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“We Are All for Diversity, but . . .”: How Faculty Hiring Committees Reproduce Whiteness and Practical Suggestions for How They Can Change

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Abstract

Despite stated commitments to diversity, predominantly White academic institutions still have not increased racial diversity among their faculty. In this article Robin DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy focus on one entry point for doing so—the faculty hiring process. They analyze a typical faculty hiring scenario and identify the most common practices that block the hiring of diverse faculty and protect Whiteness and offer constructive alternative practices to guide hiring committees in their work to realize the institution's commitment to diversity.
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Harvard Educational Review Vol. 87 No. 4 Winter 2017
Copyright © by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
“We Are All for Diversity, but . . .:
How Faculty Hiring Committees
Reproduce Whiteness and Practical
Suggestions for How They Can
Change
ÖZLEM SENSOY
Simon Fraser University
ROBIN DIANGELO
University of Washington
Despite stated commitments to diversity, predominantly White academic institutions
still have not increased racial diversity among their faculty. In this article Robin
DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy focus on one entry point for doing so—the faculty hiring
process. They analyze a typical faculty hiring scenario and identify the most common
practices that block the hiring of diverse faculty and protect Whiteness and offer con-
structive alternative practices to guide hiring committees in their work to realize the
institution’s commitment to diversity.
Keywords: Whiteness, university hiring, higher education, racism, diversity in academia
The reason we don’t have more faculty of color among college faculty is
that we don’t want them. We simply don’t want them.
—Marybeth Gasman, “The Five Things No One Will Tell You About
Why Colleges Don’t Hire More Faculty of Color”
As university workers, we find ourselves in a critical social moment. We are in
the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and global student protests (in
Chile, South Africa, and Taiwan, among other countries) against government
austerity and authoritarian state structures, the 2017 protests led by Indige-
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nous students against Canadian celebrations of 150 years of the colonial state,
and the high-profile 2015 resignations of the University of Missouri’s presi-
dent and chancellor over racial tensions they could not manage. The deep
racial divides exposed by the 2016 election in the United States and the sub-
sequent rise in hate crimes on campuses illustrate that racism has been and
will continue to be a central issue in higher education. It is no longer justifi-
able for academia to remain racially illiterate. Interviews with student protest-
ers repeatedly show that a key demand is increased racial diversity among the
faculty and racial literacy among the White faculty (We The Protestors, 2015;
Chessman & Wayt, 2016). These calls are not new; generations of activism and
scholarship have reiterated the demand to diversify and decolonize predomi-
nantly White university campuses (Kayes, 2006; Smith, Turner, Osei-Kofi, &
Richards, 2004). Yet, while most universities have responded with declarations
of “valuing diversity,” and some with pledges and specialized programs, why
have they overwhelmingly still not achieved these goals?
While racial diversity among students has increased, faculty diversity has
not. In the fall of 2013, among full-time professors in the United States, 84
percent were White (58 percent males and 26 percent females), 4 percent
Black, 3 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander. Making up
less than 1 percent each were professors who were American Indian/Alaska
Native and of two or more races (NCES, 2015). Similarly, in a comprehensive
diversity accounting of Canadian universities made public in 2016, Malinda
Smith and colleagues (AWA, 2016a) report that despite two-plus decades of
equity policies, the Canadian university professoriate remains overwhelmingly
White (81 percent) and male (66 percent). The numbers are even more bleak
as one looks up the ladder of university leadership: 73 percent of universities
have all-White leadership teams, and “in 2016, not a single university had a vis-
ible minority woman, or Aboriginal man or woman on their presidential lead-
ership teams” (AWA, 2016b, para. 4).
At the same time, position calls that “encourage” and “invite” underrep-
resented groups and especially visible minority applicants are ubiquitous.
In Canada, publicly funded universities have a legal obligation through the
Employment Equity Act to include statements that demonstrate their commit-
ment to equitable hiring practices. In the United States, federal law requires
equal opportunity and reasonable accommodation. Yet, in the face of these
legal and stated commitments to diversity, the above statistics speak to the
urgent need for predominantly White academic institutions to identify the
persistent barriers that prevent greater racial diversity among their faculty and
to develop strategies to address them. In this article we focus on one such
entry point: the faculty hiring process.
We argue that through a range of discursive moves, hiring committees pro-
tect rather than unsettle Whiteness. In so doing, they actively close the gates
against racial diversity (CAUT, 2010; Gutiérrez y Muhs, Nieman, González,
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& Harris, 2012; Henry et al., 2017; Matthews, 2016; Ng, 1993; Schick, 2000).
These moves include the so-called objective scrutiny of applicant CVs, the dis-
course of “fit,” the token committee member, the additive nature of diversity-
related interview questions, and the acceptability of candidate ignorance on
issues of race/gender. By analyzing these elements, we offer a thematic exami-
nation of both well-meaning and outright obstructionist actions that block
efforts to increase racial diversity within the academic labor force.
We explicate these familiar moves and also reflect on our own efforts to
increase faculty diversity as White women who have served on numerous
university hiring committees in both Canadian and US contexts (Sensoy &
DiAngelo, 2009). While we are situated within the field of education, these
dynamics have been documented across these national borders and in a range
of disciplines, including education, law, humanities, social sciences, and nurs-
ing (Beard & Julion, 2016; Henry, 2015; Henry et al., 2017; Smith et al., 2004;
Vick & Furlong, 2012; Ware, 2000). Drawing from this research and the gener-
ous mentorship of colleagues of color and our own struggles to advance racial
equity in our spheres of influence, we speak explicitly to our fellow White col-
leagues who serve on these committees and offer strategies that might authen-
tically open the gates to greater faculty diversity.
We are White academics whose work is indebted to the generations of schol-
arship on race by Indigenous scholars and scholars of color. In addition to
this academic foundation, we have benefited from the personal mentorship
of many colleagues of color and Indigenous colleagues. While we centralize
the example of race in our discussion, we do so using an intersectional race
analysis. At times, we use race interchangeably with the common institutional
language of diversity. In isolating race (to the exclusion of intersectional iden-
tities, for example), we do not intend to minimize the importance of gender,
sexuality, class, or ability on how people experience racialization. Nor do we
intend to make invisible the history of White settler society that has erased
Indigenous bodies for generations (Barker, 2009; Razack, 2002; Wolfe, 2006).
