Juan R. Sandoval, Department of Social Ecology

The Current State of “Diversity” and “Inclusion”

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education (2019), whites make up approximately eighty percent of the full-time professoriate in the United States. Furthermore, white graduate students make up a little over sixty percent of those enrolled in graduate education, including a master’s, doctoral, law, medicine, or dentistry program. Similarly, in 2017, at UC Irvine, white faculty accounted for 88.6% of the total faculty population, with white graduate students accounting for 57.6% of the total graduate student population (UCI Office of Academic Personnel, 2017).

I often reflect on these numbers and the potential implications they model on “diversity” and “inclusion” initiatives held at American universities. In other words, how can a majority full-time white faculty and white graduate student population account for “diversity” and “inclusion” in an arena where diversity levels are not where we would like them to be? Or, put differently, how are we satisfied with these individuals driving the conceptualization of “diversity” and “inclusion” altogether? I don’t place these terms in quotations out of sarcastic prose, but to instead call attention to boilerplate terms that I don’t think the academy has fully grappled with in practical terms. I view diversity and inclusion initiatives as more symbolic gestures rather than literal ones, illustrated by the minuscule changes in racial/ethnic demographics of faculty annually.

Now, I am not suggesting that race/ethnicity are the only elements that are of concern to diversity and inclusion. In fact, diversity comes in many forms, visible and invisible, such as disabilities, sexual orientation, community (i.e., rural v. urban), and educational upbringing. However, race/ethnicity is tied to larger systems of subordination, oppression, and inequities that the university still resembles in the present day. In particular, the cannon of my discipline (and presumably others) highlights the scholarship of overtly racist academics while suppressing the voice of scholars, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon, to name a few (Go, 2016; Morris, 2015). Simultaneously, the university teaches us “professionalization” from the perspective of whiteness and elitism and synonymizing “unprofessionalism” with the characteristics that we all bring from our communities.

Reckoning With Positionality

I do not write this blog post as a political statement. Instead, I write it from the perspective of a single individual who has grappled with his positionality throughout his college experience. I am a first-generation Hispanic/Latino/Chicano from a rural community that is near to my heart, yet a place where education is undervalued. I don’t know how I got here, but I am happy I did. My genuine care for teaching runs counter to the emphasis placed on publications in obtaining a tenure-track position, but I am thrilled to do it. I want my classroom to resemble one of diversity and inclusion, such as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, which involves the use of multiple means of representation, action, expression, and engagement that culminates into an efficient curriculum (Hofer, 2015). Moreover, I look forward to the day when underrepresented students in higher education have a surplus of faculty to admire that embody the students’ identities as well.

If you take anything from this writing, you should grasp that higher education has further work to do to succeed at “diversity” and “inclusion.” But, on a smaller level, perhaps faculty can create diversity and inclusion through reflexivity and taking seriously their position as educators, not just researchers. Until then, academia will continue cyclically with the mantra of, “We did it this way, so you should too,” with little incentive for the art of teaching.

References

Barteaux, S. (2014). Universal Design for Learning. BU Journal of Graduate Studies in Education6(2), 50-54.

Go, Julian. (2016). Postcolonial Thought and Social Theory. Oxford University Press.

Hofer, M. (2015).UDL: A Systematic Approach to Supporting Diverse Learners. Retrieved February 26, 2020.

McFarland, J. (2019). The Condition of Education 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2020.

Morris, A. (2015). The Scholar Denied. University of California Press Foundation. 

UCI Office of Academic Personnel. (2017). Inclusive Excellence: UC Irvine. University of California, Irvine. 

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on March 6th, 2020.

 

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