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Applying for many academic positions in North America often requires a diversity statement.

As someone who is a disabled, racial, sexual and religious minority, immigrant, and someone who grew up poor, I couldn't help but feel a bit insulted by the necessity of providing such a statement.

Growing up, I was often the only non-white student in the class. I was bullied severely for being different throughout K12. As a result, I have developed mental illness and my experience has deeply affected my sexuality as well.

But now I am told to write about how I feel about about diversity and inclusion?

Even being prompted this question is insulting, as if the asker has never ever opened a book about the experience of minorities (esp. racial minority) in NA.

Yeah, I guess would appreciate some diversity and inclusion. But, one, I don't want to write a book about my experience, and two, I don't want to relive trauma.

That's only on the emotional level.

On the technical level, many researchers have already pointed out that diversity (a "feel-good" slogan) affects basically no structural change on the ground. As an illustrative example, if your organization is morally corrupt, then "diversity" in that organization simply means you have many types of people working towards that corrupted goal. So simply being diverse is not enough. But is this view considered as "against diversity", or "for diversity"? - This all depends on how the hiring committee feels.

What motivates requiring a diversity statement from minority applicants?

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    How would the committee know about the challenges you experienced and how you overcame them if you don't tell them? The diversity statement is a great opportunity to describe this and how you would use your experience to support students to overcome their own challenges.
    – atom44
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 17:35
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    What the department actually wants to know is whether or not you're going to be able to help attract and retain students of diverse backgrounds. It sounds like you might be able to leverage your experience to help with this. Make this clear in your statement, which doesn't have to contain details about your past if recalling it is painful, but should contain details about precisely what you plan to do to improve the diverse student's experience. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 18:46
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    Better question: Should anyone? Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 0:24
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    "I don't want to write a book about my experience, and two, I don't want to relieve trauma." Like many people on this site, you have incorrectly decided that a diversity statement is about your experiences and identity. It is not. It is about how you will be effective at the job you are applying for. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 2:03
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    The body question and title don't match. Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 15:35

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The purpose of a diversity statement is typically how you approach the diversity of others in the classroom (whether neurodiverse, physical, economic, or ethnic) and how your own research concerns diversity. How does your teaching experience create a better situation (than you've experienced) for diverse learners? You are welcome to comment on your own diversity, but in my experience attending DEI workshops on writing diversity statements and working on disability justice issues, they really want to know how you approach this from the standpoint of a professor. In this sense, you can distance yourself from personal aspects. From my perspective, I've found the distancing helpful. It's also been helpful to have others, for instance, someone I trust in the campus diversity and/or teaching and learning center, review my diversity statement.

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Coming from a minority background does not automatically make someone good at addressing/accommodating diversity issues within their field. Whether you come from a minority background or not, as a professor you're going to deal with students from backgrounds different from your own. A diversity statement is an opportunity to describe how you approach the classroom and how you create an inclusive environment for students. It has very little to do with your specific background, and to the extent your background matters, it matters less than your pedagogy and training in the subject.

Failure to write a diversity statement as a minority candidate, or worse, writing a flippant diversity statement are both worse than writing a bland statement. The former, at best, makes it seem like you can't follow directions. The latter, at worst, opens up a whole can of worms that could torpedo your application.

If you absolutely can't stand diversity statements, then write something bland and half-hearted. You'll be in very good company. That's not intended to knock anybody- every candidate has their own strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone is expected to be a DEI superstar.

But, search committees do take diversity statements seriously. If you have two otherwise equal candidates, but the first has a good diversity statement and the other doesn't, then the first one wins.

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TDLR: Asking for a diversity statement from minority applicants is motivated by the fact that recruiting rules state you must ask all candidates the same things.

Let's start by acknowledging that the original intentions behind diversity statements was well meaning. If we genuinely care that professors are able create environments were everyone feels included, supported and equally catered for, then its stands to reason that we should judge a candidate's ability to do this when they are hired. It's the same reason we hadn't just judge someone on their research abilities, and then complain that they aren't any good a teaching.

Next we should note that at least where I am from (the UK), if you ask one candidate something, you have to ask all candidates the same thing. All candidates must be asked for the same application materials, and all candidates must be asked the same questions at interview. Asking candidates from non-excluded groups to provide a diversity statement, but not candidates from excluded groups would lay the university immediately open to a discrimination lawsuit.

Now, its true that many diversity statements are bland, meaningless, and verging on dishonest. They have become a box to tick (teaching statements also read like this surprisingly often).

diversity (a "feel-good" slogan) affects basically no structural change on the ground. As an illustrative example, if your organization is morally corrupt, then "diversity" in that organization simply means you have many types of people working towards that corrupted goal. So simply being diverse is not enough.

