Poughkeepsie, NY— If you’re a student of color at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a faculty member who shares in your ethnicity or racial identity. If you’re a professor, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason why.
Yale College, University of California at Berkeley, and the College of William and Mary are just a few of the schools in the United States are seeing their students clamor for professors with more racially diverse backgrounds.
At UC Berkeley, 16 of the 20 departments have no black or Latino faculty, according to a July 2015 article in The Daily Californian. Research done for an October 2015 article in Yale Daily News found that at Yale, 42 percent of the student body is of minority descent, while only 17 percent of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences shares that characteristic, causing students to take to the campus green to voice their opinions. Data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics in November 2015 shows that at 29 selected universities, at least 50 percent of the faculty at each school is white, and at 10, at least 75 percent is white.
The dearth of a diverse faculty landscape at colleges and universities is not a new topic, but it is one that raises questions that cannot be answered, and concerns that cannot be alleviated.
Dr. Addrian Conyers is a psychology and criminology professor at Marist, and although he sees the issue as a complex one, it is also easy for him to understand. “I really think there’s a multi-faceted answer,” he said. “You have to look at what the school is offering. It’s going to be competitive for any candidate so you have to take into account salary, resources, and benefits.”
Dr. Conyers tries to keep race in the back of his mind when it comes to the hiring process, and instead focuses on raw talent. “If someone is qualified, no matter what their color is, they will go where the better money and resources are,” he said. “There are so many filters and complications, I truly hope someone is never hired because of their race. If that plays a factor or it’s the icing on the cake, then so be it. But I hope they’re qualified first.”
He applied that way of thinking to his own career, even though he came to Marist with a racially diverse background. “I am an African-American who identifies with urban culture,” he said. “I didn’t focus on my race, I focused on my qualifications and made sure I did that job first. Besides, if I think about my race, I start to question my own competency. Was there someone more qualified than me?”
Dr. Conyers was reassured, however, by the neutrality of his hiring process. “When I put the application in, I was qualified for the opening, and my race during the hiring process never came up and I have no problem with that.”
Dr. Conyers had brief words to say about student-faculty relationships. “When there’s a small amount of faculty of color at a school, when things of diversity come up, there are few professors students can turn to,” he said.
Dr. Tia Gaynor, Assistant Professor of Public Administration, feels that the root of the problem lies within the administration. “Schools have to actively and consciously search for diverse candidates,” she said. “It requires a little bit more effort, and generally speaking, all schools are not willing to make the effort to take the extra steps to ensure that they have diversity.”
“The talent pool of Ph.D.’s of color is smaller than that of Ph.D.’s who are not,” Dr. Gaynor added.
Despite the challenges that must be faced in order to pull in faculty of color, Dr. Gaynor would still like to see more of an effort on Marist’s end. “The benefits for the students are endless,” she explained. “You get exposure to different perspectives, experiences, theorists, authors, and ways of seeing the world.”
Dr. Gaynor also feels it is unfair to students of color to not have the same experience as white students. “White students see people like them in front of the classroom, and students of color don’t always have that experience,” she said. “It’s very important to sit in a classroom and look at someone and, in some way, feel some kind of connection with them.”
It is not only the students who would gain something from a more diverse faculty. Dr. Gaynor sees it proving to be fruitful for the faculty itself. “It’s important to have conversations with people who think differently, who see the world differently,” she said. “To be able to have those conversations and give someone a different perspective is crucial for a better-rounded faculty.”
Although the problem, and the advantages of finding a solution, are clear, Marist College is still not doing everything it can, and Dr. F, who wished to remain anonymous, knows why.
“There’s very little support for faculty of color,” she said. “And Marist just hasn’t seen the need for it.”
While she was told by an administrator that there just aren’t enough African-Americans in the talent pool, Dr. F knows differently. “In social sciences, languages, literature, and philosophy, there are about 80 positions a year and 3,000 people applying for them,” she said. “There has to be at least one qualified black person. To blame them for the lack of diversity is completely disingenuous.”
“It comes down to ignorance,” she continued. “Some administrators are just ignorant. He really does think the problem is within the hiring pool. This is a very traditional, white-dominated school. You have to practically go and find diverse applicants, and Marist just isn’t willing to do that.”
The professors all agreed that a more diverse student body may bring about a change, but not enough of one to make a difference. All they can do is hope that the administration decides to put in the necessary work to make the student body and the faculty feel more at home away from home.