12 Reasons Your College Needs A Diverse Faculty and How to Start

A diverse faculty that welcomes and works on equal terms with colleagues from all ages, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, races and sexual orientations is important and should be a goal every administration is pursuing.

Parminder Jassal
November 6, 2023

As universities and colleges strive to create an inclusive environment, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that diversity is not just a moral imperative, but a practical necessity. 

A diverse faculty that welcomes and works on equal terms with colleagues from all ages, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, races and sexual orientations is important and should be a goal every administration is pursuing. 

This can bring a wide range of perspectives and experiences to the table, leading to more creative solutions and better outcomes. 

Many colleges struggle to achieve that goal, though. A single hiring initiative is unlikely to succeed on its own. A successful diversity initiative needs to contain these simultaneous strategies:

  • Recruitment -  Extensive recruitment is key. In the local elementary, middle and high schools, partnerships with other colleges, contacts with alumni that may be looking to exit the private sector for a better work/life balance.
  • Retainment. Support for new hires, mentoring, networking, career development. Without proper support, new hires often do not stay long.
  • Data Tracking. Assess all contributions made by your faculty to your campus culture. Vital contributions to campus culture and work in mentoring programs are often ignored or undervalued as a volunteer project without credit given.
  • Honest Assessment - All policies’ effect on all groups is needed. 
  • Institutional culture. A solid commitment to initiatives that create ties between faculty and support campus-wide to increase a culture of care.
  • Beyond Hiring - The program must commit to a challenge beyond hiring initiatives. Alone, they do not work well.

Change is often feared and resisted because of human conformity and loss aversion, so careful and clear messaging is crucial. Half-complete programs decrease buy-in and chance of success for any future ones. 

Commitment from all stakeholders will be key. If the commitment exists, the benefits can be many, long lasting, and universal. We can improve educational outcomes, workplace conditions, maybe even society at large. Here are twelve specific ways a college benefits by committing to this goal:

1 - Encourages Faculty to Support Each Other

Successful diversity programs provide support past the hiring stage, as underrepresented minority faculty deal with much higher stress levels and retention can be more difficult than recruitment. Minorities often pay a “diversity tax”, the extra burden of representation.  A good diversity program counters these difficulties by providing support and connection opportunities, ideally not just between minorities.  Dr. Zulema Valdez, Associate Vice Provost for the Faculty and Professor of Sociology at University of California (UC) Merced, recommends getting creative to build community, either in-person or remotely. “We wanted to create more inclusivity and connections, especially with our first year faculty members, since they can feel somewhat isolated,” she explains. So, the administration started to do a very informal weekday “coffee accountability check in” with women of color and first year professors. Senior faculty members volunteered to participate to talk to new faculty members about how they’re doing. “We created a really nice community through friendly outreach,” she says. As a result, diversity programs can help break new ground in achieving support between faculty members.

Cheerful multiethnic students having high five with teacher
Photo by Kampus Production

2 - Improves Faculty Assessment

Minorities may face higher obstacles in getting published, or experience isolation and marginalization within department cliques. Penalties for different interests, foods, or even slight differences in appearance can be arbitrary, pervasive, and subtle. A successful diversity program will track data so that tenure committees can have more complete information to make well-informed, equitable decisions. By implementing a more data driven approach, bad actors and bad decisions can be reduced or even eliminated entirely.  Ensuring that every contribution of tenure track faculty is valued can improve morale and unlock untapped passion in all faculty.

3 - Find Unrecognized Talent within the Community

All institutions of higher learning must keep in mind the continued need for future faculty. 

A diverse program maximizes the potential for current students to see possibilities within themselves, paving the way for higher ambitions and a future career at the university. Talented kids in the community could be fostered through programs supported by the college, with support and development assistance along the way. 

Some would inevitably look to pay that assistance back into their community. Additional faculty prospects may be found in partnerships with other colleges or community outreach groups. There may be qualified corporate prospects that would find a more rewarding career or a better work/life balance appealing.  An intentional culture of care for the community in every stage can accomplish many things.

