Writing a Good Diversity Statement for Academic Philosophy Jobs


Some hiring universities and departments ask applicants to philosophy faculty positions for diversity statements.

What does a good diversity statement for an academic philosophy job look like?

What does it do?

Kassou Seydou, “Noflaye” (detail)

There are many resources available online describing what a diversity statement is. For example:

It tends to be a one- to two-page document that explains your experiences with and commitments to diverse populations of students. A university that seeks this statement from applicants is typically concerned with ensuring that faculty hires are familiar with its diverse student populations and willing to support students in line with the university’s mission statement. A successful diversity statement talks about your background and how you will create a diverse and inclusive learning environment for all students. (University of North Carolina)

Describes how diversity may affect:
• Your own learning and development, and how you interact with people and institutions
• Others’ learning and development through your research, teaching, and service and leadership (University of Chicago)

A successful faculty application diversity statement… 
1. demonstrates knowledge of challenges related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
2. outlines your track record of working with diverse groups of people and advancing DEI.
3. concretely discusses what you will do as a faculty member to actively encourage DEI and belonging within your group, department, and community.
4. follows the instructions provided with the job posting (if applicable). (MIT)

Some people complain about the political bias of requiring diversity statements, and some people are skeptical about their value. This is not the place to take up such topics—so in the comments, don’t. This is a post asking for advice, suggestions, and help with diversity statements—if you’re not providing that, or asking questions seeking that, don’t comment.

I’ll just say that it is probably best for job candidates to think of diversity statements as universities asking you about your experiences regarding, thoughts about, and skills at teaching all kinds of students and working with a wide range of people. That is a perfectly reasonable thing for an employer to be curious about. And as for the value of diversity statements, perhaps it is best to think of them as on a par with teaching statements. On their own, they may not convey much (though especially good or bad ones might), but in conjunction with other parts of an application they may be somewhat informative.

That said, I’m hoping that people, especially those who have recently served on search committees for positions the application to which required a diversity statement, can tell us about:

  • the extent to which candidates’ diversity statements affected their deliberations
  • what good diversity statements look like to them
  • what particular philosophy- or philosophy profession-related content should be included in such statements
  • the extent to which what a philosophy search committee is hoping to see in a diversity statement is consonant with what human resources officers, deans, or other administrators expect from them
  • any other information relevant to producing a good diversity statement for an academic philosophy job.

Links to resources elsewhere are welcome, too. Thank you!

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Job Market Survivor
Job Market Survivor
7 months ago

I recently (successfully) navigated the job market. When I was thinking about my diversity statement, I found it challenging to communicate and justify how exactly I saw what I was doing in class as supporting diversity and inclusion, even though I was pretty sure they were. I was never quite confident in my diversity statement (although I did get hired, so it mustn’t have been too awful). I’ve recently been reading Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy’s book “Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom” and have found it super helpful in helping me identify and articulate how certain types of activities or syllabus choices that I already make are beneficial for DEI efforts in the classroom. I can’t speak to how diversity statements impact hiring, but I just thought I’d share a recommendation for a book that I wish I’d read before writing my diversity statement in case it might be helpful for folks. Good luck to everyone on the market this year!

academic migrant
academic migrant
7 months ago
Marc Champagne
7 months ago

Q: “What does a good diversity statement for an academic philosophy job look like?”
A: It conforms to what the reader already wants/needs to hear.

Q: “What does it do?”
A: It assures the aforementioned conformity.

Sorry to be the pragmatist in the room, but those are the only honest answers.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Marc Champagne
7 months ago

That’s also exactly what a good teaching statement does, and perhaps even (at a high enough level of abstraction) what a good research statement does.

The useful answer would be to describe what such conformity and assurance look like. (And I expect that many initial attempted answers will be very wrong, since the readers are going to be very different at different universities and departments.)

Ryan
Reply to  Marc Champagne
7 months ago

Thanks, Marc. You’ve managed to get to the crux of the issue without offending the injunction not to politicize this (how not to, though?).

Given hard evidence showing more women than men enrolling in higher ed and more liberals than conservatives in both the student body and faculty (to mentioned just a few underappreciated facts), it’s an unfortunate reality that a (real) diversity statement targeting these disparities will likely trash-can your career.

I look forward to seeing how comments in this thread avoid the gamification of diversity by overwhelmingly white and privileged applicants (I’m assuming I’m not the only one who’s sat in proseminars astonished by others’ willingness to play dress up).

