How To Identify Yourself as a Diversity Hire

One of the most important things a job document can do is communicate an applicant’s status with regard to diversity hiring. If you qualify as a diversity hire, you must make sure the committee knows it. But how does one do that? In my work with clients, I find that they tend to either not mention it all because they don’t know how, or else devote an entire paragraph of the job letter to a long, involved, sometimes overwrought story about all the painful trials and tribulations they had to overcome to get the Ph.D. and how passionate they are about mentoring students in similar circumstances.

Both of these are mistakes. The first, obviously, because diversity hiring is a door that you want to make sure is open to you, if you qualify. The second, because even when speaking of your identity, you still have to remember the basic rules of job documents: show, don’t tell, eschew adjectives and emotion, focus on professional outcomes not personal process, remain factual and evidence-based.

Here’s one method that works. In the basic template of the job letter described in the Why Your Job Letter Sucks blog post, open the paragraph on teaching with this phrase: “As a Native American/African American/Latina/queer/disabled scholar, I am sensitive to issues of diversity in the classroom/I prioritize a diversity of perspectives in my classroom/I make a point to include a range of diverse voices in my classroom. In all of my courses I assign readings by xxx and yyy, and incorporate projects that include ppp and qqq….” You can then add a line such as, “because of my background I am familiar with challenges faced by students of color/queer students/students with disabilities, and am committed to mentoring them for success in the university setting.”

Why does this work? Because it makes your identity an asset in your work for the department. You are showing in concrete and evidence-based ways how your identity informs and enriches your pedagogy, and by extension the pedagogical offerings of the department as a whole.

You can of course write similarly with regard to your research, but the advantages here, in terms of the job search, are not as clear. Departments are going to be less moved by invoking diversity in research than they are by invoking it in teaching, because departments are under the gun to demonstrate to higher administration, accrediting agencies, state legislatures, and the community at large that they are not elitist bastions that train only the white and the wealthy. Indeed, as my niece said recently, about her experience collecting recruitment brochures from colleges across the country, “you’d think that no white kids go to college at all…” so intent are the brochures to proclaim (usually not very truthfully) the supposed diversity of their student body.

In any case, the larger point here is this. A flat statement of identity, or a story of struggle based on identity, is valuable in many contexts but not in job documents, because these do not do the work that your job documents need to do. To be effective, your identity has to be shown to inform your contributions to the department, and that is achieved by showing in factual and unemotional ways how it is mobilized in your classroom teaching and student mentoring.

A little goes a long way in this. Just the line, “As a xxxx scholar…” immediately identifies you as a candidate who can be considered a diversity hire. Search committee members are alert to this and will not miss it.

By the way, in my examples I included queer and disabled as examples of diversity identities, but in terms of university hiring in the United States, these may or may not “qualify” as diversity hires. The criteria will vary by campus and department, and in some cases by the priorities of the particular hire. In STEM fields just being a woman is often “diverse.” I’m not making any statements here in this post about what does or should constitute a diversity hire. I’m making the point that if your identity plays a role in your status on the job market in your field, there are better and worse ways to signal that in your job documents.

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