Although colleges across the country pride themselves on the diverse groups of students they admit each year, many universities’ faculties are comprised of a majority of white professors. The College of William and Mary is no exception.
According to 2013 data from the Office of Institutional Research, 511 of the College’s 632 full-time instructional staff are white. Of the remaining 121, 34 are Asian, 19 are black or African American, 16 are Hispanic/Latino, 7 are two or more races, and 1 is American Indian/Alaska native. Twenty-three are nonresident aliens, and 21 are listed as “race and ethnicity unknown.”
The College’s numbers are comparable to national averages. In fall 2011, of full-time instructional faculty whose race was known, 79 percent were white, 9 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 6 percent were black, 4 percent were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska natives or of two or more races, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
At the same time, however, universities across the country emphasize the diversity of their students. Administrators have reported that the College’s student body is increasingly diverse: In a Sept. 25 presentation to the Board of Visitors Committee on Academic Affairs, Interim Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe ’95 M.Ed. ’01 said that the numbers of international and Asian students entering the College have risen over the years. The percentage of students of color also increased from 20 percent in the entering Class of 2008 to 30 percent in the entering Classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“The trend is away from a white majority student body, and that makes it more important for the faculty to look like the students, to look like the world,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Kate Conley said.
However, Conley said that she does not think numbers necessarily tell the whole story. Federally mandated categories on diversity do not take into account socioeconomic diversity, and do not include data on how many faculty members are LGBTQI, or how many are from first-generation college families, for example. Confusion can also stem from the categories themselves, as some faculty members may see themselves fitting into more than one box, Conley said.
As of 2013, the College’s full-time instructional staff was reported as approximately 80 percent white, but Conley said the administration is making an effort to diversify the faculty. She and the other Arts and Sciences Deans ask each search chair leading the inititative to find a new faculty member three questions: Who are the top three candidates? Who is the top female candidate? Who is the top candidate from an underrepresented group? If there is no female representation or representation of a minority group among the top candidates, Conley said that the deans will ask for justification as to why not.
Whenever the College succeeds in hiring a faculty member who is considered a member of a minority, Conley emphasized the importance of making sure that person is welcome on campus and in the community.
“It’s not just, ‘Okay, you got the job, you’re on your own now,’” Conley said. “But it’s, ‘Okay, you got the job, what can we do for you?’ Are our faculty who don’t feel that they’re part of a majority feeling like they’re supported to the extent they should be? We really want them to be.”
Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings associate professor of history and Africana studies Robert Vinson, who has taught at the College since 2006, said he feels the College’s climate for faculty members of color has gotten progressively better over the past nine years.
“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t had a great increase in faculty of color … but I can say that I think we’ve created a welcoming environment, increasingly so, for faculty members of color who have come since I’ve come,” he said.
Vinson credits the College’s Chief Diversity Officer, Fanchon Glover, as well as Vernon Hurte, Director of the Center for Student Diversity, with helping to foster this climate. Conley mentioned that Provost Michael Halleran has also encouraged the deans’ efforts to further diversify the faculty.
Beyond the administration, however, students also play an important role in shaping minority faculty members’ everyday experiences, both in and out of the classroom.
Associate professor of theater and Director of the program of Africana studies Francis Tanglao-Aguas teaches a course called “Sex and Race in Plays and Films: Dramatizing Diversity.” He said he has been humbled by students’ interest in the class in recent years.
“Back in 2005, I would have to go door-to-door, soliciting enrollment, posting my own flyers, attending even club meetings to let students know I was here and what my classes were about,” Tanglao-Aguas said in an email. “But now, my waitlist is a multi-year waitlist. I think students, even prior to coming to W&M, ache to open up about their identities, and those of their peers, so that they can study themselves in relation to the world they seek to improve.”
Tanglao-Aguas said that to him, students model the creativity and passion needed to diversify the College’s campus. He currently has eight students pursuing a self-designed major in Asian American studies, but said he must also work to retain students of color who talk about transferring to other, more diverse schools.
In discussing the need for faculty members of different races, Tanglao-Aguas mentioned his own experience facing what he calls “cultural amnesia.” After moving to the United States as a teenager, he stopped performing — an activity he loved as a child — noting the lack of Asian stage and television actors he saw in US entertainment.
“Thus how can our students of color even imagine themselves running a laboratory experiment or even teaching a class if they never encounter a role model who looks like them?” Tanglao-Aguas said. “Indeed all our professors, regardless of color, are able and willing to mentor without discrimination, but our very base psychology tells us the importance of modeling.”
“For black students, it’s very important for them to see themselves reflected in a person of authority,” he said. “Many times they’ll say I’m the first black professor they’ve ever had, or the first black teacher they’ve ever had. And that matters. I myself never had a black professor at all as an undergraduate, and I felt that acutely.”
For students, race can also be noticeable in the classroom.
Eric Martinez ’16 said he has had two non-white faculty members in his nearly three years at the College.
“If I took more Hispanic studies classes, I might relate more to those professors because I’m Hispanic,” he said. “As a science major, though, I don’t run into many non-white faculty. … It doesn’t really bother me, but it’d be nice to see more diversity.”
Alexis Canty ’15, who served as co-president of the College’s NAACP chapter last year, also said she sees room for improvement in terms of diversity among the College’s faculty.
“I can think of countless times when I’ve been the only student of color in the classroom,” she said. “That really does have an effect on you. It’s hard as an African American student when you are discussing a racially charged issue in a classroom of students and professors that really don’t — and can’t — understand your perspective. While I have enjoyed getting to know and interact with all of my professors, faculty and staff here at the College, I do wish that there [were] more minority representation in positions of power. … I’m not just talking about racial distinction, but cultural, spiritual, religious, etc.”
While many students and professors are not directly involved in most hiring processes, many expressed hope that the administration will continue its efforts to further diversify the faculty.
Canty added that all students should take an interest in the subject and maintain a conversation on diversity both on and off campus.
“I would like to see students from all backgrounds advocating for positive change on this campus, because everyone needs to speak up in order for real progress to be made,” she said.