For both brevity and accessibility, we use race as a familiar entry point for pre-
dominantly White institutions to begin to problematize a range of unnamed
and exclusionary institutional practices. We recognize that we may seem at
times to be essentializing racial categories. But our objective is not to reify
these categories but to make common racial patterns and assumptions visible
in an accessible way.
Whiteness in Higher Education
Ruth Frankenberg (1997) describes Whiteness as multidimensional: “White-
ness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second, it is a
‘standpoint,’ a place from which white people look at ourselves, at others, and
at society. Third, ‘whiteness’ refers to a set of cultural practices that are usu-
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ally unmarked and unnamed” (p. 1). Thus, to name Whiteness is to refer to
a set of relations that are historically, socially, politically, and culturally pro-
duced and intrinsically linked to dynamic relations of White racial domina-
tion (Frankenberg, 1997; Roediger, 2007). In other words, Whiteness is deeply
embedded in sociocultural practices, and disentangling Whiteness from these
practices requires a multifaceted approach.
As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2015) explains, White-oriented and -led institu-
tions reproduce Whiteness through their curriculum, culture, demography,
symbols, and traditions, while they simultaneously pass as neutral spaces free
of race and racialized perspectives. Only peoples of color are racialized and
seen as “bringing” race into race-neutral (White) spaces. If there are no peo-
ples of color present, race remains unnamed and is not presumed to be an
organizing institutional factor. Bonilla-Silva surfaces this normative invisibility
through his deliberate naming of non–Historically Black Colleges and Univer-
sities (HBCUs) as Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs). He
terms this normative invisibility “the white racial innocence game” in which
Whites claim to have no racial knowledge and therefore no awareness of the
structures of racism that reproduce White advantage. Similarly, Indigenous
scholar Susan Dion (2009) refers to the stance of “perfect stranger,” wherein
White teachers claim a racial innocence about Indigenous peoples despite
having received a lifetime of formal and informal pedagogy on the stereotypi-
cal “imaginary Indian” (p. 330).
HWCUs have, for decades, articulated a desire for integration and lamented
the difficulty of achieving that goal (Gasman, 2016). Yet these lamentations
do not address Whiteness itself as a fundamental barrier to integration (or
to racial equity, which goes far beyond mere integration). As Sara Ahmed
(2012), Bryan Brayboy (2003), Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2012), Frances Henry
and colleagues (2017), and others have explained, for many White/settler-
colonial institutions, the implementation of university-wide diversity initiatives
and policies are problematic for at least three reasons. First, they tend to view
diversity as a stand-alone policy that is conceptualized as the adding of stu-
dents or faculty of color to the existing makeup of the institution and do not
address the fundamental Whiteness of the university’s policies and practices.
Second, the conceptualization and implementation of diversity initiatives in
this manner nearly always add workload to the most junior faculty of color
and the few numbers of senior faculty of color who can mentor them. Third,
diversity initiatives render their underlying logic of Whiteness invisible and
thus normalize the everyday discourses that racialize only faculty of color. In
these ways, the everyday “grammar of whiteness” (Bonilla-Silva, 2012) remains
unaddressed.
Additionally, the labor of diversity work is often devalued at the highest-tier
institutions, where research in the form of peer-reviewed journal publications
and the acquisition of grant monies are the long-standing barometers of the
most-valued work driving salary and career progression. In this context, fac-
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ulty of color are positioned at the frontlines of implementing HWCUs’ diver-
sity policies, since they are seen as “the face” of these initiatives and are often
among the few who understand the stakes associated with them (Henry et al.,
2017). They are expected to do this work in spite of deep White resistance
and at a cost to their own research programs. Further, they must make the
diversity work palatable for White colleagues when even pressure to attend a
stand-alone diversity workshop is a cause for animosity. If a stand-alone session
names White advantage and challenges presumed White racial neutrality, the
backlash of White fragility often ensues. DiAngelo (2011) defines White fragil-
ity as the result of the White subject position—moving through a wholly racial-
ized world with an unracialized identity (e.g., White people can represent all
of humanity, people of color can only represent their racial selves). She argues
that White people
are centered in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral and good.
Challenges to this identity become highly stressful and even intolerable. Not
often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize,
ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilib-
rium. (p. 57)
Thus, for colleagues of color, in addition to the diversity work itself, they
must also navigate the emotional landmines of White fragility so often trig-
gered in response to diversity work.
Another unnamed logic of Whiteness is the presumed neutrality of White
European enlightenment epistemology. The modern university—in its knowl-
edge generation, research, and social and material sciences and with its
“experts” and its privileging of particular forms of knowledge over others
(e.g., written over oral, history over memory, rationalism over wisdom)—has
played a key role in the spreading of colonial empire. In this way, the uni-
versity has validated and elevated positivistic, White Eurocentric knowledge
over non-White, Indigenous, and non-European knowledges (Battiste, Bell,
& Findlay, 2002; Carvalho & Flórez-Flórez, 2014; Grosfoguel, Hernández, &
Velásques, 2016; Mignolo, 2002). These knowledge forms “inscribed a concep-
tualization of knowledge to a geopolitical space (Western Europe) and erased
the possibility of even thinking about a conceptualization and distribution of
knowledge ‘emanating’ from other local histories (China, India, Islam, etc.)”
(Grosfoguel et al., 2016, p. 59). The decolonization of the academy requires,
at minimum, an interrogation of not only the disciplinary fields and their bor-
ders but also the everyday commonsense practices of the institution itself.
In what follows, we analyze a typical faculty hiring scenario. While there
may be slight variations in the process (depending on discipline and teach-
ing versus research-intensive campus), the core elements of the job search
are predictable and stable (Perlmutter, 2017; Vick & Furlong, 2012). We focus
on illustrative practices that serve to block greater diversification of academic
units and thereby protect the inherent Whiteness of HWCUs.