To my eye, it’s politics all the way down, and pretending this can be siphoned off for the purposes of productive discussion is not only disingenuous, it’s another way dominant powers in academia and elsewhere help themselves to more of what they already have while pretending to do just the opposite.

On the Market
On the Market
7 months ago

…advice, suggestions, and help with diversity statements…” 

Conform to the Berkeley rubric (e.g., “I treat all students equally” = fail). Conformity may elicit an eye roll from search committee members who aren’t ideologically on board, but they won’t hold it against you. Deviation can doom your application with committee members who are.

Animal Symbolicum
7 months ago

In my Leiterrific PhD program, I was the exotic specimen: born and raised in a small town in a red state; working-class background; nothing but prestige-less public school education. I recall chatting with one of our program’s big names at a party once when I let slip that I attended state schools for my undergrad and master’s. Her response? “How were you admitted HERE?”

*****

For all the reasons everyone already knows, diversity statements are silly. But they’re going to stick around in the institutions for at least a little while longer, so I do appreciate the attempt at a discussion about how to deal with them.

In the diversity statements I’ve had to write, I’ve tried to maintain my intellectual honesty while finessing the strictures and narrow presuppositions of the prompt. I express something like the following sincerely held and reasoned beliefs (minus any snark):

  • In my two-year college classrooms, my students, including the ones the administrative types love to code as “diverse” and photograph for the institution’s website, tend to enjoy learning stuff from people who do NOT “look like them” and tend to enjoy learning about the Western tradition whose inheritances form the basis of the country they love and live in.
  • “Diversity” and “inclusion” are pipeline issues, not already-in-the-classroom issues.
  • I care about “diversity” and “inclusion” in the sense that I care about all of America’s young people having a chance to learn the pleasures of philosophy in particular and the liberal arts in general.
  • Skin color and gender (self-identified or not) do not reliably track concrete disadvantage, but geography and class do, so to achieve diversity and inclusion along skin-color or gender lines, one would do better to target (extra- and intra-urban) geographical and class diversity.
  • What I would do (to try) to promote diversity and inclusion is to focus not on what’s happening inside the university but on what’s happening outside: on introducing philosophy to a geographically and economically diverse array of elementary, junior high, and high schools and summer programs. I would also focus on philosophy programs for prisons.

Does a statement containing and elaborating these points count as a diversity statement? Am I wrong to try to finesse things in this way? Am I shooting myself in the foot? These are not meant to be rhetorical questions. Please, have at it. Help me out.

Drew Cavallo
Drew Cavallo
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
7 months ago

It seems that at least arguing that “Skin color and gender (self-identified or not) do not reliably track concrete disadvantage” within a diversity statement would be unnecessary. It would probably be better to focus on the importance and value of geographical and class diversity whilst connecting it to your experiences and your methods of helping achieve this. To do these three tasks seems to be the essence of a diversity statement, these tasks being:
1. Say you care about diversity
2. Illustrate how your experience provides some relevant experience for understanding and working with certain diversity and inclusion issues
3. Show how that leads into your actual attempts to improve diversity and inclusion and/or your plans to do so, especially as a part of the university

Your bullet points, and what you present outside of this, offers plenty for this task and some of what doesn’t can be turned into specifying focus and where you believe you can, to use a common type of phrasing, “get the most diversity and inclusion for your buck.”

I do not have good perspective on whether or not this would hurt you and to what extent, not least because it would surely depend on the university, but I at least think some carefulness and effort to stay focused on the topic rather than divert to arguing for positions that some reading a diversity statement might end up seeing as not signaling the right attitude could at least minimize harm. It is ultimately only you that can judge beyond that to what extent you wish to only make a statement you would fully stand by, along lines you would make it, outside of the context of the diversity statement or try to conform fully to perceived expectations, or some in between position.

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Drew Cavallo
7 months ago

Thanks for replying. Clearly, I struggle to connect what I think is a real problem (materially and politically disempowered and alienated people having no opportunity to see if they dig the liberal arts and pursue them if they like) to the problem as the adminstrative/managerial/NGO elites see it (wrong ratios of skin tones and genders on syllabi and in elite positions of power and privilege). I try to suggest that my interest might actually further their interest as well (which, I wish I could say, is a misguided interest).

Of course, the problem as I see it is not best addressed from inside the academy. Which is why I’ve stopped applying for academic positions and started doing more unaffiliated work to bring the liberal arts to the geographically ignored and the socially disempowered.

