Academia does not always reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the student body. Schools in diverse areas do not necessarily have a high number of minority faculty members and the texts and readings assigned to students are often written by White authors. While a lack of diversity is problematic, the impact at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) is even more detrimental, since at these institutions at least 25 percent of the student body are Hispanic. I recently realized this problem as a PhD student at an HSI. After being assigned the reading “The Other America” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I reflected back on my previous two years as a PhD student and realized a general dearth of Black authors. I am pursuing a PhD in Public Affairs, focused on racial and income inequities, structural impediments to social mobility, and justice. How could I have not read any works by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., until my third year? How could I have been ignorant to this work and only aware of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?
Out of this dilemma I evaluated the works I was assigned in graduate school and realized that there was a shortage of Black authors. Instead of reading works by Drs. Cornel West and bell hooks, I was reading works by Drs. Robert Sampson and Richard Delgado. The works of Sampson and Delgado are important in studying racial inequities, but reading these in a vacuum, without the perspectives from Black scholars, does not do justice to the students of HSIs, or any students for that matter. To address my own academic dilemma, which I am confident is not unique to my university or program, I developed a list of 5 ways that we can increase the diversity of course materials at HSIs.
This is key and the most obvious way to increase diversity amongst course materials. Whether you are a faculty member teaching in biology, literature, or nursing, there are opportunities for you to seek authors of different ethnicities. Students are interested when they have alternative perspectives and adding works by scholars of color will increase the diversity while also keeping students engaged the class materials.
Publishing articles expands the pool of minority-authored articles available to add to your course content. Students of color are not encouraged to pursue academia and publishing opportunities as commonly as White students. With faculty encouragement, students of color can be inspired to become scholars, increasing course material diversity.
Librarians are the unsung heroes at colleges and universities. Their knowledge and resources are unmatched, and they can hold the keys to diverse course materials. Faculty regularly consult librarians for their own research or to coordinate classroom visits to teach students how to use the library, but they aren’t regularly utilized in developing course materials and syllabi. Asking librarians for suggested materials to include diverse authorship in course materials can make your life as a faculty member easier while using a valuable and underutilized resource.
As academics we are criticized as sitting in the ivory tower, isolated from the realities of the world, working on problems in ideal conditions without application to the real world. We depend on peer-review publications and hold them up as a gold standard in research and academia. But not all students want to be researchers, and there are plenty of quality works that are not peer reviewed, written by people of color which faculty can incorporate into their classrooms. SoJouner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech and Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple aren’t peer reviewed, but are classics. Expanding past the peer reviewed world is an opportunity to engage students beyond the limits of traditional academia and towards diverse materials.
Following these strategies can make you a more culturally aware faculty member, while being an active member of the academic community in increasing author diversity.
Rebecca Entress is a Ph.D. student at the University of Central Florida.