Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Diversity" in Academia: How the Ivory Tower Stays White


Academia wants diversity without diverse people. 

One of the ironies of academia is that it preaches diversity while at the same time locking its doors to people of color. This problem has become more apparent in recent years, with the academic job market crashing just as new cohorts of non-white PhD Candidates are beginning to seek tenure-track positions. This has not been helped by the fact that Universities have attempted to address the issue of job scarcity with solutions that perpetuate academia's lack of diversity. Indeed, in attempting to address the lack of available tenure-track positions, universities have barred people of color from the Ivory Tower and secured its status as a white institution.

One example might be the growth of "diversity" programs adopted by several PhD-granting institutionsI put diversity in quotes because they are not speaking about race or gender diversity, but job diversity. These programs are designed to funnel graduate students towards jobs outside of the academy by pointing them towards resources and contacts who may be able to assist them.

The problem with these diversity programs is that they target graduate programs ranked outside of the top-10 (the top-10 usually consisting of Ivy League or Ivy League equivalent institutions). And these are programs which, like my own, often contain a higher percentage of people of color.

So therein lies the heart of the matter: these diversity programs are designed to re-direct people, often of color and from institutions outside of the top-10, to jobs outside of the academy. Meanwhile, white men and women from the Harvards, Yales, Stanfords, and Princetons of the world continue to receive the vast majority of tenure-track positions.

Insult is added to injury by the very nature of the naming scheme used for these programs. As stated earlier, by "diversity," they supposedly mean diversity of jobs. And yet I suspect that they are hoping graduate students will think they are referring to diversity of color or gender, especially since these programs are mainly implemented in schools with graduate cohorts containing larger percentages of men and women of color. 

This misleading naming scheme has the subtle effect of pointing white graduate students towards the academy while simultaneously pushing graduate students of color out the door. Ironically then, if graduate students of color choose to take advantage of these "diversity programs," they will ensure that academia becomes far less diverse.

Articles on this topic typically side-step the issue of diversity in academia by pointing to how white women now make up a far larger proportion of tenured professors than they did previously, or by using statements like "underrepresented minorities have achieved three times the rate of growth" in the academy as compared to white faculty members in recent years.

Including white women in the Ivory Tower is a start (and is indeed better than faculties consisting of predominantly white men), but like second-wave feminism and its tendency to exclude women of color, it is only a start. And to say that people of color have achieved "three times the rate of growth" is not saying much, especially if our rate of growth was tiny to begin with. And at any rate, the data demonstrates that regardless of any increase in "rate of growth," the vast majority of faculty members continue to be white and male, with white women edging them out only in the field of education. 

I have no idea if there is a solution to this problem. I only wish to demonstrate that it is still a problem, and to show that universities might be unknowingly contributing to the problem by the very nature of their "diversity" programs.

The problem is complicated by the fact that the Ivory Tower desires extremely well-qualified people. It just so happens that these well-qualified people typically come from a privileged pool of applicants who have received their PhD from an Ivy League school or an Ivy League equivalent. And for reasons systemic and otherwise, these people tend to be white and from wealthier demographics.

A problem that is as self-perpetuating as this one, and one that must be tackled by the very people who benefit from the problem, cannot be solved by a single article. But perhaps we can take a decent first step towards progress by ensuring that we do not discourage graduate students of color from pursuing a job in academia so early in their careers.

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