Last edited 7 months ago by Animal Symbolicum
Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
7 months ago

Diversity statements and their analogues are odious, not least because they make you feel like a liar even when technically you are telling the truth. Even if you are in broad agreement with the some variant of ‘diversity’ you may well feel that the presuppositions of the question suggest an agenda with which you disagree (eg that race matters but that class doesn’t.) But I have a suggestion for Animal Symbolicum and people like him, a way to tick some of the boxes without too much sacrifice in terms of time, effort or conscience. Moreover it is a strategy that is actually fun to execute and may even improve your performance as a teacher and researcher as well as enabling you to tell an honest but career-beneficial tale when it comes to the diversity statement. Buy yourself the set of Peter Adamson (and his collaborators’) books ‘The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps’. Adamson has an amazing ability to summarise key theses arguments in an amusing way, and the endorsements of serious scholars suggest that he is true to the philosophers that he trying to represent. Read his books with a pen in hand, especially the ones that from a North American point of view are a bit more exotic, the volumes on Byzantine and Renaissance, Classical Indian Philosophy and Philosophy in the Islamic world.  Use them to introduce a bit of ‘compare and contrast’ into your teaching of a predominately Western canon. Then brag about it (honestly) in your diversity statement. 

Acquiring the necessary knowledge to do this kind thing in a competent and honest way used to be hard. Adamson has made it easy. 

What really hits me in the eye when I read these books is how often different people from different (or at least divergent) traditions adopt similar solutions to similar problems. For example quite a lot of philosophical traditions are down on desire. In order to achieve salvation, Nirvana, this-worldly serenity or whatnot you must do away with desire. But doing away with desire seems to involve a lot of effort which means that you are unlikely to do it unless you *really want* salvation, nirvana or this-worldly serenity. Contradiction! Solution: distinguish between desire (bad) and preferences (good or a least neutral). It is interesting to see Buddhists and Stoics, who will have known next to nothing about one another, doing the same kind of philosophical soft-shoe shuffle. But it is not just in the areas of ethics and moral psychology that similar problems and solutions emerge. Just yesterday I was reading a passage on about Ancient Indian Scepticism (underpinned by a theory of reference) that immediately recalled Twentieth Century debates about scientific realism between Feyerabend and Putnam.  We get some Iranian students in my department and last semester I was teaching a course at the boundaries between the Philosophy of Logic and meta-ethics, with a big focus on No-Ought-From-Is. We got to discussing Explosion or Ex contradictione Quodlibet. My Iranian student balked as the idea that from a contradiction *anything* follows arguing instead that when we get to a contradiction we should simply stop.  I was able to tell her (what she did not know) that this idea was characteristic of the Islamic logicians who flourished in her native land during the Medieval era. (Here it was not Adamson but the chapter on Islamic logic in Novaes and Uckleman’s ‘Cambridge Companion to Medieval Logic’ that was my key source.) Lots of my students (including many of my star students) have some Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese or Japanese heritage.  And it is just nice – not necessary , not vital from a social justice point of view but *nice* – if they get to learn a little something about their non-western philosophical heritages even if our primary focus is in Hobbes and Hume. Further the kind of ‘compare and contrast’ stuff can be *philosophically* illuminating. You are not just doing it for ‘diversity’. You are doing it because it improves your teaching and may inform your research. (I am really hanging out for Adamson’s forthcoming volume on Classical Chinese Philosophy.) 

I would also suggest that when teaching moral and political philosophy you acquire a nodding acquaintance with world history and employ examples drawn from diverse sources. This too will make you a better educator as well as giving yourself something to brag about in your diversity statement, once the anecdotes have begun to accumulate. So as a teacher in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I regularly employ examples drawn from European, British, American, Russian and Chinese history as well as the history of the Ancient mediterranean civilisations. Last year in the PPE class the I co-teach, we spent a lot of time on the history of the British East India Company, conceived in part as a case study in corporate government and corporate malfeasance. (Also imperialism.) Most Pakeha (white or mostly white New Zealanders) are of Scottish , Irish or English descent. (There is a lot of interracial marriage in New Zealand with lots of students having a diverse range of ancestors.) One of the things I emphasise is that Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales are different nations with different and sometimes conflicting histories. and that these conflicts have sometimes played a role in creating the modern settler societies in which many of us live. 

