If you want to teach the viola at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, you’ll need to submit a diversity statement. The same goes if you want to teach economics at Bellevue University in Washington. There, candidates must “provide specific examples of how [their] educational and/or professional experiences, background or philosophy demonstrate [their] commitment to diversity and equity.”
You can’t teach horticulture at North Orange Community College unless you’ve shown “sensitivity to and understanding of the diverse academic, socioeconomic, cultural, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ethnic backgrounds of community college students, faculty and staff.” You’ll also need to be able to “demonstrate how these factors relate to the need for equity minded practices within an educational environment.”
And it’s not just public universities. An increasing number of private colleges, including the prestigious California school, Pomona College, now require diversity statements. At Pomona, the diversity statement is “one of the four components most critical in [the] evaluation of candidates.”
Jeffrey Flier, a former dean of Harvard Medical School, writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that he has supported prior efforts, including affirmative action, to enhance “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” on campus. But, he argues, “it is entirely inappropriate to require diversity statements in the process of appointment and promotion” because such “requirements risk introducing a political litmus test into faculty hiring and reviews.”
Defenders of such statements argue, among other things, that schools like North Orange and Bellevue have extremely diverse student bodies. It’s just good sense to make sure candidates have what it takes, for example, to attend to the distinct challenges first-generation college students face. But, as Flier gently suggests, those who think these new policies are simply or primarily about competence in dealing with a diverse student body mustn’t pay much attention to the debate over diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Flier contends that “the academic literature regarding equity and inclusion today” contains a great deal of emphasis on “structural racism, white privilege and supremacy, microaggressions [and] economically driven power relationships.” Whatever one thinks of this emphasis, even the emphasizers don’t consider it to be “politically neutral.”
As Henry Reichman of the American Association of Professors has argued, it’s true that diversity can mean a multitude of things, including “diversity of viewpoints.” So it’s possible to imagine a way of treating diversity statements so that they do not function as ideological loyalty oaths. Unfortunately, nothing in the literature Flier cites inspires any confidence that these statements affirming a commitment to equity don’t double as commitments to a particular vision of justice.
As Tonya Golash Boza, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, explains in her essay on effective diversity statements that one shouldn’t be hyper-cautious about seeming “too political.” Campuses can be divided into people “who do not care about diversity”—we are presumably expected to hiss—and those who “truly care about diversity and equity.” The latter will want to know about your “genuine commitment to diversity and equity” which may include your “activism” on behalf of the oppressed but probably won’t include your membership in the Heterodox Academy, an organization devoted to viewpoint diversity.
Don’t talk about your experience of being a “Kansan in Missouri,” even though geographic and regional diversity is something for which colleges and universities often strive. Focus instead on “commonly accepted understandings of diversity and equity.” You know, “racial oppression, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism or some other commonly recognized form of oppression.” Boza doesn’t say but certainly leads one to conclude that it would be a mistake to say you’re a Mormon, even though Mormons are routinely ridiculed. That would be trolling.
Boza is just one person, but she is hardly an outlier. The only study I know of, a small one, that has looked at diversity statements concludes rather tentatively that candidates are “not just submitting statements of political beliefs or ideologies.” Unfortunately, the study is unavailable, but the samples provided in InsideHigherEd suggest that if you do not have your own experience of oppression, it’s helpful to invoke your Lebanese grandmother or gay uncle.
I’m with Flier. Diversity statements can easily be used to further strengthen the left-liberal majority on our college and university campuses, as if it needed strengthening. College presidents concerned about maintaining what’s left of public confidence in higher education should buck the trend of adopting them.