Faculty diversity rises to 19.8 percent

(Administrators hope to increase faculty diversity to 21 percent in 2020. Graphic by Cass Doherty.)

Framingham State University plans to increase the percentage of full-time faculty members from diverse backgrounds to 21 percent by 2020 as part of its new strategic plan, said Kim Dexter, director of equal oppurtunity, Title IX and ADA compliance.

This year, 19.8 percent of full-time faculty are from diverse backgrounds.

The FSU strategic plan was initiated to enhance learning and leadership on campus, increase faculty, staff and student diversity and create a diverse, inclusive work environment, according to the Framingham State website.

The Division of Inclusive Excellence and human resources updates the University’s strategic plan every five years to set new baseline goals.

Susan Dargan, dean of social and behavioral sciences, said, “Twelve years ago, I don’t think diversity was as big a part of the strategic plan as it is now. I think hiring President Cevallos was a great thing because he’s committed to diversity and inclusion and he knows it’s a priority.”

Dexter said the 2012-17 strategic plan set a goal of 12 percent, which has been exceeded.

Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the University is pretty close to the 2020 strategic baseline already, “so, we probably could raise that and will want to” in the future.

FSU’s percentile ranking for full-time faculty from diverse backgrounds is on par with other state Universities.

The Framingham State 2016-2017 common data set recognized 37 out of 198 full-time faculty members as members of minority groups. The percent of full-time faculty at FSU from underrepresented groups was 18.7 for that year.

According to the Salem State University Factbook, 19 percent of the university’s full-time faculty were from underrepresented groups in 2016.

Based on data in the Bridgewater State University 2016-17 Factbook, the percent of diverse full-time faculty at Bridgewater State University was at about 18.5 percent.

The percent of full-time faculty from underrepresented groups at Worcester State University for 2016-17 was at about 18.8 percent, according to data from the Worcester State University Factbook.

According to data from the Fitchburg State Factbook, the percent of 2016-17 full-time faculty from underrepresented groups was at about 10 percent.

As of July 1, 2016, 81.8 percent of Massachusetts citizens are white, 8.6 percent are black, .5 percent are American Indian and Alaska Native, 6.7 percent are Asian, 11.5 percent are Hispanic or Latinx and 2.3 percent are two or more races, according to census.gov.

The University defines diversity using the language of the federal guidelines. Factors such as gender, class and international status are not accounted for in the diversity baseline, said Vaden-Goad.

The diversity data comes from a self-identification sheet on which FSU employees voluntarily disclose their gender, ethnicity and veteran status.

“It is up to somebody if they would like to report, and if they don’t want to, they don’t need to,” Vaden-Goad said.

Dargan said since the University’s diversity data does not include international faculty members, the percent of faculty members from underrepresented groups is higher than officially reported.

She added she would like to see the number of diverse faculty members on campus increase to reflect the number of diverse students, which currently stands between 24 to 26 percent. This is a challenge since tenured faculty hold their positions for many years.

“There isn’t as much turnover in academia, but with our new hiring, we’re doing much better. When we replace people, we get new positions. We’ve really put an effort into diversifying the faculty,” she said.

According to Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Erin Nechipurenko, Human Resources and Academic Affairs promoted new hiring guidelines, training courses and programs to expand diversity and inclusion at FSU.

“The Faculty Hiring Guide was rewritten in 2015 and now includes information on strategies for recruiting diverse candidates, recognizing personal bias in the interview process and being on guard against that bias,” said Nechipurenko.

Dargan and Dexter have been working on the final version of The Faculty Hiring Guide together. “The guide recommends getting a diverse pool” of applicants, Dargan said.

Dexter has recently implemented an Implicit Association

Test that addresses biased assumptions. All search committee members are required to take the test, Nechipurenko said.

Dexter is also in charge of reviewing the candidate pool, encouraging additional recruitment, asking for more details about diversity recruitment efforts and postponing the selection process until a more diverse candidate pool can be established.

Vaden-Goad said, “We’ve started new programs where we invite a competitive search process for people who will bring diverse points of view to the University in their teaching.”

The Mary Miles Bibb Teaching Fellowship is a program that hires individuals who are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion and recently received their Ph.D. “We hire full-time temporary faculty and hope to get them on the tenure track. It’s a way to bring in people who might not come in another way,” Dargan said.