Going back to Animal Symbolicum’s first bullet point I would try to eliminate the (entirely appropriate but imprudent) snark, replacing it with something like this: 

  • In my two-year college classrooms, although my primary focus is on Western philosophy I try to illuminate my teaching by comparing and contrasting the work of philosophers in other traditions especially philosophers in the Islamic world (which includes a fair bit of jewish Philosophy) Indian philosophy etc. [Add appropriate anecdotes.] Thus in my teaching I try to learn from a diverse range of philosophical traditions thereby honouring the cultural heritages of many of my students blah , blah blah In discussing Thomas Hobbes I bring in examples from …. 

May I suggest something else, already alluded to in some other comments:  

* I try hard to avoid stereotyping my students . Just because they have background X or characteristic Y is it does not follow that they have traits commonly associated with background X or trait Y, and I try not to make any such assumptions. 

Hiring committee experience
Hiring committee experience
7 months ago

Having served on search committees and read more than 100 (maybe 200) “diversity statements,” I will say I am strongly opposed to them. They ought to focus on “inclusive pedagogy” which should come out in a teaching statement.

The worst diversity statements were those in which the candidate self-identified as [LGBTQIA+/BIPOC] and framed everything in terms of that. Even though we want to diversify our faculty, it is illegal for us to ask applicants for these identifiers. Moreover, more than a few candidates self-identified in ways that were, well, suspicious. [For example, the white male from Canada identifies with being an immigrant. Another candidate has a trans relative. One is married to a POC.] I understand that your identity *does* matter to ideas of inclusiveness and belonging–just being there matters–however, pointing this out violates certain norms (and laws, I think) about hiring.

Instead of self-identifying, I suggest describing inclusive pedagogical practices. How does your teaching allow for students from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of experiences to be successful learning in your classroom. How do you avoid making assumptions about your students’ backgrounds? How do present philosophical material in a way that a variety of students will connect with it? This may be in the form of diversifying the reading list/philosophical problems, but it can also be in grading and attendance policies, how you work with campus offices (e.g., ADA, multicultural centers, etc.), scaffolding writing assignments, etc. Instead of reporting that you identify as X so you make space for students who identify as X, why not just describe the ways you make space for students who identify as X,Y, and Z? After all, being X is not sufficient for promoting inclusion/belonging for students who are X. What have you done? Brought in guest speakers? Used experiential learning? Created new courses? Advised student groups? Been invited to student events?

And please do not make assumptions about the students at the school you are applying to. Know the demographics, look at the other resources on campus, look programs, syllabi, etc.

I have had students tell me they did not like how candidates talked down to them or made assumptions about them because the are [Black/first gen/Southern/rural/etc.] even though we have international, out-of-state, poor, rich, first-gen, student of color, etc.

Many job candidates are coming from grad programs in the north, west, Midwest, cities, and they have bought into stereotypes about schools in the South. Our students, who come from a variety of backgrounds, are mostly eager to learn, excited to interact with faculty, and optimistic about their futures. A diversity statement should say something about how you are going to help facilitate their learning and their dreams.

And as for your identity, when you go to campus, pay attention. Look for evidence/ask about resources for faculty that indicate that the school cares about you too. Know that search committee members cannot ask you questions about your identity, but if you ask them, they can. Still, they should be talking to *all candidates* about resources on campus for all faculty.

And search committee members, you might think you are doing a favor to candidates by pointing out the availability (or lack there of) of identity-specific resources in the community, for example mosques, “gay scene,” vegetarian restaurants, but do not do this unless you are asked specifically about these things. I have seen searches fail and potential lawsuits from these sorts of search-committee initiated discussions!

Alas, I digress.

Best wishes to all of you on the market!

Drew Cavallo
Drew Cavallo
Reply to  Hiring committee experience
7 months ago

A lot of well expressed advice for many matters. The whole first half is really great. Beyond just the advice it, from my perspective, hit the nail on the head as to what really matters here. This is the essence of useful framing, which matters both in communication with others and in ones own thoughts as the way one frames their thoughts to themselves plays a significant role in the trajectory of these thoughts. If I had read this before I wrote my reply comment above I would have written it a bit differently.

An adjunct
An adjunct
Reply to  Hiring committee experience
7 months ago

What have you done? Brought in guest speakers? Used experiential learning? Created new courses? Advised student groups? Been invited to student events?

The drift of these questions tracks the tendency in the market of the last several years to prefer practical criteria to empty words, where DEIB materials are concerned

It evidently facilitates hiring committees’ decisions to push diversity statement criteria in the direction of effective, concrete institutional interventions, insofar as the latter may clearly differentiate some applicants from the run of them who have to muddle about muttering about their syllabi.

