The provost’s office asked deans to create individual plans to increase diversity in each of the University’s 10 schools by the end of this academic year – the first time such plans have ever been mandated at this level.
Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday that the plans will focus on admissions, hiring and retention to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity University-wide. She said that even as leaders have focused on the topic, the University has not made significant progress in increasing faculty, staff and student diversity in the last few years.
Provost Forrest Maltzman said in an interview that the schools will share their plans to come up with the most successful strategies, like priority recruitment and retention plans.
“One of the goals of the diversity plans is to have the schools share the information with each other to find which practices work best,” Maltzman said.
He added that some schools have had diversity committees for years but others only created committees within the last year.
Laguerre-Brown said at the meeting that deans have strongly supported the plans. She said the provost’s office has suggested the schools include information on faculty and student recruitment, retention and budget allocation for diversity programs for underrepresented minority groups as a way to address diversity overall.
“We recognize that not every school will create the same kinds of plans,” she said. “They have different needs and different challenges but we stand ready to provide support for the schools as they attempt to put these plans together.”
Laguerre-Brown said hiring and retaining diverse faculty is key to making meaningful change, but that GW hasn’t made much progress recently.
In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, no faculty members were Pacific Islander, less than 1 percent were Native American, about 3 percent were Hispanic, about 6 percent were black, about 14 percent were Asian. Forty-two percent were women and 76 percent were white, according to University data.
“Many of us know that there have been a number of measures with respect to faculty diversity where we haven’t made a lot of progress in the last five to seven years,” Laguerre-Brown, who came to GW in August, said. “Faculty diversity will be one of those places where we want to really give folks the opportunity to think carefully and comprehensively over a three-to-five-year horizon on what actions we will take to address diversity.”
Laguerre-Brown said her office is planning to partner with the University Teaching and Learning Center and with faculty from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development to come up with ways faculty can build curricula that reflect different ethnic, racial and socioeconomic perspectives.
“First and foremost, we want to promote inclusive excellence through education and training for our faculty staff and students,” she said.
The University administered a diversity climate survey to more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students on how they felt about diversity on campus in 2015, Laguerre-Brown said.
She said the study found that students were generally satisfied with campus’s diversity, but that the office decided against releasing the survey results because they were finalized shortly before presidential election – and that students’ feelings on diversity shifted after Election Day.
“Then the election happened and there was a tectonic shift on campus in terms of how people were feeling day-to-day. It felt like issuing the survey at a time when things had changed so dramatically was not the right way to go,” Laguerre-Brown said.
She said there was a “strong disparity” in students’ answers on the survey when asked if faculty include diverse perspectives in class discussions and assignments, which led to the partnership with GSEHD. More than 50 percent of the undergraduate students who responded agreed or strongly agreed that faculty members included diverse perspectives in lessons, but only 20 percent of black students agreed with that statement.
“This was an area of concern and it was part of the impetus for reaching out to GSEHD and to the University teaching and learning center to think through how we might provide resources that would be endorsed by faculty members,” she said.
Although the level of satisfaction with campus diversity varied by demographic groups, a majority of students said they were satisfied with racial and ethnic diversity in 2015. Laguerre-Brown said 81 percent of Asian undergraduate respondents were satisfied with diversity, as were 73 percent of white students, compared to about 63 percent of Latino students and 43 percent of black students.
In 2016, less than 1 percent of students were Native American or Pacific Islander, about 7 percent were Hispanic, roughly 10 percent were Asian or black, about 50 percent were white and about 60 percent were women.
Sen. Imani Ross, CCAS-U, who is the group coordinator for the women of color affinity in District House, said that although the University has made strides in increasing diversity, like with the decision to go test-optional, there is an “extreme lack” of diversity in faculty. The “next step” for diversity and inclusion is for professors to include perspectives inspired by different cultural and socioeconomic experiences in the classroom, she said.
“Faculty diversity is a huge problem, especially if you are a student who wants to reach out to professors and just doesn’t have someone that they know understands their background and some of your experiences,” Ross said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean faculty have to be a person of color but that means faculty and others need to have an understanding that there is an experience beyond theirs.”
Ross said that in her experience as a political science major, she feels American and European politics are emphasized over learning about other countries’ governments.
“There is a lot in politics in most of my classes that we just haven’t touched on but that really speaks to a lot of different cultures,” Ross said.
She added that faculty can better support students when they make the effort to diversify their own knowledge, regardless of their backgrounds.
“I have a teacher that I believe is very culturally competent and she’s a white woman,” Ross said. “I don’t feel unsafe when I go up to talk to her about things because I know that she has a healthy respect and understanding of my experience and where I come from. I don’t get that from every teacher that I have.”