Associate Professor of Religious Education
Associate Professor of Psychology and Religion
Independent Scholar and Consultant for Theological Education with the American
Academy of Religion
Dean and Vice President
of a racial/ethnic scholar into an all white or practically all white faculty
is a daunting challenge for the administration, existing faculty, and the
person being hired. These remarks and advice are meant for white colleagues,
faculty and administration, who are committed to diversity and are
well-meaning, but unaware of the possible cultural insensitivity and the
systemic practices of racism so deeply imbedded into the institution that they
are beyond your notice or control. We are assuming that as a white colleague,
you do not want the racial/ethnic person to be wittingly or unwittingly
sabotaged by the institution or individuals. Your on-going support of this
person will be paramount. There are important matters to consider so that the
new hire will not be set-up for failure. The ideas conveyed below may at times
sound absurd or foolish. The issues raised and the advice given comes directly
from real-life experiences of racial/ethnic colleagues who have survived the
hiring process in white institutions. We have tried to make our words candid
and informative so that other colleagues might learn and become more aware and
a Place Where There Is "The One and Only" or "The First"
racial/ethnic person being hired be the "one and only" or "one
of the few?" Will the person be "the first and only?" In all of
these instances, there is tremendous pressure and stress on the colleague of
color to meet the challenge, perform for voiced and unvoiced standards, follow
vague expectations, and to succeed. Adding a "one and only" to your
faculty, often means bringing the racial/ethnic person into the isolation of
your town or village. The reality of this isolation and its ramifications is
very complex. Many racial/ethnic persons thrive well as the "first and
only." Other people of color will choose to move on quickly to positions
where there are more people like them.
Scenario When There Is the First and Only
graduated with a PhD from one of the top universities in the nation. After
being interviewed by several schools, and with the advice of her mentor, she
elected to join the faculty of a small university located in a small town,
about a two hour’s drive from the nearest city. Ebony, the first and only
racial/ethnic colleague on faculty, was generously welcomed to the school and
given as much support as the institution could offer as she made the
transition. As a matter of fact, some of the white colleagues were jealous of
the amount of support and attention she received. Ebony first noticed her
colleagues’ discomfort with her when they grumbled, in joking ways, that they
had not received such remuneration, care, and consideration. Ebony thrived in
her new position, but found tensions among the faculty and internal politics to
be difficult to negotiate. Faculty members would gossip about each other to
her, and also talk about her to each other. She felt that her gossip was
amplified in the life of the school because she was the only Black faculty
person. Ebony also had social difficulties. Living in the small town of the
university, Ebony found herself feeling lonely on weekends when she did not
travel to conferences or to visit family. While shopping at the local markets
and malls, the stares of the people let her know that there were not "many
of her kind" in this area of the country. Ebony had feelings of isolation
and alienation professionally and socially. By all accounts, Ebony was doing
very well in her tenure-track position, but from her perspective, she was
isolated and without conversation partners. Ebony’s situation was complex. She
recognized and appreciated all that the colleagues of her institution had done
to welcome and support her. She was working hard and doing well in teaching,
giving good service to the university and was publishing in major journals. All
this notwithstanding, Ebony recognized that all the political skirmishes,
battles, and plots of the faculty and administration were debilitating to her
emotionally, spiritually and professionally. At the end of her third year,
Ebony received word that there was a new position in her field at a university
in the nearby city where she would be one of many racial/ethnic scholars. Ebony
was encouraged by a senior scholar at that university to apply for the
position. Ebony was conflicted – should she stay in a place where she was well
established and doing well on her tenure-track and continue to battle the
internal politics of the current school or should she go to another school
where she might have more political alliances and not feel so isolated?
racial/ethnic person will not bring substantive change until the power dynamics
of your institution shift. The shift in power will mean that people who have
been comfortable in their authority for many years will have to be
uncomfortable and even unsure of their power positions for a brief time.
