Diverse? Addressing Lack Of Diversity Among Dominican University Faculty

February 21, 2017

By Crystal Medrano

Recent complaints by students and even some faculty members show that low numbers of faculty of color is an issue for the Dominican community.

According to the Office of Institutional Research, as of 2016, 6 percent of faculty at Dominican identifies as Black or African American, 7 percent as Hispanic and 8 percent as Asian/ Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander. These are small numbers compared to the 76 percent that identify as white.

Larger representation means more support and more availability for minority students at Dominican. Since faculty of color represent such a small percentage, faculty stress that there’s only so much they can do for students.

“The disparity is huge, and we can’t serve the community if our numbers are low,” Spanish Professor Lily Ibarra said. “I think we (minority faculty) feel a personal obligation to represent because we are so small. We try to make ourselves accessible and since there is such a greater demand now, the feeling of needing to step up and fill those missing spots can be exhausting.”

Graduate School of Social Work Professor Leticia Villarreal-Sosa agrees.

 “This is a very serious issue for faculty of color currently on campus,” Villarreal-Sosa said. “Many of us are stretched incredibly thin, often asked to participate in additional committees or task forces as well as having the informal and formal advising work that is done.”

Dominican’s student population has at least 43 percent identifying as Hispanic or Latino. As a result of these numbers, there are concerns of how the low diversity among faculty affects the school as a whole, especially the students.

“Having faculty of color has a direct impact on a student’s learning,” Villarreal-Sosa said. “Faculty of color are more likely to engage students in classroom dialogue and give additional readings on issues of race or ethnicity.”  

Chief Diversity Officer, Sheila Radford-Hill agrees.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Radford-Hill said. “Students need to be able to see successful people who look like them so they can be and believe they can be successful too.”

 Ibarra shared similar thoughts saying, “This also affects the retention rate in students of color as well. Students bring up this concern and demand more responsibility because they want professors who look like them.”

Villarreal-Sosa also mentioned how faculty diversity has been brought up to her by students before.

“They expressed the importance of having advisors that came from similar backgrounds as they did and stressed what a difference it made to have a Latino advisor who could understand their experience as a student of color on campus,” Villarreal-Sosa said.

English Professor Jane Hseu agrees with the need for a more diverse faculty.

“We should listen to them and act,” Hseu said. “A more diverse faculty will allow for more diverse perspectives and experiences to be imparted to the students in their educational experience; this will also allow students to be better prepared for lives and careers in our diverse society.”

Radford-Hill understands students’ concerns and stressed that Dominican is working on this.

“We know we have work to do,” Radford-Hill said. “We know what we need to do, we just need time and help from the students. Students need to take real interest, not just talk with peers, but talk to us, tell us what the concerns are and give us ideas. We are not enemies, we should be partners in education.”

However, there are some issues that students cannot help fix. Issues related to not only hiring more people of color but actually keeping them. 

Villarreal-Sosa explained the inside problems of being a minority faculty.

“We are often isolated and have challenges within our departments facing experiences of racism and microaggressions from our supervisors or colleagues,” Villarreal-Sosa explained.

Ibarra agrees stating, “We need stronger systems of support for faculty of color. Right now, we need help identifying needs and more intent to organize. It’s hard with only 12 of us.”

 Hseu also shared her thoughts on this issue.

“We need to make sure that racial minority faculty are being treated fairly on campus and feel supported in dealing with explicit and implicit bias they face on campus,” Hseu said. “Administrators and faculty, especially the faculty committees that evaluate faculty for renewal, tenure, and promotion, need to be aware of the bias racial minority faculty face and know the steps to take to remedy it. Nationwide, the unequal treatment of evaluation leading to renewal or tenure, decreases the full-time racial minority at universities.”

Evidently, this is not a problem that can be fixed overnight and many people understand this but the importance of this change is still urgent.

“This isn’t just a Dominican problem, we are low on a national level,” Ibarra said. “It’s only been two years since the Diversity Office has existed so the fact that it has taken that long to prioritize those values says something.”

Hiring new faculty also has to do with a lot of where Dominican chooses to advertise and where they are searching for these candidates.

“We can’t advertise where candidates won’t see,” Radford-Hill said. “We need to tap networks and tell people (our faculty) what they need to do to make our campus more welcoming. We need to be more mindful and make more opportunities and we need to find ways to make it possible. We need to go to minority groups and conferences and get to know people. People need to know that we are serious about this.”

Ibarra discussed the idea of there not being enough candidates to hire as well and dispelled that notion.

“There is a myth of not enough candidates,” Ibarra said. “That is no excuse because there are. We have to be an attractive space for the underrepresented.”

It’s clear there are a lot of factors that go into trying to diversify an institution and Radford-Hill wants to reassure that they are working on it. 

In 2014, Dominican had a training called “Best Practices for Hiring” given to search committees to make people mindful of how to signal to candidates what Dominican looks for.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion does have a search plan worksheet and a diversity plan that goes through all the steps of what Dominican can and should do to start bridging this cultural divide.

 “There are people here that are so in love with our students and our students are so worthy and make me want to do the best job that I can possibly do,” Radford-Hill said.

medrcrys@my.dom.edu