Faculty of color hold mixed opinions on diversity initiatives

Adriana Gutierrez, News Contributor

Although Oregon State University has steadily increased the ethnic diversity of students in the past decade, the portion of faculty of color on campus lags slightly behind. 

Faculty have mixed feelings about the necessity and effectiveness of university intiatives meant to increase faculty diversity.

On a self-reported diversity assessment updated November 2019, 16.8% of teaching faculty, both tenure and non-tenure, self-reported an ethnic background of color. These ethnic categories included faculty who are Native American, Asian, Black or African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and faculty who are two or more races. International faculty are not included in this count. 

According to the Department of Institutional Research at OSU, out of 31,719 students who enrolled for the fall 2019 term, 26.3% of students reported identifying as students of color, about 10% higher than the portion of teaching faculty identifying as people of color.  

“Because of our diversifying student population, we want students to be able see that those who are teaching them, mentoring them, and guiding them into professions also have some shared experiences with them,” said Ana Ribero, assistant professor at the School of Writing, Literature and Film. 

According to Ribero, her research focuses mostly on difference, inequality and diversity, so she often teaches classes on those particular subjects, and believes her knowledge in the topics can help diversify the mindsets of white and non-Indigenous students on campus. 

Similarly, Gabrielle Miller, a graduate teaching instructor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department finds that teaching these subjects, based on systems of power, while important, can also negatively impact their own experience being a faculty of color at a predominantly white institution. 

“Being an instructor on campus, at particularly this institution, is particularly difficult because [it’s like] walking into a microaggression when I teach,” said Miller. “Sometimes it’s not even a microaggression, it’s full-out covert racism, or queerphobia.”

Being a member of the Graduate Student Union currently bargaining for higher wages, Miller also draws attention to the issues graduate students specifically face. 

 “Graduate workers of color, specifically international graduate workers of color, are the most likely to be housing insecure, to get paid less and to be exploited by their departments,” Miller said. “Part of our bargaining is trying to get them to see that that is happening systematically across the university.”

Some professors, like Eugene Young, who teaches in the College of Business, don’t believe race or skin color affect the way they teach.

“For me, I’m just another teacher,” Young said. “I don’t think about race and color, to me, that’s an issue out there that people talk about… I just happen to be black.”

Young worked as an engineer prior to coming to OSU, a field in which he described was predominantly white, and compared that to OSU’s diversity. 

 “With other people that are like me, that have worked in predominantly white industries for that period of time, they’ve seen the whole thing, they always get called on to participate in this stuff because they got to find somebody black to be on the diversity committee,” said Young. “So you tend to get all that stuff shoved onto you, and it gets added on to your workload, and it’s not your main job.”

OSU currently has a Diversity Strategic Plan for the years 2018-23, in which the five key goals of the plan are to integrate inclusive excellence, improve recruitment of students and employees from underrepresented communities, create an inclusive environment to increase retention, provide transformative learning experiences, and communicate Oregon State’s accomplishments as their goal progresses. 

“I am thankful that we have deans, and department heads who are diligently working to increase their recruiting efforts of underrepresented staff at OSU,” said Charlene Alexander, the chief diversity officer at the Office of Institutional Diversity.

Alexander referred to the Diversity Strategic Plan’s outline when asked about the support and resources provided to faculty of color. 

In the outline, the department planned to “provide institutional support to employee affinity groups engaging in community building and retention efforts,” including the Association of Faculty & Staff for the Advancement of People of Color. 

“The people that are in [AFAPC] often are not people in my position of being a researcher and a teacher,” Ribero said. “So, it hasn’t felt like a great group for me…but I think the group does try to build community.”

As a Latina, Ribero noted that she personally finds support at the César Chávez Cultural Center when talking to students about their experiences, as they often parallel hers. 

Oregon State ADVANCE is also a program working towards diversifying faculty across the institution. 

According to Dwaine Plaza, a professor of sociology and a senior staff member for ADVANCE, the program was originally funded in 2015 by the National Science Foundation to support individuals who are writing proposals from within the university to improve conditions at OSU, and was originally started to show the disproportionate amount of female to male instructors. 

“Even today, if you look at the ranks, we still have a disproportionate number of men compared to women faculty members,” Plaza said. “In addition to that, we have a disproportionate number of people of color. So you’ve got men, then women, then people of color. And if you’re a woman of color who is in the academy, [that number] is even smaller.”

He also said ADVANCE aims to create conversation about the barriers that women and people of color face in an institution where they are the minorities. 

While OSU continues to recruit faculty of color, there is also the aspect of retention that is statistically more difficult to maintain among faculty of color, with the lack of support offered to those faculty who feel isolated in their departments. 

Alexander discussed the ways in which the Office of Institutional Diversity will implement programs to increase staff diversity. 

“We are paying attention to how we contribute to the number of diverse scholars interested in academic careers, as well we are working with others to develop a tool kit for faculty recruiting and retention.” 

Alexander added that these resources will be available at the start of summer 2020. 

Was this article helpful?