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The Steps of the Hire
When the people in power receive a mandate to search out excellence, the
first place they look is to people like themselves, and too often that is also
where the search ends.
—Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs et al., Presumed Incompetent
Step 1: The Job Description
Tenure-Track Position in Elementary Education
Primary responsibilities will include teaching elementary-level teacher preparation
courses and other teacher education courses as needed by the unit. Required qualifica-
tions include PhD or EdD in Curriculum and Instruction or another closely related
field, demonstrated excellence in teaching, and experience teaching in grades 1–6. The
ideal candidate will be adept in the use of instructional technology, be familiar with state
teacher preparation standards, and be interested in joining a campus community that
promotes diversity, respect, and inclusion.
In mainstream thought, it is people of color who “have” race (are racial-
ized) and whose identities are hyphenated and marked (e.g., Black Canadian,
Chinese American) as compared to “regular” (White settler) identities that
remain unnamed (e.g., you don’t see White American or Scottish Canadian).
Thus, one of the most powerful actions an academic unit can take up when
beginning a hiring process is to mark the invisible aspects of dominance that
are embedded yet go unnamed in the position description. The field into
which a new hire is proposed is never neutral. Therefore, a call for a general
position in any field is not possible. While an open job description may allow
for a wider range of candidates, it also reinforces the idea that some aspects of
the job are core, foundational, and thus presumed neutral, while other aspects
are additional, extra, and specialized. Because specializations are necessarily
more focused, they can also seem narrower and limited.
The default of privileging a presumed neutral generalist will position them
as able to teach more courses in the program; we presume that candidate
Bob, as a generalist elementary education graduate, can “hit the ground run-
ning” and teach several of the courses we need covering, while candidate Ali,
a multiculturalist, would be great for our required diversity course but not for
the general elementary education courses (such as Classroom Management
or Assessment). The failure to acknowledge that everything we teach is from
a particular disciplinary perspective positions Bob as a generalist and Ali as a
narrow specialist. Further, it disavows the extensive work a specialist under-
takes. Consider a medical analogy: a neurologist will have undergone similar
training as a general practitioner as well as further study and specialization in
neurology.
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Whenever diversity is an add-on, we normalize Whiteness rather than diver-
sity. Curriculum, instruction, or elementary teaching are not neutral fields
free of political agendas. And when there is no signal that those who wrote the
job description recognize this, the message conveyed is that of the status quo.
The institution is thus missing its first opportunity to recruit from the small
handful of newly minted scholars who could support the institution in reach-
ing the goals it claims to value.
Constructive Alternatives
Most traditional fields are based on old classifications and, as such, reproduce
the status quo. For example, the field of multicultural education grew out of
the traditional social studies field (Banks, 1993). Be forward thinking in how
the disciplines have evolved and reclassify the position to demonstrate that
understanding this evolution is central to the position.
Consider the following issues when writing the job description:
•Operationalize diversity. If the job announcement states that yours is a campus
that “promotes diversity,” the committee needs to set clear targets by opera-
tionalizing the term. For example, decide what explicit evidence you will
use to determine that the candidate has promoted (rather than simply val-
ues) diversity. Consider diversity in terms of numbers (e.g., who is and is not
there) and as an integrated perspective (more than an opinion or feeling).
Ask those with specific expertise to give their thoughts on the job descrip-
tion and to incorporate their ideas. If the committee cannot operationalize
diversity, don’t use it in the job announcement.
•Politicize traditional canonic fields. Incorporate language into every job
description that signals a critical paradigm to traditional canons. For exam-
ple, “Candidates must demonstrate an ability to situate knowledge in their
field in a social (cultural, historical) context” (e.g., must be able to speak to
how knowledge is validated and institutionalized in their field).
•Avoid coded language. Avoid language that signals an uncritical ideological
paradigm, such as “urban,” “inner city,” “disadvantaged,” or racializes all
students (e.g., “Candidates are expected to explain the role of mathemati-
cal thinking in the lived race and class experiences of elementary students
as well as in the teacher and school staff in the region. For example, the
impact of White settler colonialism on Vancouver’s racialized and Coast Sal-
ish communities, or Seattle’s racialized and Duwamish communities”).
•Understand that dominant groups are always overrepresented in body and/or in
ideology, particularly in disciplines seen as nonpolitical. Given that the default
of most HWCUs is an overrepresentation of the dominant groups (e.g.,
Whites, White men [especially at higher ranks], native English speakers,
nondisabled peoples), use every job description as an opportunity to name
and correct the imbalance.
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Step 2: The Committee Composition
Imagine two committees:
•Committee 1. Head of academic unit makes an announcement in the faculty
meeting: “We have a new generalist line open in elementary education and
need to put the committee together. In addition to those on the standing
committee, we will need at least two additional volunteers from the faculty
at large. At least one of the volunteers needs to be a generalist. Who would
like to volunteer?”
•Committee 2. Head of academic unit approaches faculty member with exper-
tise in diversity and says: “We have a new generalist line open in elementary
education and need to put the committee together. I am asking you as a
member of our faculty with expertise in diversity to head this process. If you
are unable to, whom do you recommend I speak with?”
Which one of these approaches to the committee’s composition is biased?
They both are. Despite the appearance of neutrality and an open system of
participation by all members of the faculty, the first one will continue to repro-
duce the same outcomes because it does not intentionally act to disrupt them.
Given that little progress has been made in terms of faculty diversity in many
decades, interrupting status quo procedures is a critical entry point for chal-
lenging the reproduction of inequity. This includes unexamined assumptions
when putting hiring committees together.
