by Luke Lara
Many institutions of higher education have a stated commitment to diversity. Institutions are judged by a variety of constituents (e.g., the public, Equal Employment Opportunity Offices, students) on the amount of racial and gender diversity in all positions. In fact, public institutions of higher education need to have an Equal Employment Opportunity Plan detailing how the institution plans to diversify its staff. Look up the plan at the institutions in your job search. However, how to achieve greater racial and gender diversity is harder than it seems.
Certain laws are in place (with good intention) to prevent discrimination based on protected classes such as race, gender, and many other categories. These non-discrimination laws (e.g., affirmative action, equal employment opportunity) are meant to create an “equal” playing field. That is, race and gender are not to be considered as factors in the employment decision. I make a more detailed and nuanced critique in my dissertation, which is forthcoming. However, for today’s blog, let me just say that despite these color-blind and gender-blind approaches to hiring, there is much to be desired in our diversity outcomes.
Employers cannot consider race, but they are expected to have a racially diverse pool of applicants and subsequently racially diverse hires.
Until race and gender can be dealt with directly in the search process, many institutions who authentically want to improve their diversity outcomes use indirect strategies.
One such approach is to seek equity-minded or cultural competent candidates in the search process. The Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California a great working definition of equity-mindedness. CUE has been leading a movement for equity reform and institutional transformation in California and around the nation. If you are in California, it is likely that the community college you are applying to has worked with CUE. The National Education Association also has a great diversity toolkit for educators, which is based on a cultural competency framework.
Candidates of color have an opportunity to shine as institutions and search committees infuse a cultural competency framework or equity-mindedness lens in the search process. Here are 4 tips for candidates of color to help them tap into their natural talents, gifts, and general awesomeness.
- Translate – The committee is most likely going to composed of mostly White people. You may be sharing an experience or cultural concept that the committee may not be familiar with, but is obvious to you. Be detailed in written and in your oral communication. For example, if you are asked a question about how you work with students that are from underrepresented backgrounds, do not say, “I am Latinx and have been all my life, so that means I am able to understand the students’ experiences.” This answer focuses on you, but the question was about students. A better answer would be, “I draw upon my experiences as a Latinx person in k-16 education, and my professional training to understand how systemic barriers impact historically underrepresented students. I engage in X, Y, Z practices to support my students.” If the committee is truly focused on equity and cultural competency, your personal knowledge, and professional skills will be valued as long as you keep the focus on the students and what you have done to facilitate their success.
- Transfer – You may have many transferable skills, but if you do not specifically write about them, you will most likely not get an interview. For example, if the job announcement has a desirable skill that the candidate have two years of teaching in the community college, but you only have one semester, how will you stand out? What else have you been doing that is transferable to this experience? Did you teach in high school or at a university? Did you teach adult classes? Just stating these on a resume or cover letter is not enough. You need to explain how these experiences are transferable to the job you are applying for. Connect the dots for the reader of your application. The way you describe your experiences will indicate how well you know the requirements of a community college faculty position. For instance, the committee is more likely to invite you for an interview if they can make the connections between what you have done and what they are asking. Do that job for them (translate) in your c.v. and cover letter. Now that job descriptions will have more equity-minded language, your work with racially diverse populations in non-traditional settings can be a strength if you can translate those experiences to the community college.
- Student Outcomes – Equity-mindedness is about acknowledging that there are disparities in student outcomes and taking action to improve those outcomes. It is not just about being student centered. It is about being action-oriented to improve student outcomes. CUE suggested that equity-minded faculty members “use systematic and data driven self-reflection to improve their own practices with a focus on students of color” CUE Multiple Measures Rubric for Application Review, 2017, p. 1). The term students of color can be replaced with any other disproportionately impacted student group (e.g., veterans, women, older students, low-income students), which may vary at each institution or within each department. In California, you can search for the Student Equity Plan at each community college to learn more about which student groups are disproportionately impacted. You should know which specific student groups are not achieving established measures at proportional rates as compared to other student groups within the same category. Here are examples of how to read data in a student equity plan. What percentage of students who have completed key college courses (math and English) and earned a certain amount of units within a given amount of time are Latinx? What percentage of graduating students are Latinx? If the ratio is less than 1.0, then we have disproportionate impact. If the ratio is 1.0 or greater then we do not have disproportionate impact for Latinx students for this measure. In the interview, be able to discuss student outcomes, how you measure them (or how you use data), and how you have addressed them. As a person of color, you are constantly assessing outcomes (formally or informally), as you navigate teaching students and/or interactions with your colleagues. Be ready to explain your strategies in direct and compelling ways.
- Cultural Competency – CUE also identified that an equity-minded faculty possess cultural competency. An equity-minded faculty member “shares common experiences with the students at the institution or intentionally creates classroom practices based on student backgrounds” (CUE Multiple Measures Rubric for Application Review, 2017, p. 1). This provides candidates of color an opportunity to really shine in the interview by drawing upon their experiences and what they do in the classroom for students based on student backgrounds. Saying “I treat all students the same” is not an acceptable answer. As educators, we have a responsibility to validate our students, learn from our students, and understand our students. This requires us to be culturally competent. As people of color, most of us are in-tune with our racial identities and how systemic racism has impacted our own experiences. We cannot all have the same experience, even if we are of the same race, however, we can be more compassionate and empathetic toward others because of our shared experiences. Be ready to highlight a couple of vivid examples. Also, be clear about the ways that you are culturally competent toward student groups who are from different backgrounds than you. Anticipate sharing how you arrived at this competency and how it shapes what you do in and out of classroom.
I hope these tips help you approach your job applications and interviews. May you shine and get the position you apply for.