Challenging a well established scholar’s authority usually results in fighting
and hurt feelings. Your institutional leadership will need to determine if the
benefits brought by this change will outweigh the fights and anxiety that will
academy does not have traditional forms of power. In corporate life, time and
money are the nexus of power. Whoever makes decisions about how time is spent
and how resources are allocated are in authority. However, in the academy
individual faculty often have control over how their time is spent at the same
time as having little access to major financial resources (control of a few
thousand dollars is not real money or power). In the academy, the power is
distributed based on the furthering of agendas of those in power. Power is
competitive and to the victor goes the spoils. Those who come into the
institution, who can read the institutional ethos and can be co-opted by the
existing power structures, will be given authority. New persons not interested
in existing agendas, or those who bring their own agendas, are denied power and
kept from authority. Giving up power in the academy means finding ways for new
people not to be co-opted into old agendas and creating space for new agendas
to flourish. Time for new considerations, new conversations, and different
assumptions will have to be carved out of people’s already too busy schedules.
Resources will have to be rethought and allocated to meet the shifting
priorities. Also, administrators inherit and contribute to all kinds of
dis-ease among the faculty. Faculties may be quite good at arguing civilly
about theology and the nature of God, but not as good at talking about past
hurts and disappointments, broken relationships, betrayals and unrealized
dreams, dashed hopes, and unfulfilled expectations of the past. All of this,
unfortunately, can get pushed onto any new person, but the overlay of racism
and prejudice that is added in white institutions puts the racial/ethnic
persons in jeopardy.
Common Scenario When Power Is Not Relinquished
graduated with a PhD from one of the top universities in the nation. After
being interviewed by several schools, and with the advice of his mentor, he
elected to join the faculty where he would be the first and only racial/ethnic
colleague on faculty. During his interview process, little attention was paid
to Ky-young’s interest and work in establishing an institute for Asian and
Asian-American Studies. During his first year on faculty, requests for
Ky-young’s time came from all over the institute. It seemed every project and
committee wanted his participation. Ky-young turned down the majority of the
requests and spent his time working on his dream of creating an institute. When
Ky-young went to the administration to request funding for the institute, he
was surprised to learn that he was considered to be uncooperative. He was told
that he was not "a team player" because he had not participated in
all of the committees that wanted him. Ky-young explained that he wanted to
spend time working on a project that would bring many strong, Asian and
Asian-American students to the university. He dreamed of creating a place where
Asian students might study with him and other colleagues interested in Asian
studies. In the conversation with the dean, Ky-young was told that this kind of
change in the university would take a great deal of resources and that the
resources were not available at this time. The dean was puzzled – he thought
that Ky-young should have known that he was joining a prestigious university
and as a junior scholar his primary responsibility was to maintain the agenda
that was established. After all, he reasoned, the agenda of this fine
university is what attracted him here. The dean explained that only the senior
scholars get to manage large projects like the establishment of an institute.
Ky-young told the dean that if the senior scholars are the only ones who can
make significant change then his hire would not bring any change to the
university for at least 10 to 12 years. The dean told Ky-young he would just have
to wait. Ky-young felt betrayed – he thought when the university hired him it
was in support of his scholarship and would provide him with adequate time and
resources to move forward with his dream of bringing substantive change. Now,
from his perspective, they did not want change, but tokenism.
brings resistance. The hire of a racial/ethnic person will bring change to your
institution. Potentially, this hire, will begin new patterns of faculty
configuration, bring new perspectives on curriculum, presuppose a different
kind of conversation around the faculty table in formal meetings and at
informal lunches. The resistance will be subtle with some people falling into a
passive silence or moving conversations to the hallways and away from the
official meeting times. Subtle resistance might take the form of persons
arguing in dichotomous logic – there is right and wrong, good and bad, must and
must not thinking. The resistance might also be more pronounced with persons
refusing to consider the differences or uniquenesses of the racial/ethnic
candidate. In either case, subtle or pronounced, expect resistance.