But I question whether faculty might not be perversely adding to the job-seekers’ burdens. When is it that late-stage grad students, lecturers, or adjuncts are supposed to have had the wherewithal, the institutional clout, the employment security, to do some of these kinds of things? ‘Oh, there are always things you can do’—sure. But it kind of sounds like an additional demand is being made of early-career entrants, that they now demonstrate that they have done the kind of thing that later-stage academics are themselves best-positioned and best-resourced to have done! As if the secure academics wish for the applicants to save them from themselves. Or save their departments, their enrollments, their students.

Ryan
Reply to  An adjunct
7 months ago

Would another way of putting your point be to say that there is a deep irony, to use a euphemism, of sitting before a table of mid-career academics who, having being hired likely with no publications never mind a diversity statement, grill applicants with publications and great dissertations why they have not found time to run programs for under-represented students even though post-tenure they have far more control over their time and priorities?

Because I’m not sure.

Last edited 7 months ago by Ryan
Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
7 months ago

I’m a little wary of commenting, as I’m sure there are 20 Daily Nous regulars ready to explain why I’m an idiot and asshole for allowing diversity statements to influence my vote in hiring decisions, but here goes …
 
I personally like to see diversity statements that demonstrate awareness of why those of us who value them might do so. They might begin by acknowledging an achievement gap that cuts across economic divisions (i.e. that race still makes a difference even when socio-economic factors are considered). They might say that since they don’t believe some races are naturally inferior to others (biologically, intellectually, or culturally), the problem must lie with structures that they can influence. They might acknowledge that one major issue is that people of color are often made to feel that they do not truly belong in higher education, for example:
 

  1. Campus security often asks some students of color to see their IDs, insinuating that they do not look like they belong on campus.
  2. Some students of color might be asked, “Are you here for calculus?” when they walk into “difficult” classes when other students are not, insinuating that it’s remarkable that they are taking the class.
  3. The faculty often is not representative of students of color, making it seem as if higher education is not really for them.
  4. Reading material and respected scholars in a field might not represent students of color and these scholars might have held explicit beliefs that people who look like students of color are intellectually and/or morally inferior.
  5. Buildings and statues might honor people who held explicit beliefs that people who look like students of color are intellectually and/or morally inferior.
  6. Faculty might frequently select cultural references unfamiliar to students of color and rarely mention cultural references familiar to those students.

 
A statement might list actions a candidate has taken. For example:
 

  1. A candidate might acknowledge that white students often feel more comfortable asking for extensions to assignments and other exceptions, regardless of syllabus statements, whereas students of color might not feel comfortable doing so, so perhaps the professor has adopted a policy of reaching out to students who miss assignments individually and offering extensions.
  2. A candidate might describe opportunities of which they have availed themselves to understand the cultural practices of their students and ways they’ve attempted to integrate those references into their classes.
  3. A candidate might describe a plan they have for encouraging students to share cultural experiences they believe are relevant to the material being covered that might be overlooked otherwise.
  4. A candidate might reference readings they’ve integrated into their lectures from outside the traditional philosophical canon to demonstrate the valuable contributions made by people with backgrounds and histories like their students’.
  5. A candidate might explain that they take class time to address the racist statements of key figures in their discipline and disavow those statements.
  6. A candidate might give specific examples of how they have identified and addressed microaggressions or overtly racist statements in their past classes (or plan to do so in the future).

I could probably come up with more, but these are a few things I like to see.

I hope this is helpful to someone. I definitely am not writing this to engage in a debate about the politics behind all of these statements. I’m just speaking as someone who has been part of several search committees and describing elements of diversity statements I value.

Drew Cavallo
Drew Cavallo
Reply to  Wes McMichael
7 months ago

If you were just considering two diversity statements, one that is very good with the understanding and acknowledgement of why a diversity statement matters to those who value them (as you put it) without much meat in their examples of action, and another without much focus on the broader understanding of and acknowledgement of issues but with a lot of good examples of actions taken and to be taken that, among other benefits, help create a space where the entirety of a diverse student body can feel (and of course be) fully included, which of the two would you consider superior? This is of course just a long winded way of asking which you think matters more, but the way a question is framed matters in forming an answerr and a hypothetical set of two diversity statements presents the question in a way that focuses on what I interests me in the answer.

Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
Reply to  Drew Cavallo
7 months ago

Hi Drew,

I’m not sure. I’d probably prefer the former, and others in the department might prefer the latter. I doubt it would be the determining factor for anyone.