Report called “The five things no one will tell you about why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color,” Dr. Gasman outlines five reasons that faculty is not diverse on college campuses.
Her first reason: quality. “Typically, ‘quality’ means that the person didn’t go to an elite institution for their Ph.D. or wasn’t mentored by a prominent person in the field.” She states that this reasoning is used to dismiss faculty of color.
This issue came up as well with Lourdes María Alvárez, former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, at the University of New Haven. She recalls her experience at other universities where a “conscious or unconscious preference” is placed on candidates with similar educational backgrounds as those already employed. Meaning hiring staff will only look at certain applications depending on if they have the same backgrounds as other professors, whether they realize it or not.
During the hiring process, the places where professors who are employed by a university received their degree, in her example Ivy Leagues, were held above those educated at other institutions.
“Maybe somebody who is amazing but who went to state schools, isn’t given enough consideration,” she said.
Gasman says that this way of thinking is linked to social capital. Social capital is, a network of individuals who share common thoughts and practices that enable them to work together effectively. In this respect, if someone is tasked with finding perspective hires, the first place they will turn to is their social capital, or network.
“Oftentimes, when they make hiring decisions, and do searches, they operate within their own circles,” said Alvárez, where she aims to combat by “aggressively” connecting with those groups of people.
Alvárez has trained her staff to do exactly the same thing. They seek out candidates and call them. During the call they present the position and, ask them to pass information onto their friends if they think it might suit them better “That’s how you build the network,” she said.
Hiring a more diverse faculty or administration is only a fraction of diversity issues on college campuses. Just as students do, teachers face struggles of misrepresentation, and understanding from their counterparts, and students.
Felecia Commodore, now an assistant professor of educational foundations and leadership at Old Dominion University, told of her struggles with finding a job in an article published on PBS’ website, originally from the Hechinger Report titled “The shortage of non-white professors is a self-perpetuating problem.”
After numerous rejections from teaching positions Commodore decided to alter her cover letter. Changing overtly racial references like “African-American,” to “cultural.” Soon enough, she was getting offers. The experience left her torn.
“I wondered whether I wanted to be in a field, academia, where you have to whitewash yourself,” she said. “In hindsight, you need a job and you do what you need to do to get a job.”
Professors can also face problems in the classroom. A report titled “Teaching in the Line of Fire: Faculty of Color in the Academy” is in part a joint narrative by five junior faculty from the University of Denver, and one from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale from the Fall of 2009.
They chose to present a joint narrative to their peers in order not to isolate a single voice, but to also reflect that their experiences are, more or less, shared.
Their report mentioned being devalued and disrespected by their students, who questioned the validity of their work.
University of Illinois professor James Anderson said that during conversations he has with faculty of color across the country, he is often told that things are not going well.
“It reminds us that we’re still in a place where underrepresented minority faculty feel isolated,” said Anderson.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had the number of full time faculty members that were white to be at 74.16 percent.