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Ask Dr. Editor

How to structure your diversity statement for your academic job search

Be sure to define your terms, detail your experience and outline your future plans.

BY LETITIA HENVILLE | MAY 17 2022

Question:

I’ll be on the academic job market for the first time in September, and I expect that I’ll need to write diversity statements as a part of my job applications. While I can find good examples of teaching and research statements, my department doesn’t have many models of diversity statements. How do I write this document? Do you have any examples you can share?

 

– Anonymous, Biochemistry

Dr. Editor’s response:

I can’t share examples of EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) statements that I’ve edited, but there are plenty online, collected by UPenn, UCSD, and UGA, for example; there’s also an excellent analysis of 39 diversity statements by Ching-Yune Sylvester et al (2019), which contains example sentences from a range of job applicants’ materials. The EDI statements that I’ve edited tend to follow the same general structure, which I’m happy to recommend:

1. Define your terms

What are your values as they relate to your understanding of the terms equity, diversity, and inclusion? What do these concepts mean, especially in the context of your discipline? Show that you know “the degree to which [people from specific demographic] groups are underrepresented in a given field, and/or their degree of underrepresentation at particular levels or ranks (graduate student, assistant professor, etc.)” (Brandeis, n.d.).

It may be appropriate to describe how you came to the understanding that you hold, whether that is from lived experience or through engaging in professional development. As I recommend with the teaching statement, I like to see folks drawing on the research literature at this point, to show that you’re up-to-date with conversations about EDI in your field. As with any scholarly piece of writing, your document here is in conversation with others’ work. Show your awareness of those conversations. Doing so acknowledges that EDI work in the academy is work, just as is any other form of research.

You can also make some assumptions about the level of understanding your readers will bring to your diversity statement: “Just like search committee members who do not care about teaching gloss over teaching statements, those who do not care about diversity gloss over diversity statements. So, don’t bother writing a statement directed at faculty members who do not care about diversity. Write one for those faculty members who will take the time to read your statement carefully” (Golash-Boza, 2016).

If you want to disclose any visible or invisible aspects of your identity, you may choose to self-identify as belonging to particular underrepresented groups in your field, or you may provide your positionality. Your positionality is the social and political context that shapes your identity and your perspective on the world. Unfortunately, you’ll need to balance any impetus to self-identify against the very real concerns that your identity may count against you. In 2015, Karen Schmaling et al found that only 24 per cent of 191 job applicants disclosed aspects of their identity in their diversity statements – so don’t feel that you need to disclose, or that disclosure is the norm.

And while you need to know how your own perspective shapes your approach to diversity and inclusion, this document isn’t usually a space for storytelling. If you bring in your own personal experiences, do so “in the context of making them connect to your commitment to diversity in research, teaching and service” (Reyes 2018).

If you’re new to thinking about EDI, and haven’t considered how multiple overlapping systems of privilege or oppression may shape your point of view, consider pursuing some training. One option is the open-access Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) guide from eCampusOntario, which contains a section on positionality and intersectionality.

2. Detail your experience

In the second and longest section of your diversity statement, you’ll want to provide examples that demonstrate your commitment to fostering an inclusive classroom, workplace, and campus.

Many researchers focus on undergraduate teaching, but you’ll also want to describe what you’ve done to support graduate students, postdocs, staff, and junior colleagues who belong to demographic groups that are underrepresented in your field:

  • How do you ensure your lab is an inclusive environment?
  • What have you done in the realms of service and research that have supported equity and diversity?
  • Do you do anti-racist academic work? If so, what forms has it taken?
  • How have you addressed structural barriers or advocated for systems change?

Consider the broader contexts of your campus and your disciplinary field, and describe the actions you’ve taken to support people from underrepresented and equity-deserving groups, and to dismantle systemic barriers to access and inclusion.

If you’ve not engaged in anti-racist service or research, think deeply about why you haven’t engaged in these activities, and what blind spots you may have because of your lack of engagement. As Pardis Mahdavi and Scott Brooks have noted, it’s not enough to say that you’ve not been able to pursue anti-oppressive research, teaching, or service because of your status in the institution, as doing so “obscures the roles that all faculty [and instructors] play in maintaining the status quo and contributing in small and large ways to discriminatory practices and negative outcomes for faculty, staff and students of colour” (2021).

3. Outline your future plans

Here’s where you’ll do the most tailoring for each application you submit. Consider the mission, vision, and values of the institution you’re seeking to join, and any knowledge you have of their student, staff, and faculty populations. How will you work to continue to advance their pursuit of inclusive excellence?

Again, don’t simply focus on the classroom: describe your plans for the full scope of your research, teaching, and service. Name specific groups or committees that you want to join, and describe how you will contribute to these. The strongest plans show how research, teaching, and service are integrated and mutually supportive.

ABOUT LETITIA HENVILLE
Letitia Henville
Ask Dr. Editor is a monthly column by Letitia Henville, a freelance academic editor at shortishard.ca. She earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto. Have a question about academic writing or editing? Send it to her at shortishard.ca/contact or on Twitter @shortishard.
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