There's A Serious Diversity Problem In Higher Education

Noticing a bit of a theme here...

...if we want a more diverse group of people teaching, we need to start with diversifying doctoral programs.  

Eighty-four percent of full professors in America are White.  

In case you were unsure, that does not match the overall makeup of the country or the student body.

To become a professor, you generally need a Ph.D. So if we want a more diverse group of people teaching, we need to start with diversifying doctoral programs.  

I talked with Marybeth Gassman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. “Students deserve to be taught by a professoriate that looks like them. Diversity among students leads to more creativity, more openness, greater attention to diversity in society, research, and practice. There are stacks of research that show this to be the case empirically. The country is changing immensely and higher education just as quickly. We must have a diverse professoriate that is prepared to teach out diverse nation.” 

I am a White lady. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Overstreet, was not White. I don’t remember any overt lessons or discussion of that fact, but it set the stage for me to assume that teachers come in all colors.

I have spent most of my professional career as one of a handful of White people in the classroom. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is when the person in front of the room never reflects you in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion — anything — it's discouraging.

More and more minority students are pursuing academic careers. Almost 28% more doctoral degrees were awarded to non-White students in 2008 than in 2003. But a lot of people are leaving their programs shortly after getting started. Think about it: Earning a doctorate is a whole lot of work over a lot of time. If you are the only person of color in your program, that’s gotta be exhausting. Add in subtle institutionalized racism, a lack of mentors, fear of not getting hired after graduation, and other things, and you get a very valid Why bother? mentality. You can make a lot more money elsewhere with less training.

What’s a regular Jane like you or I supposed to do about these systemic problems? I can’t just tell all my Latin friends to become professors and even things out (I mean, I could, but then I wouldn’t have any friends).

You can:

  • Ask about the makeup of faculty at any school you are interested in.
  • Seek out professors who don’t look like you.
  • Be a mentor in your field to younger women coming up.
  • Get involved in campus protests about diversity issues.
  • Speak up by writing letters, talking about it to your friends and anyone else who will listen, and ask questions.  

Things don’t change overnight. We need more variety in the voices studying the big issues of our times. You can let those around you and those in power know that you don’t accept the White World of colleges.

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