Is you were feeling brave this seems like a great sentiment to put in a diversity statement (Or at least, a Diversity, Equality and inclusion statement). It would immediately mark you out as someone who took the issues seriously, as long as the effect was to make the reader believe you were interested in serious change rather than cosmetic sticking plasters. However, it would need to be followed up with suggestions for what "structural change on the ground" is necessary, and how it could be achieved. It may also be appropriate to talk about who this work falls on, and how it shouldn't all fall on the shoulders of people from minorities. Finally you would need to talk about what you could do to help your student navigate the structural problems as best as is possible in the meantime.

Such a statement might ruffle feathers. It might harm your application at some places, but boost it at others. You would have to genuinely ask yourself if you would rather have a job at somewhere that didn't care about these structural issues (and therefore might not be very understanding of your own issues) or risk not getting a job at all. I'm not saying there is an easy or correct answer there.

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  • "If we genuinely care that professors are able create environments were everyone feels included, supported and equally catered for, then its stands to reason that we should judge a candidate's ability to do this when they are hired." - Yes, this would be a common sense interpretation, but this is not how the system works in the US. When I took a mandatory training few years ago as a member of a search committee, such attitude was described (by the trainer) as "cultural precompetence" and would be worth only 3 points out of 5. (Or even 2, if it were deemed "colorblind".) Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 14:23
  • @MoisheKohan Being able to create an environment where everyone feels included, supported and equally able to excel does not imply that people should necessarily be treated equally. I'll leave for people's own diversity statements to argue whether equal treatment is correct, or whether treatment needs to be culturally specific, but nothing in my post argues for one or the other. Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 18:08
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Firstly, I’m sorry to hear that you were bullied in school and that it had such negative effects on you. I can certainly understand why you might not want to discuss that issue with potential colleagues at a university you are applying to. I cannot offer a perspective on what it is like to submit a diversity statement as a minority applicant, but I can tell you a bit about diversity statements, what they are for, and how a selection committee might view your position.

Contrary to the other answer given here, the real purpose of a Diversity Statement is not any improvement in the quality of teaching or research. That is the “brochure explanation” of its purported purpose, but the real purpose of these statements is primarily to act as a political litmus test to minimise hiring and promotion of academics who dissent from the neo-Marxist orthodoxy of modern academia (for discussion, see e.g., here, here and here if interested). As you correctly point out, diversity training and diversity statements have a poor record in bringing about any positive change in institutions with respect to interpersonal behaviour between people of different races, sexes, etc., but that is because that is not their purpose — their purpose is political/ideological, and they achieve their actual purpose quite successfully.

It is extremely tricky to try to predict the reception of a diversity statement, primarily because there remains quite a bit of heterodoxy —despite the goal of weeding this out— in relation to how academics view these. At the risk of oversimplifying, you might expect to get two kinds of main views, plus variations of these occurring in the middle. On the one extreme are academics and diversity administrators who find the statements desirable as a means of imposing a political litmus test on applicants, and they will favour applicants who express the correct neo-Marxist orthodoxy that they hold (the more radical the better). On the other extreme are academics who think that the entire exercise of diversity statement is illegitimate/useless and they will tend to give them little weight or ignore them completely. In the middle you will find various academics who try to square-the-circle, acting under the pretence that they can judge the diversity views of an application without any political or ideological favouritism.

As to your particular circumstance and your attitude to these statements, that is perhaps an unusual position, but not an unreasonable one. The advocates of diversity statements flatter themselves in thinking that these are a tool for helping minorities, so I suspect they would be inclined to respect your wishes not to discuss information that is sensitive to you due to your minority status. The other answer here gives good advice insofar as it notes that you can concentrate on output-based issues (e.g., your teaching, research, etc.) and ignore your own personal characteristics if you want to. On the other hand, ideally you should be able to speak to your actual views on diversity exercises, and you ought be to able to use the statement to mount the anti-diversity-statement argument you have given here. The very nature of the statement as a political litmus test means that the result of this is unpredictable, and heavily dependent on the ideological and political views of those who read it. Since your view is that the statement is window-dressing and that what is needed is “structural” change in the university, that would probably put you on the desired side of the ideological divide that the litmus test is designed to elicit (arguably more radically so), so you would be unlikely to face negative repercussions from taking this view; depending on who reads your statement, it might even count as a positive.

One day, perhaps we will all be mature enough to judge an applicant entirely on the quality of their work. Until that day comes, you may have to resign yourself to being one of the many applicants whose employment prospects hinge on unobserved ideological and political discrimination. Hopefully this answer is useful to at least help you understand the position you are in.


Update: You might also be interested in this: FIRE statement on the use of DEI criteria in faculty hiring and evaluation.

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    This seems like the canonical opinion-based answer that shows why the site guidelines are against opinion-based questions.
    – user137975
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 1:01
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    Not exactly sure if this addresses the question of "how do you feel about submitting diversity statement as a minority applicant"?
    – Parrever
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 3:49
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    Hence the disclaimer/explanation in first paragraph.
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 3:51
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    @AnonymousM Oddly, this answer is better cited than the other answers that are upvoted and as much or more opinion based than this answer.
    – David S
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 15:47

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