Most university committees would say they try for balance on working
groups. However, balance as a working concept is often not adequately prob-
lematized. It must be contextualized. When baking, for example, a baker must
balance the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. This balance is not fixed for all
cases; the wet-to-dry ratio will be different if the desired outcome are pancakes
versus bread. Thus, the desired outcome determines what is needed to achieve
balance. Similarly, when universities strive for committees that are balanced in
terms of diversity, they must consider a different set of parameters than simple
equal numbers of tenured versus pretenure faculty, faculty versus students,
people of color versus White people. If the organization has stated a desire to
recruit and retain a faculty complement that reflects the diversity of the stu-
dent body or local community, committee membership needs to reflect who
can best assess a candidate’s contributions to that goal.
Common committee formulas include senior administrative leaders, a
subject-matter expert or two, and newer tenure-track members of the faculty.
Because this is how hiring committees are typically put together in many aca-
demic units, we may assume that it is a proven successful process and that we
can trust the good intentions of our peers to use their best judgments and
bring forward the most qualified candidates. But as evidenced by our out-
comes, these assumptions are false. Whether a department takes volunteers
or votes members in, when a predetermined formula generated by the insti-
tution is used, the default is the reproduction of power; such formulas were
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not originally constructed to address diversity and thus cannot be relied on to
achieve diversity.
As the pressure to diversify faculty has increased, the response has often
been to ensure that a person of color serves on the hiring committee. Given
the demographics at most institution, there are typically one or two colleagues
who are repeatedly tapped to provide “diversity cover” (Henry, 2015; Sensoy
& DiAngelo, 2009). In addition to being tokenized and overworked, mem-
bers of color must also deal with ongoing microaggressions (Sue, 2010) in the
deliberation process and White fragility should they resist. If the racial per-
spective the “token” member is asked to provide is in conflict with the desires
of the White members, it is most often dismissed (Henry et al., 2017). The
token member eventually refuses to endure any more committees (and is seen
as “difficult”) or, and especially if pretenure, learns to go along to get along
(which guarantees that they will continue to be tapped to provide cover rather
than critique).
The following dynamics are common and problematic:
• Members (except for token members) are presumed to be objective and
neutral (well-intentioned = objective = supportive of a “balanced” approach
to diversity).
• By positioning the token member as the one to bring the racial perspective,
that member is continually racialized.
• The token member is presumed to have expertise on race and racial issues
(such as racism, tracking, profiling), but only on these issues.
• White members do not recognize that the burden on this token member to
bring race perspective is occurring in a hostile (White) workplace.
• The White assumption of a universal experience is that if the committee (or
indeed, the academic unit) feels welcoming to the White members, it must
feel equally welcoming to everyone.
• If the token member actually does call out the racism in a discussion, they
are often met with resistance and dismissal.
Constructive Alternatives
When putting together the committee, consider the following:
•Think about committee balance in terms of bodies as well as perspectives. If your insti-
tution has the numbers, ensure that the search committee tilts to redress
the racial imbalance by having members of color as the majority and, espe-
cially, in senior roles on the committee. Ensure that the colleagues who
are asked to serve—including White colleagues—bring expertise in racial
equity. If your department is predominantly White and no members have
racial equity expertise, invite faculty members with expertise from affiliated
departments to serve.
•Develop a response to stand by decisions that will be read by some faculty as biased.
Remind faculty that for generations the department was mostly White and
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male and that those members hired the first groups who set up the culture
and curriculum. Be prepared to clearly articulate how your committee com-
position today is in line with the institution’s professed diversity goals.
•Don’t underestimate the role of the committee chair. Make sure the person in
charge has the critical understanding necessary to evaluate diversity-related
questions and can advance the work of the committee with diversity as a
central project. The chair should have the facilitation skills needed to redi-
rect problematic tangents and arguments against diversity during commit-
tee discussions. Be sure that the chair will be able to present a strong case
of recommendation to the power structure. If not, be firm and consider a
different chair.
•Draw on expertise in your faculty and account for their extra service load. Recog-
nize diversity service by increasing release time. Ensure that those assess-
ing job applicants have a demonstrated critical understanding of, not just a
“belief in” or “commitment to,” diversity. Use measures such as committee
members’ published work, research projects, community involvement, and
professional development efforts as specific evidence of their commitment
and expertise, rather than their warmth, friendliness, professed interest in
the issues, or international travels.
Step 3: The “Objective” Scrutiny of the CV
As chair, in preparation for our discussion, I have gone through the applicant CVs and
created a table of candidates’ publications in terms of numbers, quality of journals, and
grant monies. This will help us compare the candidates on fair grounds.
This vignette is based on an actual experience one of us had on a hiring
committee. The committee chair (a White male) prepared for the shortlisting
meeting by creating an elaborate template that he saw as an impartial frame,
presuming that evaluating according to the same criteria equaled evaluating
fairly.
Education researchers have extensively problematized the standardized
approach to assessing students (Darling-Hammond, 2014; Darling-Hammond,
Ancess, & Falk, 1995; Kohn, 2000; Oakes, 2005). Further, beyond the assess-
ment of students, assessments by students of their courses and professors shift
predictably along group-based lines: (cis) male professors are rated more
positively than (cis) female, White professors are rated more positively than
professors of color, and courses that address privilege and racism are rated
more negatively (Deo, 2015; Gutiérrez y Muhs et al., 2012; Ladson-Billings,
1996; Nast, 1999; Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2014). Further, research on implicit bias
(Jones, Peddie, Gilrane, King, & Gray, 2013; Jost et al., 2009) shows that there
is a large-scale social belief that peoples of color are inherently less qualified,
yet implicit bias and its impact on an applicant’s materials (such as teaching
evaluations) are rarely ever addressed by hiring committees.
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This research shows that the qualifications of candidates of color are often
overscrutinized—for example, Why are their student evaluations so poor? Why are
there so few grants acquired for their research? At the same time, many contribu-
tions are undervalued—for example, the extra workload that faculty of color
typically take on is not “countable” on the CV. This includes mentoring stu-
dents of color and/or helping them navigate HWCUs, supporting student
activist organizations and community groups (e.g., Muslim Students Associa-
tion, Black Lives Matter chapter), mentoring junior faculty, and consulting
with administrators on issues pertaining to particular minoritized populations.