Common Scenario Concerning Resistance
graduated with a PhD from one of the top universities in the nation. After
being interviewed by several schools, and under the advice of her mentor,
Juanita reluctantly agreed to be interviewed by a school where she would be the
first and only racial/ethnic colleague on faculty. During her interview, a
senior, white, male, faculty person, Dr. Van Claus, sat without saying much
throughout her interview process. The few times he spoke, he did not pose a
question, but instead, corrected Juanita’s previous statements. The Search
Committee, after careful deliberation, brought Juanita’s name as the selection
for the position. Though the faculty regulations required a majority vote, it
was the custom of this faculty to bring on a new colleague by consensus. The
Search committee made its report and the faculty began the discussion of
candidate Juanita. Dr. Van Claus spoke up quickly and said that he did not
think Juanita was the person for the position. When pressed by other colleagues
to be more specific, he said that "she is not a good ‘fit’ for us."
The conversation progressed and the majority of colleagues saw that Juanita was
a budding scholar with great potential. Again, Van Claus spoke against her.
Finally, after much deliberation, the vote was called for. Van Claus and a few
other colleagues against Juanita, but the clear majority of the faculty voted
to accept Juanita into the position. In the past, without a unanimous vote, the
search would have been scuttled, but this time was different. The dean spoke
up. The dean said that even though other hires had been voted on unanimously,
she was letting the majority vote stand with this hire. The dean said that the
hire of a racial/ethnic colleague would mean change for the entire institution,
and that the faculty would have to learn to live with the tensions that this
change brought. She said that she understood people’s resistance to this hire,
to this change, but that the school was moving, slowly, in new directions.
Juanita accepted the position and started in the fall of that year.
and Issues to Reflect upon in the Hiring Process
below are meant to assist the administration and faculty in the process of
welcoming and supporting your racial/ethnic colleagues. The questions are not
meant to be "answered" per se. It would be a mistake to ask one
person to sit and answer the questions on behalf of your institution. Instead,
the questions are meant as a guide for conversation and reflection by a group
or committee of colleagues. Dialogue among a search committee, a committee on
faculty or an entire faculty is invaluable in getting a clear sense of your
institutional identity, values, assumptions, limitations, priorities, and
dreams. The conversations sparked by these questions will create a more
substantive and healthier context for a racial/ethnic colleague, and for that
matter, any colleague.
discussion concerning goal setting consider the following:
- Is it
possible to move beyond simple compliance with ATS or other accreditation
standards and accomplish faculty buy-in to the notion of being a changing
- What is
the value of diversity to the learning experience? What will it mean at
this institution to make the experience of new and different communities
accessible to students and faculty?
will it mean for the faculty to have a different worldview represented at
the table? What is gained by the presence of those born outside of the
western world view to the study of religion?
- Is the
faculty willing to submit to diversity training as a group to prepare for
this shifting culture?
- How will
the faculty and administration discuss how they might need to make
decisions differently with different ethnicity and culture at the table?
there established policies and protocols for dealing with issues of
prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and racial/cultural harassment? The
question is not IF incidences of bigotry and bias occur. The question is
WHEN incidences occur, how is your institution prepared to respond with
more than white guilt or denial? The racial/ethnic colleague is not
responsible for designing these policies and procedures and should not be
responsible to necessarily sit on the committee that oversees the policies
- What are
the established, written and unwritten, policies and procedures for hiring
any new faculty? Will these policies and procedures be upheld or amended
in the hire of a racial/ethnic colleague?
decision is made to prioritize the hiring of a racial/ethnic colleague consider
- If there
has been no racial/ethnic person in the position previously, why consider
one now? Why has your institution not hired someone in the past?
does your institution mean by wanting to be "diverse" or
"multicultural"? Is it thought that by hiring one or two
racial/ethnic colleagues your institution is now "diverse" or
- What are
the obstacles in your institution to the hire of a racial/ethnic person?
- In what
ways is your institution hostile to racial/ethnic persons?
