Faculty, staff join push for diversity

Employees want more diversity and the resources to make it happen.
March 13, 2014

Faculty and staff are asking University of Minnesota leaders to help diversify their departments.

Nearly 60 faculty and staff members met in Coffman Union on Wednesday, when Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert addressed the University’s lack of faculty diversity while outlining her long-term plan to create a more inclusive workplace.

“Some people may feel isolated in this very big place,” she said.

And while faculty and staff say they’re on board with the plans, they’re asking for help to kick-start the initiatives in their colleges and departments.

After eight months of hosting similar discussions with the University community, Albert found that employees want more groups specifically for minority staff on campus and additional opportunities to diversify their curricula.

Albert said by adding social affinity groups, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups would feel more connected to campus and have better mentoring opportunities.

The new groups would follow in the steps of the Black Faculty and Staff Association, which recently reorganized after being defunct for years. The organization works to connect black faculty and staff at the University in order to increase their sense of belonging.

Assistant professor Shonda Craft is among a small group of faculty of color in the Family Social Science Department. While working in the office, she said, she’s felt her colleagues have received more mentoring than her.

“I’ve struggled in my own department,” she said. “We’re a department without African-American faculty.”

Craft said the department’s lack of diversity can also have negative consequences on students of color.

“It’s important for students to have faculty that look like them,” she said.

African American and African Studies associate professor Keith Mayes attended Wednesday’s discussion and said Albert’s plans are a good start for improving the current campus climate.

He said he’s noticed a substantial decline in the number of faculty of color in the College of Liberal Arts in recent years, a trend he wants to see reversed.

The problem is rooted in how the University retains faculty of color, Mayes said. The University can seem like an unwelcoming place for minorities, he said, so it can be difficult to persuade some faculty members to stay if another college offers them a job.

“There’s a perceived lack of community of faculty of color here,” Mayes said. “And so the question becomes, ‘What’s the strategy on replacing faculty of color that have been lost?’”

Albert said she and the Office for Equity and Diversity will work with college deans and department chairs to make sure that they consider the issue when recruiting new staff.

At the discussion, faculty members also said they want resources to make their coursework more inclusive.

Spots filled quickly for a workshop this semester that is focused on inclusive curriculum and faculty are asking that more be added, Albert said.

She said the goal of the sessions is to integrate diversity in curricula so all students can see themselves reflected in lectures and course content.

Mayes has worked at the University for more than a decade and said the emphasis on diversifying campus has been low thus far. But he said the new administration could change that.

“This is a new day,” Mayes said. “It’s too early to tell where this is going, but there’s a lot of potential.”

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