Further, candidates of color and Indigenous candidates are often asked to
bear additional high-stakes responsibilities—for example, Can you serve on the
vice president’s advisory committee for the new Aboriginal Students Services Center?
Could you consult with the president on his Asian Heritage Month speaker series? The
department received a request for a speaker from the Aga Khan Community Leader-
ship group, and the chair recommended they contact you. The pressure to accept
these responsibilities is intense, because if a candidate does not agree to take
them up, it is likely that the important work won’t be done—or won’t be done
thoughtfully. All of this shadow work draws on the personal, lived, and aca-
demic expertise of scholars of color and other marginalized scholars, yet it
seldom counts (or counts very little) toward career progression. Conversely,
the absence of these skills and experiences are not viewed as deficits on White
applicants’ profiles, as their capacity to contribute to this type of service work
is rarely seen to be essential.
Constructive Alternatives
Think through the following when reviewing candidate CVs:
•No CV is race-neutral. Is the committee tending to neutralize the CV of can-
didates who do not address race and to racialize those who do? For exam-
ple, committees may begin to talk about the candidate of color as being
an expert on “urban” issues rather than a “general” elementary education
person (We need someone who can teach and supervise our students on a range of
elementary education topics, not just race).
•Count input, not just output, in research. Is the committee counting only candi-
dates’ output (the number of publications) and not input (the time it takes
to build the relationships that grant access)? Some forms of traditional
cultural knowledge are exceedingly challenging to obtain, and some are
against cultural rules to disclose to outsiders, and doing so could lose the
researcher future access. Consider what other evidence might be consid-
ered, such as relationships with communities and activism/advocacy work,
and ask for this type of evidence to be included with the application materi-
als for all candidates.
•Count multilingualism as a strength, not a barrier. Are discussions about whether
or not a particular committee member can understand the speaker allowed
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to distract from the content? If monolingual committee members are hav-
ing trouble understanding accented English, that should be considered a
deficit on the part of the monolinguist, not the speaker.
•Be aware that not all publications appear in Western indexes. Does our assessment
of publications consider the languages in which the candidate publishes?
Recognize, for example, that international journals may not be indexed in
your university’s library.
•Expect evidence of diversity literacy from ever y applicant, regardless of the field. Is
every candidate able to demonstrate a degree of diversity literacy? Consider
what coursework candidates have taken. What are they writing about and
who are they citing? In the context of racialized candidates, the playing
field is not level, so seek criteria to include these candidates rather than
eliminate them. Take as long as necessary to get it right. If you did not get can-
didates who could further your racial equity goals, why didn’t you do well
enough to attract them? If you had diverse candidates in the pool but did
not shortlist them, why not? If your long list does not include minoritized
candidates, consider it a failed list and be willing to start over.
Step 4: The Interview
Interview Schedule for Dr. V. L. Stone
Elementary Education Position
Tuesday, April 7
6:00–8:00 pm Dinner with Drs. D. Waterson and P. Lawrence
Rainy City Brewing Co. Pub and Restaurant
Wednesday, April 8
8:30–9:30 am Continental breakfast with dept heads (Robert Johnson Hall, Rm 110)
10:00–11:30 am Research presentation to faculty (RJH, Rm 112)
12:00–-1:30 pm Lunch with committee members (Faculty Club)
1:30–3:00 pm Interview with full committee (RJH, Rm 112)
3:15–3:45 pm Meeting with Dean Swenson (RJH, Dean’s Suite)
The seemingly neutral layout of a typical campus visit should be considered
more critically, as it serves as the most intensive interaction between a candi-
date and the institutional committee. In this way, it is important to consider
the concept of embodiment and how it shapes all institutional interactions.
Racial power manifests institutionally, but it is also inscribed on bodies
themselves. While we often acknowledge race in the bodies of racialized oth-
ers—particularly when it is perceived as a commodity that we want or need—
we do not often see how Whiteness, too, is embodied by a hiring committee
or how it bears on racialized others who interact with the committee. Herein
lies a dilemma. To continually mark the bodies of some candidates as diverse
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(as we too have done in this essay) is to reify the normative power inscribed
on the bodies perceived as White. While there is not currently a way around
this dilemma, it can at least be diminished with attention and consciousness.
One of the dynamics we can attend to is how the diverse candidate’s embodi-
ment implicitly raises both doubts and expectations for the committee; doubts
about whether or not the candidate can be a person of color and also be a gen-
eralist who won’t “just” be interested in race issues and expectations that the
candidate can function as a representative of the diversity the campus claims
to desire. These doubts and expectations are present in the candidate’s inter-
actions with the committee, whether the committee is explicitly aware of them
or not.
In addition to performing well during all parts of the interview, candidates
of color must also navigate the default conditions of White normativity within
the HWCU institution at large. Along with the conditions of White normativ-
ity, they also have the parallel track of their racialized experiences to attend
to as they prepare for the day, what W. E. B. DuBois (1903) termed “double
consciousness.” For example, Is the campus in a city or a small town? Will I be safe
after hours there? Will I encounter any other peoples of color (or otherwise minoritized
peoples)? What microaggressions will I face and how do I stay focused in spite of them?
Do I speak openly and honestly about my work on race? Do I talk about how my iden-
tity shapes my work? Against this backdrop, well-meaning advice by a committee
member to “just be yourself” does not alleviate the multilayered stress a can-
didate of color may feel. Indeed, it can actually increase that stress because
it reveals how little the well-meaning committee member understands racial
dynamics. Our point here is not that hosts should be so careful as to be distant
and reserved, but that committees need to recognize their own embodiment
as well as each candidate’s and understand that every interaction occurs within
a sociocultural and political context, no matter how benign it may appear.
While many candidates of color have a great deal of professional experi-
ence navigating White dominant spaces, a primarily White department still has
an impact on their interview experience. Every question conveys information
to the candidate about the department’s consciousness, or lack thereof. In a
HWCU, a candidate who is of color but does not challenge racism and White-
ness will more likely be seen as an asset, as unbiased and relatable (Ahmed,
2012; Henry et. al, 2017). The committee will presume that such a candidate
can “help” with diversity initiatives and will do so as a team player, not “push-
ing race” or “seeing racism/racists everywhere.” In these ways the candidate
will be implicitly racialized, while at the same time positioned as unbiased and
“naturally” competent on issues of diversity.
