Following last year’s wave of student activism across higher education, more attention has been placed on the state of race relations on college campuses, as well as on the importance of hiring more professors of color. Since then, many colleges and universities have dedicated themselves to reforming their hiring practices to diversify their professoriate.
Ithaca College is one of the institutions that has taken on this pledge. In 2015, the college reached its goal of increasing the pool of full-time minority faculty to 13 percent. While this is a small step forward, diversity cannot just be looked at in terms of numbers. Simply looking at a college’s number of diverse faculty members does nothing to truly showcase the experiences of these professors within the institution.
What is often overlooked with professors of color is the role they play, not solely as teachers, but as mentors to students of color as well. At colleges and universities, especially predominantly white institutions like the college, many students of color search for a mentor in the form of a faculty member of color who can perhaps relate to their distinct struggles, concerns and experiences as a person of color. This mentoring role professors of color assume takes up a significant amount of their time, yet it is not valued or recognized as heavily as research in promoting faculty of color members to tenure-track positions. Their ability to become a tenured professor with greater benefits is thus hindered by the fact that the additional mentoring professors of color take on are hardly considered as much as research.
Just as it is disingenuous to ignore the ways professors of color encompass roles outside of teaching, it is also insufficient to hire professors of color and siphon them off to departments relating to race and diversity. Pooling these professors into a few departments ensures that certain areas of study, such as English and history, remain whitewashed bastions of education. Diversifying the voices in every aspect of education, from English to economics to science to the humanities, exposes students to new viewpoints that challenge their perceptions of the world around them. And if colleges and universities truly want to cultivate a culture that challenges conventional wisdom, diversifying predominantly white departments would be a start.
Diversity is not and should not be treated as a numbers game — professors of color are not a quota to be filled. Colleges cannot simply divest themselves of responsibility once more professors of color are hired — they have a responsibility to ensure professors of color are treated fairly within the institution. It means little if the faculty members of color who are hired receive little institutional support, are not promoted to tenured positions and are pushed into solely ethnic studies departments. Achieving a particular threshold in diversity is never the endgame of racial progress.