The postcards are arriving again. Little boxes. Race. Gender. Ethnic background. Veteran status. As I read the cards, they all mention that they won’t be directly associated with my application. Once I fill out each card, I’m supposed to mail them back to the appropriate university.
As I debate with myself the problematic nature of the little boxes on the cards, I also wonder if maybe the cards should be associated with my application materials. Without the card, my CV sits right next those with potentially more opportunity, more support and more privilege as if we are equals. This seems problematic.
Universities that truly want to embrace diversity must take into account how oppression and privilege have affected the candidates that apply for a position. People cannot choose who they are or the situations they have faced. This situatedness and society’s system of inequality and privilege directly affects a person’s employment potential. Very rarely do black women born in a lower socio-economic class have the same educational opportunities as an upper-class white man. At face value then the white male will appear more qualified because of all of the opportunities he was able to take advantage of, while the black women’s CV may not read as well. Perhaps, she had to take more time to complete her Ph.D. and could not attend every American Academy of Religion meeting because she did not have the money. This does not automatically mean she is less qualified.
Hiring committees also need to be aware of something Martha Burk describes in her book Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It about hiring practices in corporate America. She writes, “The so-called neutral processes in corporations were firmly enforcing a white-male quota system. That is still true – most companies have ‘diversity’ in management only to the extent that it does not threaten the traditional balance.” This “power elite,” a group of corporate executives, hire people who look like them, white, male, etc. It is a common phenomenon in America.
Unfortunately, this sounds like many university religious studies departments. There is the one full-time token woman who probably isn’t also African American or maybe a token African American male, Jew, or Muslim none of whom are also probably members of the queer community. This “diverse” individual (or perhaps two to four individuals depending on the size of the department) is often the one responsible for teaching the department’s “diversity” course offerings. Of course, the Muslim most likely won’t be considered qualified to teach the yearly course on Christian systematic theology since she isn’t Christian. Never mind the fact that her Ph.D. and all of her publications are in that field. Most likely, she’ll be relegated to comparative religions or the introduction to Islam course.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were supposed to help mitigate this phenomenon. Almost fifty years later, and probably because of these Acts, there is more “diversity” than there once was. It’s a start and it’s true that change may take longer in a university setting since academic jobs are often tenured (although less so now). People have to retire, change universities, or die for a replacement to be hired. (The recent move to more adjunct and less-tenured faculty is an issue for another post.) I get it. But, the existing “diversity” is still not enough.
Reading CVs in light of oppression is a practical issue when it comes to diversity and finding the right person. The realities of tenure-track appointments and what it takes for another faculty spot to open is other. But perhaps in all this talk about oppression and the dismal statistics of many religious studies departments today, what we are doing is forgetting about the noteworthy benefits of a diverse religious studies faculty in colleges and universities.
Diversity has a multitude of benefits for university religious studies departments. First, diverse faculty bring in multiple voices and perspectives. These voices not only attract more students, but they also attract different types of students. Likewise, a more diverse faculty can also support a more diverse student population and be better able to communicate and teach students from a variety of different backgrounds and religious traditions. Third, diversity enriches curriculum offerings which in turn could attract more students and hopefully increase the number of majors. Fourth, faculty themselves can grow and be challenged in their own research agendas and perspectives as well as teaching style, resources and approach through dialogue with a diverse group of colleagues. Finally, when universities and colleges attract diverse scholars and support a diverse student body, their reputation improves.
Diversity in religious studies faculty appointments hits home for me in a direct way as I apply for full-time teaching positions again this year. This is not an appeal to say that an under-qualified person is really qualified (which is a common argument in Affirmative Action complaints) or that it is all about discrimination. Rather, this is a plea for more diverse religious studies departments because diversity is beneficial for all. It enhances student academic experiences, stimulates and fosters faculty development and, finally, improves the reputation of institutions of higher education.