Conversely, a racialized candidate who also conducts diversity-related
research must manage the committee’s perception that they have a single-
focus expertise, which may present in such questions as: This is great, but how
will you teach all the other students? How does this relate to other students?
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The Diversity Question
Some institutions have a bank of questions for committees to choose from.
These questions may not address racial diversity at all, leaving it up to the com-
mittee to include the discussion. The add-on nature of these questions, and
that they are so often optional and thus not included at all, communicates
that the capacity to understand oneself in relation to their sociopolitical con-
text is not central to the department. When a question is asked, it is typically
something like How do you manage diversity in your courses? How do you support
diversity, respect, and inclusion in your classes? How do you work with diverse students?
Yet these questions proceed from the unmarked norm of Whiteness. They do
so through their presumption that the White candidate is neutral, that diver-
sity exists outside of oneself, and that difference is something that should or
could be controlled and managed. These questions also do not account for
the dynamics of unequal power relations embedded in the classroom and the
institution at large.
Some of the responses we have heard from candidates to these types of
uncritical questions are:
I taught in a rough inner-city school/tribal school.
My wife is Thai.
I consulted in Baghdad.
I’m a minority myself; I am a ___.
I grew up in a small town, so I understand the need to feel included.
I taught English in China for two years so I understand feeling excluded.
These answers proceed from the unmarked norm of Whiteness in their
presumption that simply being near peoples of color, holding fond regard
across race, experiencing marginalization in another axis of difference, or any
experience of difference at all can result in constructive interventions against
oppression. They also function to exempt one from complicity in systems of
oppression or the further need for critical engagement.
A candidate’s race plays a powerful role in how they are held accountable
to engage with complexity and nuance in arguably the most complex and
nuanced social problem of our time: race relations. While candidates of color
are expected to be able to speak to this topic, White candidates (and White
men in particular) are not only permitted ignorance but can openly profess
ignorance and still be seen by an uncritical committee as honest, even charm-
ing, but certainly not unqualified (Gutiérrez y Muhs et al., 2012). In a clas-
sic example of the lack of institutional accountability for faculty diversity, an
advice column in the Chronicle of Higher Education explained how to answer
the diversity question without acknowledging that there are conditions under
which a candidate might be unqualified to answer (Utz, 2017). To offer tips
that presume that anyone can “pass” the diversity question with just a little
preparation gained from an advice-style column reinforces the lack of insti-
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tutional accountability to diversity. It also relieves the hiring committee of
accountability to its institution’s professed commitment to diversity; it doesn’t
have to see a candidate’s inability to speak with nuance and complexity to
this issue as reason for disqualification or endure the discomfort of stand-
ing behind the decision to disqualify a candidate based on that inability. In
our experience, a candidate’s response to a question on diversity has never
been the determining factor in the decision. In this way, these questions sim-
ply function as cover for the committee and the institution itself, as they are
rarely taken seriously. (One of us was present at an interview when a diversity-
themed question was asked and two of the White male members of the com-
mittee chose that moment to get up and refill their coffee cups, while a third
opened his laptop to check e-mail.)
Constructive Alternatives
While our ads and public narratives (such as mission/vision statements) may
tell candidates that our institutions are critically conscious, institutions rarely
show this consciousness in action. The interview is an opportunity to do so.
While most of us sitting at the hiring table will be White, if we have a critical
consciousness, we are better equipped to create a welcoming and affirming cli-
mate for underrepresented candidates. If we do not have a critical conscious-
ness, we are less likely to recruit (or retain) these candidates. So what shape
are we in? If we state that we want candidates with experience in urban schools,
the committee should know how to assess this experience. Again, we must be
prepared to expect accountability. This means that if a committee member is
not able to assess answers to diversity questions as strong or weak, then that
member is simply not qualified to serve on a hiring committee at an institu-
tion that professes diversity as a core value and mission.
To be more responsive to these dynamics, consider strategies such as the
following:
•Integrate diversity into every question in a meaningful way. In turn, listen closely
for complexity and nuance, critical reflection, humility, and self-awareness.
Ask follow-up questions and hold high expectations. In so doing, it is com-
municated from the start that the issues are taken seriously and that faculty
will be held accountable to these values. Some questions might be:
What are some of the techniques you use to teach in a culturally
responsive way?
Can you trace the history and key politics of your field? How has it
responded to calls to move away from “great white men” and
toward more inclusive/diverse scholarship?
You are asked to teach a general Elementary Teaching course. Who are
the five to ten authors the students must read, and why? [Listen
for diversity of authors in each candidate’s response.]
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How do you recruit and support racially diverse graduate students?
What success have you had? Challenges?
What role models are there in your field for nontraditional students
(e.g., female students, LGBTQ+ students, Indigenous students,
students of color, and students with disabilities)?
More and more students are demanding faculty accountability on
issues of race and equity. How have you responded? What areas of
growth do you see for yourself?
A group of students comes to you and says that there is racial inequity
in the classroom’s dynamics. How might you respond to its
concerns?
•View less formalized parts of the day as further opportunities to communicate your
diversity literacy. For example, have you asked about dietary restrictions? Is
your interview occurring during an important period of faith (e.g., Rama-
dan, Yom Kippur)? Has there been an acknowledgment of unceded Indig-
enous territories to start the day and meaningful address of local protocols?
What consideration has been given to accessibility within a potentially noisy
space (such as a pub or large cafeteria) for candidates who might be hard
of hearing, or have mobility limitations?
•Consider which students you put in front of which candidates. Because our field
is multicultural education, during the interview process we are consistently
put in front of the students-of-color groups and other activist groups on
campus. Are these same student groups invited to meet candidates for all
positions? If not, why? For example, consider having the elementary edu-
cation candidate meet with activist students on your campus; the candidate
would be pressed to demonstrate that they understood the historical impact
of their field on marginalized peoples and the impact of that history on
children in schools today.