- Have any
racial/ethnic persons left their jobs in the past 3 year, 5 years? Why?
- In what
ways will your institution be changed/affected by this hire?
- What are
the expectations, spoken and unspoken for the new hire?
the academic standards and expectations for "fit" be the same as
a white hire? Will you try to hire the whitest ethnic person you can find?
- What is
the climate of the town, city, or village for racial/ethnic families? Is
there suitable schools/child care, market place, police, medical and
hospitals, etc. What neighborhoods are available for housing? Are their
social outlets for racial/ethnic persons in your town, city, village?
steps will your institution take to set a friendly, hospitable climate for
the work needs and family needs of a racial/ethnic colleague? What
resources are available to support these efforts?
- If there
is not an intentional and corporate decision to hire a racial/ethnic
person, a myriad of excuses will arise giving reasons why the task of
hiring a racial/ethnic person was insurmountable. Excuses will include,
but are not limited to:
no racial/ethnic applications.
There are no racial/ethnic persons in this field.
The white candidate was just so much more qualified.
The white candidate is a better fit for us.
problematic, is tokenism. Faculties will hire one person of color and
proclaim this hire from the rooftops as the only person that is needed or
wanted in the entire institution, then ask the person to serve as the
lone, token voice concerning dicey issues or issues perceived to be
related to racial/ethnic issues.
kind of scholarly priority do you need the position to have? What is the
institution’s agenda for racial/ethnic programming with this hire? Just
because the person is a racial/ethnic person does not mean that their
scholarship is focused upon racial/ethnic issues. Just like white people,
racial ethnic people have varying priorities and scholarly trajectories.
If you want the person to create and support racial/ethnic agendas in your
institution (e.g. Black Church Studies Program, Hispanic Institute, the
Asian Student Caucus), be clear about that expectation with all the
candidates. If programming is part of the vision of this hire, what
resources will be available for existing and new programming?
Questions: Before the Job is Described or Posted
wording in the advertisement will be used to signal that a racial/ethnic
colleague is preferred or encouraged to apply?
- Is there
an affirmative action officer and policy at your institution? If not, who
might you call upon for assistance with hiring based upon affirmative
- Are the
search committee members, deans, presidents, etc. in agreement that a
racial/ethnic person needs to be prioritized in the hiring process?
Questions: Finding Suitable Candidates
existing or new arenas must be explored in order to create a pool of
- Talk to
other racial/ethnic persons in the field and ask how to network.
the racial/ethnic professional groups, committees and sub-committees.
Comments: During the Interview
sure the lodging, transportation, and meals are first-rate. The candidate
might assume he/she is being slighted due to their minority status.
upfront and open about the politics of hiring the "first and
only" in your institution.
racial/ethnic scholars’ work is interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary or
are just plain unorthodox. Is this kind of scholar tenure-able at your
institution? If you hire someone interdisciplinary are you prepared to
make the intellectual case for their work during tenure? Make sure you are
not hiring them based on their current work with the expectation that they
must change their work to get tenure.
that racial/ethnic colleagues are trained in the same academy that white
scholars are trained in. Resist thinking that the person is "too
ethnic" or "not ethnic enough" – no one person is
representative of the entire race or ethnicity. There is a vast spectrum
of experience, expression and embodiment.
Comments: Negotiating with the Finalist
- At the
risk of stereotyping, consider that racial/ethnic scholars of religion are
often deeply involved in social justice/community work as well as the work
of the church and faith communities. Assist the scholar in integrating
their community and faith community obligations into their scholarly
- At the
risk of stereotyping, consider that many racial/ethnic candidates come
from lower socio-economic beginnings and carry more student loan debt than
other candidates. Significant financial remuneration will be needed for:
base salaries, one time start-up funds to establish libraries for
teaching, fee for professional memberships and associations (mainstream
and racial/ethnic), moving fees, trips to look for housing and child care,
assistance with mortgages and rent, computer equipment for campus and home
office, annual research funds, annual funds if racial/ethnic programming
is part of portfolio, and funds of teaching and research assistants.