4 - Diversity Programs Empower Faculty to Support Students

A successful diversity program will need a firm commitment to create many layers of support, including several for students. Diversity programs lend support to successful student programs that in turn lend support to successful diversity programs. 

An infrastructure of community outreach, support, networking, and mentoring for not only all faculty but all students will show a firm commitment to be the kind of institution that cares for its community. 

While diversity is the goal, it can only be achieved through a varied and multi-pronged approach to create the type of long-lasting community that’s the true end goal. Buy-in from as many faculty as possible to support as many as possible is necessary. Support, interest, and participation all signal to students that they are important enough to make the effort.

Student support efforts can yield dividends for many reasons. It can lower dropout rates for great students that leave for fixable reasons such as Students who work while attending school and do not finish. Students who work more than eight hours a week perform less well, take longer to graduate, or do not graduate at all. Many scholarships, including Pell grants, are for a strictly limited period of four years that does not account for life’s exigencies. 

Another reason high grade students drop out is due to lack of childcare. This issue is worth serious commitment of time, brain power, and budget to figure out. These and other hard working students often have to leave years of study and labor unfulfilled to take up family responsibilities. Colleges are missing out on degree candidates and a possible talent pool.

Student support is important in other ways. In 2023, society is still reeling from substantial upheaval and realignment. 

This generation has been through a lot in their youth. They have lost family members, lost homes, lived in fear and social isolation, been witness to horrible acts of violence and cruelty, experienced great social unrest, and now are dealing with inflation and skyrocketing rent. 

And minority and economically disadvantaged populations have been impacted at an even higher level. They were 1.5 times more likely to be infected with Covid-19, twice as likely to die once infected, and 50% more likely to be food insecure in the aftermath. 

Is it any wonder that 70% of this generation values safety and security above all else? They trust science and the family and friends that care for them. Trust in authority is low. They fact-check everything. This distrust of authority runs even higher within minority communities.

Students are also more isolated than ever before. The mental health crisis was a real and increasingly serious concern on campuses across the country even before Covid-19. The social isolation and difficulties of the pandemic only compounded this problem. Students are struggling, and schools are scrambling for effective ways to help. 

While ways to improve mental health outreach on campus are far beyond the scope of this article, those implemented must be more broad and robust than ever and cognizant of disparate treatment of mental health in racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities. These underserved, often misdiagnosed communities need particular care at this time after taking the hardest hits.   

One of the first areas of focus for any college or university right now should be to connect with all students in a dependable, reasonable, trustworthy way. A program to connect with all students can dovetail seamlessly with needed outreach to diverse students. Students need community and support. Now more than ever.

Woman Sharing Her Presentation with her Colleagues
Photo by Canva Studio

5 - Keep up with Changing Student Demographics

There is no “typical” student anymore. Demographics have changed greatly over a single generation, and have been impacted in ways yet to be understood by the pandemic. 

Snapshot of Today’s Students and Faculty 1,2,3,4,5

  • 22% are parenting a child of their own. (53% of those parents have a child under 6)
  • 43% are older than 23 (average faculty age 45)
  • 29% have suicidal thoughts, 3% have attempted suicide
  • 35% have anxiety, 27% are depressed, 8% have PTSD or related trauma diagnosis
  • 50% attend exclusively full time, 32% exclusively part time
  • 40% are full time students while also employed full time
  • 17% of college students identify as LGBTQ
  • 60% are women (48% of faculty & 36% of professors)
  • 20% are Hispanic (6% of faculty & 4% of professors)
  • 15% are Black (7% of faculty & 4% of professors)
  • 6% are Asian (12% of faculty & 12% of professors)
  • 52% are White (74% of faculty & 79% of professors)

Given these statistics and the differences between student and faculty demographics, it is incumbent upon the institution to aggressively support the student body while simultaneously expanding and realigning faculty to better align with and care for these shifting demographics. 

