Hope Anderson: One of the initial action items of the Commission on Race & Slavery is to “review key practices (including those in hiring, contract bidding, compensation, admission, student discipline, and policing) through the lens of racial equity and building a just and inclusive campus.” Can you elaborate on what changes could be made to make the hiring process more equitable?
Rose Stremlau: To start, I want to emphasize that the hiring process doesn’t refer to one thing. When we have conversations in higher education about hiring, we often reduce this to a series of steps that we assume can be uniform across different disciplines. What the research on best practices suggests is that not only do we have to acknowledge that there are differences in hiring equitably and justly in a place like Davidson versus an r1 [A Doctoral University specializing in academic research], but even across [departments within] Davidson.
One of the main concerns that was reflected in the Commission’s discussion about hiring is that while Davidson has made some productive strides in terms of equity advisors and being very intentional about thinking in ways to diversify applicant pools, there is a need for both more systematic and specific thinking about how individual departments and programs can truly become the kinds of units that I think most faculty here want us to be. We have to acknowledge that there’s work to be done in finding those examples of who’s doing it correctly and thinking about the steps in the process.
Something that I often hear as a historian, and the statistics show this, are that the number of faculty of color in history are abysmal. As someone who does Native history, who is not a Native person and who is of settler descent, I can count on my fingers and toes the number of Native people who have PhDs in history. That says nothing about the talent or the intellectual ability of Native people, but that says everything about graduate schools, in particular, as a gatekeeping force in preventing people who could contribute tremendously to academia from getting the credentials that we normalize and expect. As a historian, thinking about what it means to both challenge the perception that there’s no one in the pipeline, when there are issues of recruitment into graduate programs [and] retention in those programs, but also understanding how we can’t use that as an excuse. We have to use that as a challenge to think holistically about the process through which folks may begin thinking about attending college and going on for postgraduate education all the way through their graduate programs, and into their tenure track jobs.
HA: Because we are not a graduate school, how do we fix that ‘pipeline’ issue and get our students into a variety of graduate schools?
RS: I come from a framework in which I understand that academic and intellectual form of excellence has nothing to do with pedigree, but that it often has very much to do with how supported a particular student is and how they are networked into resources. I think I recognized this early in on my teaching career, not because I was smarter or better than any of my colleagues, but because I came to Davidson after having taught for 10 years at a regional teaching institution, in which most of my students were first generation students. From the feedback we have received, many students of color and first generation students acknowledge the tremendous resources Davidson provides. However, we need to do a better job making those resources available in an equitable and legible fashion.
I think that feedback mandates us to not only be very intentionally transparent, but to be extremely mindful that we are making not just the resources for our specific classes, but the kind of developmental resources that can enable students to have the broadest range of decisions. You know, somebody may want to finish their education with their college degree, and that’s great. But for those students who may never have considered postgraduate education, to make it possible for them to not only understand those processes, but to attain those steps along the way.
We’ve always sent out emails with this information, but that doesn’t actually make information accessible. […] It’s that imperative for us, for faculty, for staff, to be mindful and intentional, that we are making these resources available, and that we are actively recruiting those students we see in our classes, doing outstanding work, who maybe don’t fit the typical characterization or portfolio of the students who get trapped into those kinds of opportunities. Personally, I am very intentional in my classes about encouraging students who are interested in studying the history of race or gender, because I have resources with colleagues and can plug folks into job opportunities. If you can provide students with a couple of those opportunities in their undergraduate years, you make them more competitive for graduate school. I learned how to do that by mentoring non-traditional students, and I think we often take for granted that our students all have this sort of nice pathway to Ivy League postgraduate degrees. That’s not the case. If we want to change those pipeline issues, we need to be much more mindful about who we want in those pipelines — and do that work on the end of the faculty.
Kaizad Irani: You mentioned earlier the role of staff equity advisors. And I know from the [Commission on Race and Slavery] report, it says that it would support efforts to launch staff equity advisors and HR offerings of diversity and anti-racism training for all employees. Have those trainings started? And if so, what do they look like? Why is it important to the mission of the Commission’s goals?
RS: As far as I know, they have not, and I think because of COVID.
There are multiple models for this kind of training in higher ed. As far as I know, a decision hasn’t been made yet about which particular route Davidson will go.
KI: Are there other models that have also been looked at? And you also mentioned the role of other institutions, looking at their work, and trying to follow that. Do you mind sharing some of those institutions, if possible, and what type of work they’ve done that Davidson has acknowledged and looked at?
RS: You can look at the UC [University of California] systems and their relationship with local communities, which can be everything from the programming that they do, to specific types of scholarships they offer, to resources that they make available, and so that these processes produce, again, tangible but also measurable results. It’s one thing to say you’re anti-racist, and another thing to say, ‘That means these 10 things; we are going to do these 10 things, [and] if we don’t do these things, we can be called on it.’
KI: Why do you think it’s important for student groups and publications like The Davidsonian to try to track your work and keep the college accountable on your promises?
RS: Because we’re all human. This semester, unlike all others in the last decade, has felt like ‘Just get to the next deadline, just do the next thing.’ I think there is an inevitable kind of inherent tendency in higher ed, because we are so focused on this semester, the academic year, the four years that the typical student will take to complete their college education here, is that we often can backburner long-term thinking and visionary change; that takes sustainable effort.
We need reminders. When we involve a community, whether it’s our colleagues in a department or in an institution, it can be difficult considering the pressures we are under in the day-to-day, especially in this particular moment in the semester to be like ‘we’ll get to that.’ But, that’s not how change takes place and that’s not how we fundamentally alter institutional norms. This gets back to that idea of being both honest about the current policies and practices, but also how those should change so that when we are doing things to just, you know, get through the next semester, or get through the academic year, we’re intentionally doing them a little bit differently, or a lot differently, if that’s what’s appropriate, so that this, this work isn’t something that is understood to be, in addition to everything else, but rather, fundamentally driving how we will change this institution.
To give an example, I think we, at least in the searches that I’ve been a part of here, think people are really thoughtful about what the applicant pool looks like, especially when it gets down to the smaller numbers and you can look at folks as more than just one of many, many, many CVs. You can start to conceptualize human beings from these CVs, and letters, and perhaps writing samples or sample syllabi. And that’s a really good thing. But almost every search I’ve been on here, and in previous institutions, we give a lot less thought to who actually submits the applications for the job. […] The job market situation right now is so dire, that everyone will apply. And what I know for sure, from my Indigenous Studies world, and having a foot in that, is that there are lots of folks who may not consider applying for a job at an institution if they look and they see […] for example, Davidson, they’re like, ‘Oh, they don’t have an Indigenous Studies program or a Native Studies program, why would I want to apply there?’ They might not realize that there are a bunch of folks here who are on faculty who are doing some of this work. But that also that’s really wanted here, and that the students really want that knowledge here. And that we’re actually pretty close, I think, to having some sort of core group that could move in the direction of that kind of program. So then it would be on me, it would be on the other faculty who are here, to be posting those job ads in places where scholars from those intellectual communities and those cultural communities are and to encourage them to be applying. […] People want jobs at places where they’re wanted, and we have to make people know that they are wanted and valued.