Past and current Bibb fellows include sociology professor Patricia Sánchez-Connally, chemistry professor Ishara Mills-Henry and criminology professor Martel Pipkins.

According to Sánchez-Connally, who was a member of the second group of Bibb fellows at FSU in 2013, the fellowship allows the school to bring in scholars “with different perspectives in regards to research and from underrepresented communities.”

Besides acquiring experience to teach full-time, Sánchez-Connally said her most important achievements as a Bibb fellow were forming the first Employees of Color Affinity Group, collaborating with student leaders to form Student Leaders of Inclusion and Diversity and working on other initiatives such as Intercultural Graduation.

Communication arts professor Robert Johnson was hired in 1992 and was the first African American to receive tenure at FSU. Johnson said it wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that he saw a significant increase in “black and brown” faculty and students.

He said, “Change starts at the top. If we want more diversity, then we have to act to make it happen. … We live in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent world. Among other things, having a diverse faculty provides all students with role models that help them understand the need to develop interpersonal skills, which employers demand you have.”

Dargan said the University is about to launch another Mary Miles Bibb search. “We’re going to sit down, find where the gaps are and what departments are less diverse.”

Junior Jhanai Lee said, “I think diversity within the faculty is important because it definitely makes everybody feel more welcome. I haven’t had a lot of black teachers in my 20 years of life, maybe like three. So, I think it definitely helps students. They can relate to the teacher better and they can open up to that teacher if they are comfortable.”

Senior Pixie Smolowitz said, “Having a diverse faculty means having more diverse material. Because there are diverse students, if all they see is white faculty members teaching the same thing, they may not connect and they deserve to have people they can connect to with similar experiences.”

Smolowitz added, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an English professor of color. That doesn’t mean they don’t have one.”

Another program to improve diversity in the classroom is Widening the Circle for Faculty, according to Millie González, interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement. This program offers workshops and provides faculty with the oppurtunity to revise courses to explore themes of diversity inclusion. Over the past four years, 60 faculty members participated in the workshops.

Vaden-Goad said the University also sends faculty members to national conferences “to try and invigorate the pool of diverse candidates” and promote the school.

Dargan said, “We want to encourage people not to see this as a zero-sum gain, where if you’re increasing diversity and inclusion, you’re hurting someone else. That’s a lot of the rhetoric going on in this country right now, but you’re actually improving things for everyone.

“It’s important for all of our students, for our students who are not students of color, to have experience with faculty from many different groups. … When you bring diverse faculty in, they change the curriculum. They’ll add courses,” Dargan said.

Sánchez-Connally added a course called “Latin@s in the U.S.” English professor Jennifer De Leon added a course called “Contemporary Latinx Literature.” Economics professor Luis D. Rosero added a class called “Latin American Political Economy.”

Criminology professor Pipkins is adding two programs to address issues regarding race following the hate crimes that took place in mid-October. Pipkins said, “According to a research report on the Black Lives Matter Teach-In, a significant number of faculty reported feeling unequipped to discuss issues of race, class, gender and sexuality in class.”

Pipkins will be running an intersectionality reading group for staff exploring socio-historical constructions in the U.S.

He will also be collaborating with sociology professor Lina Rincón and Director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence Chon’tel Washington in the spring to provide a series of workshops for faculty. These workshops will teach faculty new ways to restructure and enhance their teaching practices, “navigate difficult conversations,” and educate students about racism, sexism, classism and national boundaries.

“We will need to institutionalize programs like these so that they are part of the fabric of the University, as opposed to glittery accessories that fall off after one wear,” Pipkins said.

Johnson said, “Diversifying faculty and staff is a necessary first step. The next steps should include education.” He suggested to improve education, instructors of first-year foundations sections should devote the fifth hour to diversity training and the University could improve the current “diversity minor” by adding courses to make it a “diversity major.”

He added, “Long-term solutions could include making African-American studies, women’s studies, and queer studies part of a separate gen ed requirement for all students or developing these as stand-alone academic departments, as many universities have done decades ago.”

Sophomore Brianna Capone said, “I think the teachers and the staff really reflect the way students think. So, if there is a lot of diversity, the students will be more accepting of diversity. Teachers are our biggest role model on campus since we don’t have our parents.”

Dargan said, “We’re hoping that with some of the stuff that’s going on on this campus, that people realize all of our students need to take a course in diversity and inclusion.”

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