- Be sure
to give the candidate all institutional materials in writing, e.g. tenure
and promotion policy, faculty regulations and handbook, school catalogue,
Comments: Now That You Have A Racial/Ethnic Colleague
that students will have all kinds of wild expectations of, and place undue
pressures on faculty of color. Students will assume their work is inferior
or their course should be "easy." Students will give them less
respect and more grief. Be on the side of the colleague as they get
any gossip or conversation, especially the gossip that is culturally
insensitive. Don’t wait for the new colleague to have to do it.
expect the person to do all things Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American
(student groups, committee work, diversity training etc.) unless negotiated
realistic about their use of time and help them protect their time as they
get their feet on the ground. Racial/ethnic people usually have to serve
"double-duty" on committee assignments (being placed on
additional committees that have to do with issues of minority status as
well as the regular duty). We also are sought out by minority students who
we advise and those we do not advise. Formally and informally, we are
asked by colleagues to consult on racial/ethnic issues. All of this takes
time and adds to our workload.
- Do not
look to the new colleague to hold the faculty accountable on issues of
race, racism, and other issues of diversity. Not only is this not fair, it
does not work. It will only serve to alienate the new person even more.
faculty persons at white schools are likely to have a strong commitment to
their community of origin as well as feel a particular commitment to
students of color. This dynamic often time creates misunderstandings,
alienation, and resentment by white students and faculty.
cultures have a very elaborate network that functions beyond the obvious
structure for decision making. An institution with a more transparent
process might be very confusing. Also institutions with well established
"good old boy" networks will work to exclude the
"Other," thus frustrating the new person. The addition of
persons who come from non-white cultures simply adds to the complexity and
forces decision making to become more complex.
the new colleague a mentor. Have another colleague make a commitment to
meet regularly with the new person to discuss on-going institutional
issues and to give support. Consider that several different mentors might
be needed for different aspects of institutional life.
Comments: Things that Exasperate, Frustrate, and Alienate Racial/Ethnic
Scholars in White Institutions
idea, that in the 21st century, the hire of a racial/ethnic
person is cause for consternation, confusion, and political wrangling.
one or two racial/ethnic colleagues does not change the institution from
being a white institution.
the name correctly; don’t give a nickname; don’t confuse the colleague’s
name with the janitor’s or secretary’s name.
call his/her accent "cute" or "exotic."
the colleague of hearing the one story you tell about the one
racial/ethnic person you know.
ask the person what country they are from.
ask for an invitation to your colleague’s home for an "ethnic
assume that racial/ethnic people are monolithic. Know that there are
significant differences in language, culture, ethnicity, religion, social
class, and nationality among racial/ethnic people.
make sweeping generalizations about the person’s personal or family
background information based on your limited understanding of their
ask the person to serve as the racial/ethnic voice for all people of color
- Be aware
that different cultures relate to authority and structure in drastically
different ways. How a person goes about being a faculty member is
significantly influenced by their culture.
exclude the racial/ethnic colleague from extra-curricular university
events on the basis of assuming their lack of interest, knowledge,
experience, etc., based on their racial/ethnic background.
of education is to bring about change. As an institution of religion and higher
learning you have some commitment to education for change. Education, in and of
itself, is a tool of change and creates change agents. How will your
institution educate itself for this change? How will your institution hold
itself to the same expectations of growth, maturity, change, as it holds for
its students? You will, in trying to institute and maintain this change, make
mistakes. There will be cultural faux pas, big and small. Racism will raise its
ugly head in new and previously unrehearsed ways when the new colleague comes
on board. In all of the mistake-making, be open to hearing the opposing view,
the view of the ones offended. Be willing to say you are sorry. Be willing to
try things differently. Be willing to stop doing it the "way we’ve always
done it." Remember, these conversations are likely to make significant improvements
for a healthier environment for the entire faculty and administration.