•Challenge your response to affect. The affects (body language, facial expression,
tone) that are traditionally read as neutral or friendly are de facto White
cultural norms. These norms shape both how a predominantly White com-
mittee will be read as well as how that committee will read the candidates.
Because the affect of White candidates will more easily match the expecta-
tions of a predominantly White committee, this candidate will appear to be
a better fit over a candidate of color who might be presenting a different
affect. Educate yourself on the power of implicit bias and ways to amelio-
rate it. Consider whether your response to a candidate is based on descrip-
tive observations (“He didn’t smile”) versus evaluations (“He’s not a team
player”). For example, a White man who does not smile may be seen as a
competent authority figure, while a woman of color who does not smile may
be seen as angry and difficult to work with. Develop strategies to keep com-
mittee members alert to the reality of implicit bias.
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Step 5: The Decision
I think she is great, and if we had a position that was specifically about urban schools,
then she might be right for the job . . .
Try this thought experiment: a predominantly White hiring committee with
a White person as chair hires a White person. The next hire is a White person.
The next hire is a White person. The next hire is a White person. It could go
on for years this way, and the people who might raise a red flag are most likely
only faculty of color or others working from a critical social justice framework.
In fact, one of us taught in a department that went seventeen years without
hiring a single person of color. Now imagine that a Black person is chair of the
committee, and two or more members are Black. The committee hires a Black
person. Most (White) people would raise the red flag right there, but certainly
they would do so if the second hire and the third and fourth hires were also
Black. But when a red flag is raised on the continual pattern of White hires,
justifications often surface, including:
• There just aren’t many qualified people of color in this field. People of
color who excel usually don’t choose to go into education because the pay
and status are low.
• We did everything we could to recruit candidates of color, but they just
aren’t applying. We can’t create people who aren’t there.
• We needed someone who can hit the ground running.
• Are you saying we shouldn’t have our jobs?
When a committee is ready to meet to vote and recommend a candidate
for a position, two dominant discourses tend to emerge: fit and merit. As Ian
Haney López (2015) argues, fit is the “dog whistle” of the hiring committee,
or how committees signal race without explicitly naming it. From this perspec-
tive, “candidate fit” actually means their ability to keep White people racially
comfortable and their likelihood of leaving Whiteness (or the status quo)
undisturbed. Hand in hand with fit is the discourse of merit. These discourses
and the assumptions they rest on need to be continually interrogated.
Constructive Alternatives
If, as academic institutions, we truly want to correct the existing diversity imbal-
ance on campus, we need to develop our stamina and skills in talking about
identity at every hiring decision. To do so, practice the following strategies:
•Avoid coded discourses, such as “adding diversity.” These discourses fetishize
and commodify non-White bodies. When hiring committees are consider-
ing a candidate of color, the fact that the candidate would “add” diversity
to the faculty is most always talked about, yet when a White candidate is at
the top of the list, the fact that that candidate would not add diversity is not
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talked about. Grapple openly with how every candidate will or won’t con-
tribute to your equity goals.
•Attend to the reality of implicit bias. If, as a hiring committee, you are all (or
predominantly) White and are excited about a White candidate, ask your-
selves if there might be something going on that should be grappled with.
Revisit the case for the White candidate and consider how much of the case
is based on descriptive qualifications (“integrates multiple perspectives in
their research as evidenced by . . . ,” “demonstrates commitment to equity
as evidenced by . . .”) rather than evaluative ones (friendly, relaxed, great
sense of humor, cool style, fits in, students love her).
•Revisit the institutional mission and vision statements. As a committee, you
should ask whether your practices and outcomes are in line with the insti-
tution’s professed values. If not, then be honest about the department’s
unwillingness to be accountable to those values and remove any misaligned
statements from marketing and other materials promoting your faculty.
•Acknowledge and address power dynamics on committees. Junior faculty are most
vulnerable in their positions on committees. At the same time, they may
actually be more current on research related to diversity if this is their
field or they were mindful to attend to subjectivity in their research. Yet
they often don’t challenge their tenured/senior colleagues due to con-
cerns about career progression. Talk openly about your positions and plan
how you will mediate the power differentials. For example, the chair might
explicitly state that all perspectives are necessary for a successful search and
express an expectation that there will be no retaliation for disagreements.
The chair should also be mindful to facilitate the discussions in an equita-
ble way by, for example, calling for go-arounds to ensure that all voices are
heard, not allowing the most powerful members to set the agenda by speak-
ing first and most, and checking in with quieter members both inside and
outside the meetings.
“Yeah, but . . .”: Common Narratives of Resistance
Our constructive alternatives will be challenging to operationalize, but we have
to be honest in asking ourselves, Do we really want to open the gates to greater fac-
ulty diversity? If we are indeed committed, and this commitment goes beyond
simply marketing the bodies of racialized students to sell our campuses as
diverse, we need to be prepared to do everything differently, because every-
thing in the institution was set up to reproduce the existing order. Thus, every
step of the hiring process is an opportunity to interrupt the reproduction of
racial inequity.
Here we identify common objections and explicitly speak back to them
from a racial equity framework.
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Won’t putting diversity ahead of subject-matter expertise bring down the quality of
our institution’s research profile?
Diversity literacy and subject-matter expertise are not mutually exclusive,
and we need to challenge the implicit bias that continually positions them as
such. Further, our measures of quality must be interrogated. If we continue
to base quality solely on factors such as the tier of publication, then, due to
the institutional and cultural supports that exist for mainstream work, White,
male, middle-class, and otherwise privileged scholars will have the equivalent
of a “wind at their backs” (Kimmel, 2002) and will continue to excel by these
measures, with research that does not further the cause of racial justice con-
tinuing to be elevated. Might we instead consider research that does not fur-
ther the cause of racial justice to be, in fact, lesser quality research?
You’re just advocating for diversity because it’s your area of scholarship. Why
not make math education a mandatory subject for all candidates to demonstrate
expertise on?
