Faculty becoming more diverse
When Sarah Park joined St. Catherine University in 2009 as an assistant professor of Library and Information Science, she was excited about the school and its support of her own research interests. Park studies the information-seeking behaviors of Korean adoptees searching for answers about their past and she plans to develop a model that might also be applied to other adoptee communities.
Park is Korean American — she was born in Seoul and moved with her Korean parents to Los Angeles when she was just four months old. She is part of a growing cadre of faculty of color at the 17 institutions of the Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC). As Minnesota's population becomes increasingly diverse (about 15% are non-white), the number of students and faculty of color are growing too.
Looking at the data, in 2009 MPCC institutions employed 465 faculty of color; a decade earlier it was 278. This increase of 67% compares to an increase of 27% for white faculty. While MPCC institutions have been able to recruit a more diverse faculty, the 9% non-white faculty still lags behind the state's diversity — 15% — and the ethnic diversity of our student body — 13%.
These data reflect an increased commitment to hiring faculty of color in Minnesota, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Attracting qualified faculty of color often requires intentional recruiting. And, once hired, it is important to have institutional support in place for the new faculty.
An institutional commitment
Ongoing efforts are underway at MPCC institutions to increase the number of faculty of color. Andrea Turner, assistant vice president of human resources at Augsburg College, points to her college's mission of being committed to intentional diversity in its life and work. "In addition to our efforts around recruiting, the college understands that to help students become informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers and responsible leaders, we must demonstrate in and outside the classroom intercultural competency in our work. This means that the diversity is the mix of people and intercultural competency is the ability to make the mix work."
You can't have the population and mission Augsburg does and not be willing to work in both recruiting and building on intercultural competency, Turner said. She believes that learning from people with varied backgrounds and living on a diverse campus helps build relationships — and specific programming helps develop intercultural competence. For example, Augsburg is working to develop that through its orientation, training and performance processes for those already here and for any new faculty and staff hired, Turner said.
Augsburg recently had two Social Work faculty openings and prior to starting the search, Turner and the department chair examined the whole recruitment effort. "We crafted letters that would draw people to the college as well as the department and we emphasized how candidates must be able to work with a diverse mix of students and prepare them for the client population they'll likely be working with," she said. Candidates were asked to specifically demonstrate how they had worked with a diverse student body and geared their curricula to a broad student population. "We saw significant strength in the candidate pool — and a number of the finalists were persons of color."
Support structures matter
Once non-white or underrepresented faculty arrive, institutional support is key to their success. "A lot of us are first-generation graduate students and junior faculty and we don't have an 'old boys network' to support us in the challenges we face," Park said. She is one of four Asian Americans in a department of 13 faculty and staff. "The diversity and collegiality in my department is great," she said. "That doesn't mean there haven't been challenges."
During her first all-faculty meeting in 2009, Park was taken aback when another faculty member referred to a Chinese student as "Oriental." "I was shocked that she didn't know that that word was outdated and offensive," Park said. When Park approached her afterward, her colleague apologized and the two had a great conversation, but Park knew "there's still work to be done."
She observes that some white people don't recognize their privilege and can make hurtful comments that build up over time. "I don't know how many times I've been asked how long I've been in this country, or how I happen to speak English so well," she said. She notes that the structural supports that St. Kate's has provided, such as faculty mentoring and diversity workshops (for example, the "I Wish" student presentation at the 2011 all-faculty meeting) are helpful.
Brian Bruess, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at St. Kate's, said that the university has a long history of building a working and learning environment that reflects a diverse world. "We have taken a holistic systems approach over the years that integrates multicultural competence content into the curriculum, provides faculty and staff development, builds community partnerships, and enhances our recruiting and retaining of students, faculty and staff of color," he said. He noted that the university's strategic plan calls for continued efforts in this area.
"While the university is proud of the work we have accomplished, including significant gains in our student of color population, we are sober about the important work that remains," Bruess said.