Hiring Faculty of Color for Student Success

Cassandra Fluker
Leadership Abstracts

Higher education has evolved in many ways over the past century, but still falls short of adequately establishing a diverse workforce that reflects an ever-changing student body (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2017; Umbach, 2006). The American Association of Community Colleges (2020) reports the demographics of students enrolled in for-credit coursework at community colleges as 45 percent White, 26 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African American, 6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 4 percent Other/Unknown, 4 percent two or more races, 1 percent Native American, and 2 percent International. According to Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), however, nearly 75 percent of faculty, 73 percent of management, and 63 percent of student services professionals at community colleges are White (AACC, 2018). Students of color may, therefore, not encounter employees, especially faculty and administrators, who look, sound, and think like them. For instance, Jessica Brown (personal communication, January 15, 2021), Director of Equity and Inclusion at St. Clair County Community College, commented about her college that, "Students do not see a lot of minority faculty. . . . Less than 2 percent of staff members are people of color.”

Higher education plays an important role in preparing students to live and work in a global society, and faculty diversification has a positive impact on perceived campus climate, educational quality, and student experiences (Fujimoto, 2012; Pickett et al., 2017; Umbach, 2006). A representative workforce should, therefore, be prioritized as a way to more effectively serve and represent a diverse student population. In addition to positive representation of students from a variety of backgrounds, the resulting diversified teaching methods and the implementation of programs, services, and policies that lead to an equitable and inclusive environment will contribute to the success of all students.

How Students Benefit

"Research supports the notion that faculty diversity and mentoring have a positive effect on retaining students of color" (Fujimoto, 2012, p. 256), who are more likely to pass classes and less likely to drop out when the college workforce resembles the student body (Boisrond, 2017; Bradley et al., 2018). Umbach (2006) noted that faculty of color help to "create a comfortable environment" (p. 319). Students of color look to faculty who share their racial or ethnic backgrounds because they believe these faculty can better relate to their circumstances (Umbach, 2006). Faculty of color can also provide students with the encouragement they need to succeed. Mentoring plays a large role in whether students feel supported, challenged academically, or satisfied with their degree (EAB, 2019).

Community colleges are experiencing a reduction in African American, Native American, and Hispanic student enrollment during the COVID pandemic (Kyaw, 2020). A recent report indicated that undergraduate enrollment has decreased by 4 percent across all types of institutions and by 10 percent at public two-year colleges (Elfman, 2021). Many students struggle with academics, and the pandemic has further exacerbated their situations. Faculty of color intuitively serve as role models with their presence by increasing students' motivation and demonstrating that desired skills and goals are possible to achieve (Bradley et al., 2018). Additionally, Umbach (2006) found that faculty of color employ a broader range of pedagogical techniques, perspectives, and ideas, and have more interactions with students. Students from all races and backgrounds benefit from a diverse faculty (Lara, 2019); faculty of color provide important contributions to undergraduate education as well as the overall college experience (Umbach, 2006).

Recruiting Faculty of Color

Community colleges provide open access to higher education and have the most diverse population of students; the development of a culture of equity and inclusion is, therefore, critical for the success of students and institutional sustainability. In order to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, some community colleges are hiring a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) as a member of the senior-level leadership team. A CDO strategically leads the institution's overall DEI efforts, from improving underrepresented faculty recruitment and retention to diversifying the curriculum, improving college students' cognitive and relational skills, and enhancing student learning in curricular and cocurricular experiences (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2013). Under the direction of a CDO, the institution is guided and shaped into a welcoming and open access point of education and employment for all.

Faculty diversity is one of the most consistent challenges that institutions face (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2013), and CDOs are tasked with making progress in the areas of hiring, retaining, promoting underrepresented populations. Many CDOs collaborate on an ongoing basis with human resources to guide policy and to strategically recruit and retain a diverse workforce. To ensure that colleges attract a diverse pool of candidates, it is recommended that hiring departments engage and establish relationships with professional academic networks and local graduate programs, which may have subsections that are affiliated with race or gender (Lara, 2019). Other strategies might include engaging in targeted recruitment by advertising in race-specific publications, training search committees on implicit biases and nondiscriminatory practices, and modifying interviewing techniques (Lara, 2019). Another critical component within the hiring structure is search committee composition. Lara (2019) indicated that having a "representatively diverse" (p. 705) search committee is essential to increasing the number of underrepresented faculty hires. Diverse perspectives and experiences on a search committee increase the chances of hiring people of color. An important aspect of the work of the CDO is to critically examine hiring policies and practices at institutions that help to remove barriers for the hiring of people of color. Furthermore, experts suggest taking deliberate steps to mentor, sponsor, and encourage people of color to seek positions in underrepresented areas and disciplines (Pennamon, 2018). Graduates of fellowship programs should also be sought out to identify and recruit talent.

Moving Forward

It is crucial for higher education institutions to effectively serve all students in an increasingly interconnected global society. Diverse faculty should be "an essential component of institutions that prioritize inclusion, equity, and access for all" (Pickett et al., 2017, p. 80). Specifically, institutions must prioritize broader faculty and staff representation as a targeted effort to mirror the population of the communities they serve. The CDO has the essential role of cultivating a more diverse, productive, and inclusive learning and work environment at institutions of higher education.

Deliberate action is needed to build a brighter future for every student served (Finley, 2020); therefore, a strong, unwavering commitment and intentional DEI work must be embedded into the culture of institutions for an all-around advantageous outcome. DEI work is not achieved overnight, but steps taken now for an inclusive community will ultimately benefit students, institutions, and society.


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Cassandra Fluker is Faculty Director, Student Activities, at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan, and a student in Ferris State University’s Doctorate in Community College Leadership program.

Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.