Let us be clear. We are not advocating that diversity be put ahead of subject-
matter expertise. We are advocating for an understanding that one cannot be
considered to have subject-matter expertise if one cannot position their field within a
sociopolitical context. For example, if a STEM education candidate is not able to
articulate how STEM education can meet the needs of a diverse group of stu-
dents, recognize that up until now it has not, and have some analysis of why
that is and how it might be remedied, that candidate is not qualified in STEM
education. Especially as schools become increasingly separate and unequal, we
must consider this ability as integral to all positions rather than as optional,
desired, but not really weighted.
We are all for diversity, but isn’t privileging candidates of color over White
applicants just reverse racism?
Racism is different from racial bias. While all people have racial biases, rac-
ism refers to the collective impact of that bias when it is backed by the weight
of history, legal authority, and institutional control. When these dimensions
are present, racial bias is transformed into racism, a system of racial oppres-
sion. By definition, racism is not fluid and cannot be wielded by individuals
regardless of their racial positions; thus, reverse racism does not exist (Sensoy
& DiAngelo, 2017).
Also, there is an abundance of empirical evidence that people of color are
discriminated against in hiring and have been for generations and into the
present (Cheung et al., 2016; Derous, Buijsrogge, Roulin, & Duyck, 2016;
Hasford, 2016; Rivera, 2015). Unfounded beliefs that diversity goals require
unqualified peoples of color to be hired over Whites are insulting because
they are based on the assumption that a person of color could not possibly
have been the most qualified.
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In the case of two candidates who are equally qualified but one is a person
of color and the other is White and the workplace is not racially diverse, con-
sider that the person of color is actually more qualified because they bring a
perspective to the workplace that is missing.
Aren’t we setting up new hires to fail if we bring them into a hostile workplace?
While this statement is meant to exhibit concern, it actually conveys accep-
tance of a racially hostile workplace. If we are aware enough of the racial hos-
tility that we can make this statement, why is it being allowed to continue? Why
are we not up in arms about our climate and putting all effort into changing
it?
Unexamined Whiteness does make for a hostile work environment for peo-
ples of color, and support will be needed for new hires. Efforts to change the
climate and support faculty of color should occur simultaneously. But while
this need for support is often positioned as a deficit of candidates of color,
consider all the resources put into diversity workshops for White staff. Why do
we not see this need for training as a deficit of White employees? Why would
we continue to hire candidates who we know will need this education? Why are
we willing to wait for them to receive it, even as we know that these training
sessions are only occasional occurrences and rarely ever mandatory? In fact,
most faculty may not ever receive this training or respond constructively to it
if they do. Why is the harm that unaware faculty perpetrate on students and
colleagues in the meantime acceptable? We are in support of continual train-
ing; racial justice learning is ongoing and our learning is never finished. Still,
we do not recommend hiring people with virtually no interest or foundational
education.
There just aren’t qualified diverse candidates out there.
Change is difficult for many, especially when the change in question is to a
system that serves and privileges us. We tend to make excuses and put up road-
blocks for inaction rather than take risks, be innovative, and be accountable
to diversity goals no matter what challenges may emerge. In addition, there are
nondiverse candidates who specialize in diversity content and can bring the
critical expertise that is much needed. Students have demanded that White
faculty with the skills to engage in diversity with complexity and nuance also
be hired (not just well-intentioned open-mindedness, which almost all faculty
will have). When we consider White candidates with these skills and perspec-
tives, our pool opens even wider.
These are really good suggestions and thank you for raising them, but the job
description was approved by senior administration and it cannot be changed.
Besides, if we ask them for changes, we risk losing the position altogether.
Leadership often argues that many of the components of a search have
already been approved and thus cannot be changed. While this may sound
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özlem sensoy and robin diangelo
reasonable, consider what is actually being said: We developed these practices with-
out a lens on equity. Now that we have begun to profess valuing equity, we can’t change
them. Of course, this is not true; institutions can and do change policies all
the time. But we must have the will. Centuries of exclusionary policies will not
shift without commitment and the courage to fight resistance. If we cannot
demonstrate that we have this commitment through our actions and their out-
comes, in good conscience we should stop making the claim that we are campus
communities that promote diversity, respect, and inclusion.
Conclusion
Demonstrating the value of racialized and Indigenous scholars in the
academy . . . means disrupting established ways of doing things and
challenging normative notions of selection, appointment, and promotion.
—Frances Henry et al., The Equity Myth
The default of historically White institutions is the reproduction of racial
inequality. From that premise comes the understanding that we cannot rest
on our good intentions or self-images and expect our outcomes to change. As
Frances Henry and her colleagues (2017) remind us, “For many racialized and
Indigenous faculty, whose numbers have increased only slightly over the past
three decades, the policies and diversity initiatives are only a foil to deflect
criticism of a system that is doing little to change itself” (p. 8). Rather than
exempt ourselves from the lack of change, we must consider the inevitability
of our complicity. Our task, then, is to identify how our complicity is manifest-
ing, rather than to establish our so-called openness or neutrality.
Pushing against tradition and the normative practices that have been insti-
tutionalized and function to exclude diverse faculty at every step is profoundly
challenging. We are up against historic and current differentials in power,
privilege, and access that are manifesting concretely (even as their existence is
denied). Interrupting these processes requires that we reconsider a multitude
of commonsense practices. With this in mind, we offer small steps that can
be taken at each point in the academic hiring process. But first we must have
the will. We ask our White colleagues to consider how a lack of knowledge,
apathy, seeing oneself as “the choir” without need for specific effort, and any
resentment toward this work function to hold racial inequity in place. Ideally,
we understand the ongoing and lifelong struggle inherent in changing deeply
embedded patterns and practices. But if we do not have the knowledge and
skills that develop out of sustained intentionality rather than mere good inten-
tions and are not actively working toward attaining them, we must not position
ourselves or our programs as “valuing diversity” or “encouraging diverse can-
didates.” To claim that HWCUs value diversity and seek a diverse faculty with-
out fundamental changes in our processes is meaningless, though not benign.
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