This will improve, possibly even save the lives of students. A caring campus culture is a place that attracts prospective students, keeps current students and faculty, and hires new faculty of its choice.

6 - Makes Mentor Relationships More Likely

Successful careers are often built on strong mentor relationships. 

For historically disadvantaged communities, this can be even more important. Students may be less open to teachers with whom they do not share commonalities and, as we’ve seen above, the faculty doesn’t align with today’s student body. Faculty members who lack connections to the lives of today’s students are unlikely to forge a bond with a student. 

A diverse environment of varied races, genders, sexual identities, cultural backgrounds, teaching styles, political and social outlooks, leadership approaches and hobbies will greatly increase the likelihood that every student will relate to at least one teacher. All students deserve the opportunity to find a mentor, role model, or future colleague and the odds increase exponentially when a faculty is appropriately diverse.

7 - Better Prepare Students for Career

A broad spectrum of teachers can help students later on in their career in ways well beyond the curriculum. 

Students will feel less anxious, more confident, and possess greater adaptability when heading out into the wider world if their school has exposed them to a larger sample of that wider world. For example, if students have a more homogeneous college experience, they may feel concerned about taking a job that requires relocation to another country or management of a diverse staff.

Personal experiences with diverse faculty make the unknown known for many students. Students are better prepared for success with every stranger they meet. The world is vast and full of variety. It can seem overwhelming and chaotic for anyone that has been too limited in experience. 

Job opportunities might be dismissed or started but failed. Colleges have a responsibility to prepare students and present them with a diverse faculty that can ensure students do not leave college insulated and unprepared for the multicultural, multiethnic, multifaceted world.

8 - Challenges Stereotypes

Everyone grows up with a few misconceptions about the world and its people, whether accidental or taught. Everyone impacts everyone else. Faculty should not feel responsible for winning over everyone. That’s too much to expect. Faculty nevertheless teach far more than just their course curriculum during each class by the revelation of their own character. 

Ignorant students often need to encounter diversity in fellow students and teachers. Intelligent, respected, diverse individuals can impact some students forever. At a minimum, a diverse faculty can help them see that everyone is a perfectly normal part of the rich tapestry of humanity. 

9 - Increases Successful Collaboration and Possibility of Innovation

Studies have repeatedly shown that diverse groups in collaborative settings are more likely to consider multiple viewpoints, thus increasing ideas and the possibility of innovation. Conversely, more insular, less diverse groups create harmful echo chambers and thought bubbles that are unable to challenge established norms or conventional wisdom. 

This stifles the very innovation on which universities depend and America has succeeded in the world. Monolithic, homogenized groups have all of the negatives of decision by committee with none of the benefits. Creating viewpoint and life-experience diversity allows for ideas to flourish and promulgate in unexpected and wonderful ways. 

10 - Improves Cognitive Thinking and Thought Processing 

Diverse faculty challenge students’ critical thinking and logical reasoning. Faculty decisions about curriculum and their varied teaching styles require students to reconcile new perspectives with existing ones. This greatly increases creativity and mental plasticity. In addition, students develop empathy from encounters with diverse perspectives, leading to improved listening skills, increased breadth of social consideration, and ultimately better decision making.

11 - Contribute to a Better World One Student at a Time

Diversity programs and a diverse faculty are steps toward equality and a just community. Administrations that work towards diversity are making critical incremental change. Barriers between people can lead to tragic misunderstandings. Bad actors use them as an easy avenue to stir up hate. Every new connection erodes stubborn barriers.

12 - Meets Possible Legal Obligations 

In many cases, a diverse workforce is a requirement of the law. It might be perceived as protection against future disparity claims, a necessary step in achieving specific funding, or meeting affirmative action goals. While these aren’t unimportant goals, they shouldn’t be the driving force behind efforts to create a diverse faculty. Instead they should be important byproducts of a much more important project.

If the job is done correctly, not only can those legal obligations be met but the lives and future prospects of those placing their trust in the university can be substantially improved. With care and planning, diversity programs can and should be much more than performative.