From December 2019 until April 2020, the debate around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statements was raging at UC Davis.
Up until then, someone applying for a faculty job at UC Davis had to provide two mandatory statements: a research statement, that details the candidate’s interests and plans for their research, and a teaching statement, that explains the candidate’s teaching philosophy.
Now, UC Davis (as many other UC campuses) was requiring a third statement –the DEI statement– through which the candidate would detail their commitment and future plans to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.
This new requirement made a lot of current faculty freak out –specially in STEM department, such as my department–, and soon enough a “yes/no” resolution to remove the mandatory aspect of the DEI statement was launched.
For this petition, it was possible for participants to write “pro/against” opinions, which I did because this particular issue felt important to me. Here it is:
As presented during the Strength through Equity & Diversity (STEAD) Faculty Search Committee Workshops, the disparities of representation between our student body and our faculty are staggering. Whereas our student body is composed of a majority of female students (~60% vs ~40%) and is racially and ethnically diverse (~33% Asian/Pacific Islander, ~25% White, ~22% Hispanic, etc.), our faculty body is disproportionally male (~66%) and white (~55%).
Such a disproportion is a serious problem. Period. It’s simple statistics. Addressing this injustice and finding ways to fix it is not a political issue, it’s simply the right thing to do. What’s political is that this disproportion was entirely created and enforced by oppressive policies in the first place. What’s still political is to defend the status quo, and prevent this unjustified disproportion from disappearing once and for all.
As faculty members, we have the power to influence and rectify this issue. We can study the lack of diversity in our respective fields, and propose countermeasures. We can engage in student outreach to make sure that our research labs are as diverse as our student body. We can use our moral authority to convince underrepresented students that they can have as much ambition as the other students. Through our actions today, we can ensure that someday the pool of candidates at each level (graduate, postgraduate, and ultimately faculty) is perfectly representative of our students –and even of our population at large. Given the necessity of this effort and its relative urgency, it is absolutely appropriate for the university to make advancing diversity a core component of our job description and not a mere voluntary venture.
Contrary to what some say, DEI statements are not affirmative action in disguise. They are an evidence-based measure aimed at determining if faculty candidates will be committed to fulfilling this essential job duty. Overall, the process is very similar to the teaching and research statements, as it asks for the same two pieces of information: a track record, and future plans – both of which must be supported by concrete evidence.
There is also some confusion about whether DEI statements should be used as an initial candidate screening or not, but this is another debate, and it is actually not being addressed by this resolution. This resolution aims to make DEI statements optional for faculty appointments, which would greatly delay fixing the lack of diversity in our faculty body – as well as for faculty advancement, which is strange since the advancement process actually doesn’t require DEI statements.
I can’t help but think that the current uproar against diversity efforts is rooted in the fear of some faculty to realize that they may have benefited from structural privilege, in addition to their individual merits. I’d like to remind them that these diversity efforts are not about them, it’s about making sure that our younger generations get the opportunities that they duly deserve.
The resolution was eventually defeated, which means that the DEI statements will remain a mandatory part of new applications.
A few weeks later, an opposite resolution, this one initiated to actively support DEI statements as a “useful part of a holistic review in the appointment of new faculty”, was approved.
In spite of this small victory, the road towards increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion is frustratingly long…