Jennifer Garcia is a senior majoring in political science and English.
In my freshman year discussion courses, I had perfected the casual way of dodging the teaching assistant’s gaze to avoid getting called on. As the only Latina surrounded by my white peers, I often felt that my contribution would not be good enough. At a predominantly white institution, this experience is not surprising. Communities of color desperately need guidance in maneuvering through these white spaces. Professors of color can aid in this navigation and provide a better experience for marginalized communities. For this to happen, GW should aim to hire more professors of color. As students at one of the most politically active universities in the nation, we have a powerful voice in advocating for increased representation to provide students of color with vital connections for their undergraduate careers and beyond.
To this day, Professor Antonio Lopez’s course, Topics of Latinx Literature, is my favorite class I have taken at GW. The classroom in Bell Hall was home to conversations about Latinidad, indigeneous history, and the first-generation college experience. It was Professor Lopez’s vigor that encouraged participation. His dynamic dissection of literature and the connections he drew to the Latinx experience is what solidified my decision to become an English major. In office hours, I realized just how vital it was to connect with a professor who is also working in white spaces as a Latinx individual. This type of representation allows professors of color to share their personal experiences with their students, which is crucial for students of color learning to navigate a predominantly white institution like GW.
These connections between students and faculty of color create an opportunity for students to grow their network for postgraduate opportunities. Because of the connection through common cultures, students of color can grow more personal relationships with faculty of color as opposed to white professors. Through these relationships, students can gain advice on how to maneuver white spaces from a role model while also building connections that can aid in obtaining letters of recommendation for graduate schools or job opportunities. In turn, hiring more faculty of color at GW could seriously improve the lives of the growing minority student body.
Representation is what could define and enhance the experience of a student of color struggling to fit into a predominantly white institution. As of now, GW has done very little to increase this representation in their faculty. Of the 316 faculty hired between 2016 and 2020, only 28 were Black and just 19 were Latinx. 68 Asian American professors and 2 Native American professors were also added. This is some progress, but is not sufficient. This information was gathered by the Faculty Senate’s diversity, equity and inclusion subcommittee – and it shows the work GW needs to achieve to aid students of color. To help future generations of students of color, GW should actively seek out faculty of color in its faculty hiring process.
There is a misconception that diversifying hiring processes excludes merit from the search, but this notion tends to stem from a white and older population who may not recognize the extent to which people of color experience disenfranchisement. People of color have faced many obstacles in their lives that they have needed to overcome to even be considered for roles like professors. This drive for success would be crucial to provide as a proponent of assistance for students of color.
Another solution is to strengthen the roles of diversity advocates in faculty hiring committees. This can be strengthened at GW by increasing transparency around the decision-making process within faculty hiring committees. Some diversity, equity and inclusion leaders at GW have said diversity advocates are not always part of these important committees, and when they are, they lack training to promote consistency in their work. These roles can provide support in this flawed process and continue to promote diversity. Last year’s incident with Jessica Krug – a white professor at GW posing as an Afro-Latina – is an unfortunate example of GW’s apathy toward diversity. These challenges should be utilized as fuel for change, not just for the University, but for underrepresented students who desperately need guidance as we enter a new year. This issue is more important now than ever as two classes of undergraduate students explore GW for the first time on campus.
The aim toward diversity shouldn’t just be a mission statement, it should be an action plan taken to enhance the experience of students of color. If it weren’t for the required reading in Professor Lopez’s course, I would have never believed that there were other individuals who were able to overcome the struggles of delving into Latinidad in foreign places. By hiring more faculty of color, GW could legitimately change the lives of many students as they learn to navigate white spaces.