While the university cites attempts to boost representation of minorities among faculty, many administrators, professors and students say Georgetown isn’t doing nearly enough.
“It’s a big problem,” said Dennis Williams, director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access. “We don’t seem to be as concerned about it as we should be.”
Williams said that discussions on diversity tend to be focused on the diversity of the student body, but he thinks that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
“Faculty need to be a part of this conversation,” Williams said.
Stephanie Frenel (SFS ’12), who started working with the Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness her freshman year at Georgetown, said she has been disappointed by the university’s response to the recommendations of the Working Group on Academics.
“You’re getting taught the same exact point of view — not always, but sometimes — and that’s not realistic,” she said.
Students and professors said there were a number of factors contributing to a dearth of diverse faculty.
“Retention is an issue,” said Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president for institutional diversity and equity. “Over the years we have lost tenured black professors to other universities.”
Williams said he’s also aware of several cases in the last few years in which minority applicants were denied tenure.
“One way of improving diversity is to make sure we are actually keeping the people we hire,” Williams said.
Maurice Jackson, a history professor, has been active in pushing for greater minority representation at Georgetown. He said he was lucky to have great advisers and a supportive department, but he worries that other young minority faculty members may not be as fortunate.
“Sometimes they don’t get the support they need,” he said.
But University Provost James O’Donnell said that the tenure process is rough on all applicants.
“We don’t see that there’s a difference in how people do for tenure by gender or minority status,” he said.
Williams said that a lack of diversity can become a vicious cycle, making it harder to attract new minority faculty. “Having that diversity sends a strong message,” he added.
Most students and professors said they had not seen any real changes after the working group made its recommendations, but many were hopeful that the initiative itself was a sign that things might be changing.
Veronica Salles-Reese, a professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese and co-chair of the working group, said that she thought one of the most important effects of the working group was to bring the issue to the forefront.
“The frame, the mindset — if you can talk about an institution having a mindset — was changed in the right direction,” she said. “But these are things that cannot be done overnight.”
Jackson said that he’s grateful to University President John J. DeGioia’s office for funding the new position in African-American history and hopes it will be the beginning of a new push to diversify academics.
“The goal of raising the funds and of hiring several more African-Americans in the coming years will be made a reality,” Jackson said. “I have been given that assurance.”
O’Donnell said he expects to make several new minority hires by the end of the year.
But others aren’t so sure that the university is trying its best.
“I think that because it’s so simple there really is no excuse,” said Ryan Wilson (COL ’12), a member of the working group. “It’s about putting your money where your mouth is.”
Wilson said that the diversity of Georgetown’s faculty is becoming a more prominent concern as the diversity of the student body continues to grow. This year, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions saw a 25 percent rise in the number of applications from black students and a 34 percent increase in applications from Latino students.
“It is an issue,” said Antony Lopez (COL ’14), MEChA’s freshman representative. “You can visually see that there aren’t enough faculty from different races.”
But what concerns Lopez more is that this lack of racial diversity might contribute to a lack of diversity in beliefs and backgrounds, making it harder for students to find professors to identify with.
On the other hand, Williams said that because a number of Georgetown students come from relatively privileged and sheltered backgrounds, many have not been exposed to the diversity in authority and opinion that would stem from a higher number of diverse faculty.
“That’s an important part of their education,” he said.
Jackson worries that for some Georgetown students, their primary exposure to the black community takes place through service in underprivileged neighborhoods in D.C., creating a skewed image of the demographic as a whole.
Frenel said she thinks that improving faculty diversity is a perennial problem that many colleges and universities, not just Georgetown, are facing, but that the university needs to step up its response.
“Georgetown isn’t very susceptible to change,” she said. “They still have a lot to do.”
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