Instructors from across the University of Nebraska–Lincoln gathered virtually Nov. 6 for campus’ first-ever Faculty of Color Symposium.
The event, hosted by Nebraska’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, provided a space for faculty of color to share their experiences in a roundtable discussion and hear from a visiting panel on challenges and opportunities in creating more inclusivity at the instructor level.
Marco Barker, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, has previously outlined greater faculty diversity as one of his top priorities. Of Nebraska’s tenure-track faculty in 2020-2021, only 25 are Black and 55 are Hispanic, compared to 762 who are white. Indigenous populations are represented at an even lower level.
“We have to be able to fully understand the experiences of others, become critical and aware about our institutional structures, barriers and inequities, and then act in a way once we have that knowledge,” Barker said. “This symposium begins for us a journey towards that in a very institutional way.”
A sense of community is important for success in any job. For faculty of color, whose coworkers often don’t share their same racial background, that feeling of connection can be hard to come by. It’s also made more stark considering that most have moved away from their home base for work and don’t live near neighbors or family who share their cultural experiences.
“That first experience for me of being in my first academic job was to be alone on campus,” said Robert Warrior, the first visiting panelist and Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas, referencing his first teaching job at Stanford University. Warrior was the only Indigenous faculty member when he started at Stanford.
“One of the things that bothered me so much about that was how I was probably going to be the only one who noticed it, and the only one to think about it in the way that I was thinking about it.”
Feeling less connected to campus can eventually have a negative impact on academic achievements.
“In addition to innovations being less likely to be recognized, they are less likely to be nominated for prestigious awards, due to not being within those networks that make these recommendations. They are also less likely to receive NSF and NIH grants, and all these obstacles have been amply documented over and over,” said Ruth Zambrana, the second panelist and Distinguished Professor at The University of Maryland, Baltimore’s School of Medicine.
Anna Shavers, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and Cline Williams Professor of Citizenship law, said faculty of color’s minority status on campus can lead them to performing “invisible labor” when it comes to taking on diversity and inclusion leadership roles.
“Many of us are doing it because we feel that we want to contribute to increasing diversity and inclusion, but often this results in invisible labor, no compensation or recognition in annual reviews, where the other scholars are simply looking at their scholarly agenda,” Shavers said.
“So I would say with respect to faculty of color, we suffer from invisibility. You’re also suffering from hypervisibility — because once you arrive, you’re assumed to have another role. ‘Okay, now they can work on the diversity efforts. Okay, now they can start a new committee.’ All these other different kinds of obligations that other scholars may not have to put up with.”
Having identified those issues, Barker is optimistic about improving the campus climate for future faculty.
“I know that there may be instances that I can miss the mark or make the wrong decision, but I am committed to still trying, and I hope that my colleagues are committed to still trying to make our university better,” Barker said. “That’s what we have to hope for and really work towards.”
For more information about diversity and inclusion efforts at Nebraska, visit the Diversity and Inclusion website.