Recently, Pardis Mahdavi, Dean of Social Sciences, led a discussion about how to write a diversity statement during a Preparing Future Faculty and Scholars (PFx) seminar.
In addition to leading workshops on writing a diversity statement, Mahdavi has also been conducting workshops on reading and evaluating diversity statements. Graduate students should expect to be asked for a diversity statement during the faculty hiring process now that there has been an increase in the adoption of a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) framework in higher education.
As you approach this ask, be intentional. If you think about it, every hire is a diversity hire because every hire impacts institutional goals for justice, equity, Diversity and inclusion. The diversity statement is an opportunity to showcase your ideas about and work in these areas.
How NOT to write a diversity statement
Diversity by Proxy
You shouldn’t take credit for work that isn’t yours alone.
Example: “My department included an above-average number of students of color...”
This statement doesn’t explain how the candidate has actively engaged in JEDI principles; nor how they would contribute to JEDI in the potential hiring unit.
Personal stories of redemption
Stories of personal redemption are a bit of a trap that candidates can easily fall into when they try to relate a personal experience and the feeling it invoked without connecting that to a specific example of the candidate’s individual actions or plan for action. Autobiography is better placed in your interview or when you are on campus for a job talk. If you are a student of color and you have experienced violence in the academy, try to connect that to evidence of your subsequent or future actions.
These arguments suggest that “impact can only be made from certain positions, thereby exonerating people who do not go against the grain,” according to Mahdavi. These kinds of statements tend to take a defeatist tone towards the problem and are more present in STEM and Humanities fields.
Example: “If I were in leadership/if my discipline wasn’t founded by dead white men”...I would take action.
Exceptionalism ignores the fact that everyone can make an impact, even if the problem is systemic. Taking no action is basically an endorsement of the status quo.
Preaching to the Choir
Don’t share your ideas about JEDI principles from a condescending point of view or make presumptuous statements about the hiring unit’s positions.
Example: “I am a fan of the work of Ibram X. Kendi and I will ask that all my colleagues read his book”
The author of the statement presumes that only they and none of their colleagues have read the book. Justice is a call to action, Mahdavi said, to bring about a meaningful change in higher education. Focus on demonstrating, detailing and explaining your actions, rather than your feelings.
How to write a diversity statement DO
Diversity as a Strategy
Demonstrate how you recognized a problem impacting equity and then made a plan to address it (and how it failed or succeeded).
Example: “In our efforts to conduct outreach to undergraduate students from underserved populations, we developed a plan to incorporate mentoring as well as financial support into their offers”
Evidence of Addressing Structural Challenges
Detail what new practices you implemented to go against the status quo.
Example: “We conducted an analysis of the adjectives - and their valence - used in the teaching evaluations of graduate students who were women of color”
Demonstrated Enlightened Mentoring
Discuss your mentoring strategy in your statement. This is your chance to outline how you would apply mentoring in the context of the position you are applying for.
Overall, your diversity statement should begin with a brief statement about your JEDI values, move to action items, share details about change/transformation/impact, provide examples of what has worked and maybe also what didn’t. Finally, we know that often this kind of labor isn’t recognized in higher education. Approach the diversity statement as your opportunity to remedy that.