Reader Question: Disillusioned by Lack of Diversity

Dear xykademiqz,
I’m reaching out as I’m not sure where to turn and the anonymity of the blogosphere may be helpful here.
I’m an assistant professor who was trained in a field with pretty equal gender representation up until the postdoctoral level and studied in a pretty racially diverse city. I’ve moved to a field where diversity is dismal and the city is extremely segregated. My department has minimal gender and near non-existent racial diversity; further, age- and tenure-wise we lean extremely senior.
As a junior, non-homogenous hire, I’ve been thrown on the new diversity committee that was formed after the obligatory formation of said-committees throughout the US after the events of his past summer (on top of ~4 other committees). Since the formation, we haven’t done too much action, as there’s been ridiculous number of fires to put out. One event had to deal with comments of someone with tangential relation to the department sharing that not everyone is equally capable of performing STEM… and no action has been taken by the department for a while to address this. Students know about this. Staff. Faculty. And the response is crickets. People continue to collaborate with said someone. It might be “too political” to make a statement otherwise.
My question is two-fold: first, long-term, these are the people who will be voting on my tenure. How can I trust a fair judgement? Second, every time this committee meets I feel worse about the world and my colleagues. Should I quit the committee?
Yet, my friends say I should be “proud I’m changing the face of my field.” Students tell me that I’m the first professor that is like them. But really I’m tired. The face should already be changed. Academia feels so far behind and moves so slow. But is my department moving slower than others? Or is it this bad everywhere?
(Also, I should be writing a paper, grant, etc. instead I’m dealing with this. *sigh* The joys of my white, straight, male colleagues. Must be nice.)
TLDR – How do I just not throw in the towel in with all the sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. in STEM. I’m sick of being the token committee member and dealing with the BS.
– AsstProfLyfe
Academic blogosphere, what say you?

9 comments

  1. I don’t have any good advice except to suggest this book: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/1588265889/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 and Dr. Rockquemore’s organization: https://www.facultydiversity.org/about-us

    My school has also placed new emphasis on diversity – but they are, luckily, doing more to both improve recruitment and to reduce racism in our school. Someone recently mentioned in a meeting that they have been reading about recruitment of BIPOC faculty and have learned that we fully lack the infrastructure to retain and support faculty of color. I’m very interested to learn more about what that infrastructure is.

    I’m very sorry that you have landed in a place where you are not fully supported, valued – and where you lack peer support. Are there any supports more broadly on campus for faculty of color – or informal networks?

  2. Be on the market. There are better places to work if the powers that be aren’t going to address this explicit racism.

    Also: you do not have to be on diversity committees just because you are a minority. Two of my minority colleagues are not. Students don’t go to them more than once either (according to minority students who do talk to me). But that is up to you. What one of my minority former PhD students did when she was inundated with minority students during BLM and now was to talk to a senior colleague who argued for her to get service credit for everything she was doing and actually scored her a temporary course reduction. Be sure to keep notes of the additional service load.

  3. Take care of yourself first. I agree with the comments above – especially about staying on the job market. Do your best to find and maintain a network of colleagues and friends outside of your department/university who can support you. If you’ve got an ally amongst your faculty and are comfortable asking, see if they will advocate for you – white men seem to be the last to volunteer for DEI activities on my campus, but for some it seems like it’s because they feel like it’s not their place rather than that they don’t care.
    Wishing you peace and many friendly reviewers ahead!

  4. As an older, straight, white, male, I may not be able to provide much help here. It seems to me that the situation is getting better for minorities in academia, but very slowly and not uniformly.

    Our faculty, students, and administration are certainly very vocal in supporting diversity measures, and I can’t imagine someone not getting reprimanded for the remarks mentioned.

    Our institution is making a very serious effort to improve the hiring of minority faculty without running into prohibited discrimination—the pools of applicants are screened based on just the redacted diversity, inclusion, and equity statements. The race or gender of the applicant is not known and not relevant at this stage, but their commitment to and knowledge of methods for increasing diversity are.

    Minority faculty here do sometimes pick up more service obligations, though we try to keep this from happening (the diversity committee in our department has 3 white males, one white female, and one black female).

    So echoing what others have said—there are better places than where you (though probably still worse ones also).

  5. Unless your tenure requirements include diversity stuff, I would drop the committee. Advancing your career is the best thing you can do for yourself and diversity as a whole. None of the other assitant profs are dedicating as much time or mental energy to this. This is an unfair weight on you and I would recommend being as selfish as possible, as no one else will get fired except you if you don’t get tenure.
    That said, if you feel like the uni is a bad fit, I would go on the market. Therefore, you need all the publications, etc rather than committee work to improve your chances in the market.

  6. When “Beyond Bias and Barriers” came out (in 2006!) one of their big take-home conclusions was that one of the most effective ways to increase diversity (yes, I know it was mostly about women in science, but it’s actually pretty broadly applicable) was to set hiring criteria in advance and enforce them, and to also actually hire more than one of (fill in the blank). This useless committee is none of those and sounds like mere window dressing. Run, friend.

  7. Thank you everyone for your comments and for Xykademiqz for posting this (and so quickly)! I’m definitely keeping my mind on the job market, but will likely have to stick it out until my tenure case comes up in several years. But I’ll weigh considering dropping the committee. The commenters words are the reassurance I need to know that “selfishly” putting my science first is the right thing to do. I’ll also check out the references people suggest. Thank you again!

  8. @gasstationwithoutpumps: What kind of response would occur at your department in response to remarks along the lines of not everyone is capable of STEM? It’s one thing to agree that such remarks are bad and shouldn’t happen, it’s another thing to develop an appropriate (and effective, for some definition of effective) organization-level response when they do.

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