Colleges and universities can support new diverse faculty by providing mentorship, creating inclusive spaces, and promoting their work.

How to support new diverse faculty at your institution

Colleges and universities can support new diverse faculty by providing mentorship, creating inclusive spaces, and promoting their work

Key points:

  • Supporting new diverse faculty members helps promote diversity among enrolled students
  • Faculty mentorship and inclusivity are two paths to supporting and expanding campus diversity
  • See related article: How department chairs can support new faculty

Diversity is essential to a thriving college campus. Nearly all schools, from pre-schools through graduate and professional schools, are currently working to ensure a strong diverse workforce. Diversity brings in varied perspectives, ideas, and experiences that can enrich the learning environment for all students. However, new diverse faculty members may face unique challenges that can make it difficult for them to succeed. These challenges can include feeling isolated, unsure of where to go for support, and being excluded from important conversations and decision-making processes.

Colleges and universities have a responsibility to support new diverse faculty members and help them thrive. This can be done by providing mentorship, creating inclusive spaces, and guiding and promoting their work.

One of the first keys is to ensure all new faculty have a mentor from within their department to make sure they understand departmental and college expectations, due dates for professional development requirements, how to order textbooks, etc. Preferably, this is someone who has taught a similar course load to the new faculty member’s assignment.

Beyond the departmental mentor, diverse faculty members should be assigned a seasoned mentor who matches their demographic diversity, if possible, and potentially from another area of the college and definitely someone from outside their own area. This will provide diverse faculty members with a supportive space to discuss personal and professional issues in a nonjudgmental, supportive space that allows for vulnerability.  These faculty members may face several assaults on their personal and professional psyche in higher education, especially if they are one of the only faculty of color in a department.

Sharing and reflecting on these experiences has mutual benefit for mentor and mentee alike. This mentor should take responsibility for introducing the faculty member to other faculty members with similar interests and backgrounds. Some universities will have a variety of support groups for faculty. Membership from those groups would be a good place to look for such potential mentors. On many campuses, groups exist for women, faculty of color, LGBTQ+ faculty, those with disabilities, and veterans.

Providing new diverse faculty access to an inclusive social support structure is important as well. Colleges and universities can create inclusive spaces for new faculty members by providing opportunities for them to connect with each other and with other members of the campus community. These spaces can be physical, such as designated offices or lounges, or virtual, such as online forums or chat groups. This will help diverse faculty members with or without families to have a social environment that will help them get to know their colleagues and vice versa. 

A social support network is necessary to have a good work-personal life balance, and this also provides increased opportunity to develop social capital as the social networks of the faculty members expand. Universities should consider formal welcoming programs for new families in conjunction with other local neighborhood organizations to ensure new faculty and their families are able to make connections and become a vibrant part of the university’s greater community. Diversity, equity, and inclusion staff can potentially lead these efforts and leverage the opportunity to help connect faculty, their families, students, and members of the wider community.

Promoting the accomplishments of new faculty is important.  New diverse faculty are especially susceptible to feelings of “stereotype threat” as argued by Claude Steele. It is important for more seasoned faculty and both formal and informal leadership to support them as they begin their professional journey. More senior faculty should work to make connections with the new faculty and guide them to collaborative opportunities throughout the school. Colleges and universities can promote the work of new diverse faculty members by highlighting their research in publications and presentations, and by nominating them for awards and fellowships. This could be as simple as passing on solicitations for papers or presentations or inviting them to a conference where more seasoned faculty can help them expand their professional network. By promoting the work of new diverse faculty members, colleges and universities can help them to gain visibility and recognition.

Schools should consider development of a virtual or physical space where diverse faculty members can both access and contribute to a toolkit of teaching resources. Faculty members tend to be siloed in their teaching, and sometimes their department colleagues have great ideas, techniques, and approaches to engage university students in critical thinking, writing, and active learning activities. Crowd sourcing materials is a great way to raise the effectiveness of the entire department or college. This resource would provide diverse faculty access to things that have worked well for their colleagues over the years.  As these new faculty get more seasoned, they too can contribute to the toolkit in their own unique ways.

By supporting new diverse faculty members, colleges and universities can create a more welcoming and inclusive environment that can lead to a more diverse student body. Diverse faculty members and diverse students benefit all learners by exposing them to new perspectives and ideas.

Attention higher-ed leaders: Faculty and staff have something to say
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