In recent years, higher education institutions have had a significant increase in their student bodies’ diversity: More women, first-generation, queer people and people of color are going to college than ever before. So it is inevitable for these same students who look different than their predecessors to eventually recognize that their professors and university staff often do not look like them, nor do they share many key experiences unique to their demographics.
College isn’t easy. Even though Elle Woods from the cinematic masterpiece “Legally Blonde” rhetorically asked “What, like it’s hard?” when she got into Harvard Law School, it is generally accepted that the university experience can be an uphill battle for many.
The pressures to be academically, socially and professionally successful felt by most students are even harder on those from marginalized communities who must also deal with imposter syndrome and microaggressions. Seeing professors and faculty that come from shared backgrounds and experiences can therefore be the driving force that inspires students, keeping them going when they are met with challenges.
According to the National Journal for Publishing and Mentoring Doctoral Student Research, diversifying faculty is beneficial to the education of all students and reduces cases of discrimination in and outside of the classroom. Data collected in 2019 shows that while USC’s student body was 29% white, about 36% of the student body was reportedly either Asian, African American or Hispanic. Faculty, however, was 65% white in 2016, with a majority of nonwhite faculty not tenured at the University. USC’s failure to provide a faculty able to fully represent the student body not only disadvantages students outside of the dominant group but may also perpetuate a hostile or noninclusive campus culture for marginalized students.
Diversifying university faculty means that underrepresented students will not only know that they have someone to talk to when they are struggling, but will also see people who actually look like them in high-level academia, which allows them to potentially envision themselves taking part in the same institutions in the future.
Diversifying faculty at universities can also provide students with the necessary practice of expanding their worldview because they can learn from people whose cultures and experiences differ from their own. Most campuses may not be indicative of how unique the world is, so providing the social awareness that prepares students for their future as productive members of society is vital to their success.
Beyond that, we need experts who fit into certain communities to teach students about those very same communities. Whether it be a class on queer studies or East Asian politics, these individuals bring a high level of nuance and understanding to their classes. This isn’t to say in any way that a form of self-segregation should be attached to what university faculty can and cannot teach. It does, however, beg the question of how much a class may benefit by being taught by an individual outside of the group being studied.
There has been a push for more diverse representation in movies, television and fashion. This concept doesn’t come out of thin air — time and time again, it’s been proven that representation helps normalize the experiences of marginalized communities. The same can ultimately be applied to colleges and universities, where seeing a professor that looks like you or was also a first-generation college student can mean all the difference in a student’s confidence and stability.