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Diversity Advocate program addresses inclusion in faculty hiring

Diversity Advocate program addresses inclusion in faculty hiring

April 8, 2020 at 1:40pm

Ensuring a broad and diverse applicant pool to fill vacant faculty positions is an important first step for any university whose goal is to expand faculty diversity and inclusion.

FIU is actively pursuing diversity hiring, in part, through the Diversity Advocate (DA) program in the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity (AWED). The DA program focuses on tenure-line searches in STEM and the social-behavioral sciences. Piloted last year, this program will be fully implemented for all searches during the next three years.

The DA program builds upon the Strategies and Tactics for Recruitment to Increase Diversity and Excellence (STRIDE) workshops offered by AWED. STRIDE workshops are designed to provide foundational information and concrete advice about practices that make searches more successful by producing increasingly diverse candidate pools and subsequently in hiring those candidates.

During the search and screen process, DAs enhance recruitment efforts by employing direct and personal contact with potential applicants. They help guide the committee in ensuring that the search process is free of bias or stereotyping in verbal or written communication, that candidates are evaluated fairly, that similar opportunities for each candidate are provided, and that interview procedures treat all applicants consistently.

They also encourage the utilization of best practices in evaluating the applicant pools.

As a feminist rhetorician and researcher who studies women’s everyday rhetorical practices, Vanessa Sohan, associate professor in the Department of English and associate director of the department’s graduate program, has long been interested in how women across history engaged in their communities to promote social justice.

“I think the DA program is valuable because it reinforces the importance of diversity and, more importantly, inclusion as part of our hiring processes and practices,” she says.

Leonard Scinto, chair and associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environment, is a biogeochemist who participated in the DA pilot program and joined again this year. He believes increasing diversity is crucial, not just for faculty success, but for the good of science. 

“My field has traditionally been male-dominated, leaving a legacy where, in many respects, many of the practitioners come from similar backgrounds,” he says.

“In intellectual endeavors, diversity of ideas is important. If everyone comes from the same place, how can we ensure we are getting a diversity of ideas coming from a diversity of approaches? You need to get people from multiple backgrounds, various places in life, who have distinct ideas and varying influences.”

Sohan believes her most important role as a DA is to have discussions with fellow faculty members about how promoting diversity and inclusion benefits everyone in the department, including all faculty, students, and staff.

“I think the DA training provides invaluable resources that are both practical and useful for our hiring committees and departments,” she says.

She’s already begun having those conversations. She and the other English faculty members who have participated in DA training have shared some of the suggested assessment instruments received during DA training with fellow faculty members, who used them to more equitably assess candidates during the interview process. 

“As a DA, I’ve learned a lot about some of the everyday rhetorical practices we as academics can engage in to promote diversity and inclusion in academia-both in theory and practice,” she says.

“Hopefully, with more faculty engaging in DA training and taking what they’ve learned in that training back to their departments, we can all collaborate to make real progress toward making FIU a more diverse, inclusive space for all faculty, students and staff.”

Scinto’s work in examining linkages between environmental drivers and ecosystem responses (physical, chemical, biological, and geological processes and reactions) has influenced the way he thinks about diversity.

“In terms of what I do, there are more similarities than differences among people. Differences are cultural, societal, ethnological – not biological, physical, or chemical, and largely not genetic.”

“One of the first things I do in many of my classes is talk about a universe that’s 14.5 billion years old, a planet that’s 4.5 billion years old, existing in a galaxy of infinite stars,” he says. “We discuss the fact that being together right now, in this small point of space at this small point of time, gives us so much more in common with each other than we have differences.”