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Is CMC Truly Diverse if it Only Employs One Black Professor?

Lack of diversity negatively impacts everyone, not just underrepresented communities. Exposing people to multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and narratives is the centerpiece of higher education, yet there is only one Black professor at CMC. Taken directly from the Diversity and Inclusion page of CMC’s website, the faculty and Board of Trustees promised in 2007:

The value that we place on diversity at Claremont McKenna College - in our student body, in our faculty and staff, and in our curriculum - derives directly from our mission to prepare our students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions. In helping students to acquire the vision, skills, and values they will need to lead society, we must ensure that they are able to succeed in the current social, political, and economic environments, which are increasingly diverse and globally-oriented. To execute our mission, then, it is crucial that we seek to enroll a diverse student body, to recruit a diverse faculty and staff, and to place great value on respect for differences.

Two things: first, ten years have passed — so, why is lack of diversity among the professorial body still an issue? Second, the phrasing of the declaration grants a significant amount of leeway to the institution. If you only seek “to enroll a diverse student body,” seek “to recruit a diverse faculty and staff,” and seek “to place great value on respect for differences,” then CMC is only responsible for seeking these outcomes, not fulfilling the end goal of diversifying the student body and faculty. Instead, CMC should just promise to address the issue of diversity forthrightly by setting clear goals and timetables. This would create benchmarks by which the success of the diversity efforts could be objectively measured. Obviously, the promise of diversity made in 2007 has not been kept as there is only one Black professor here at CMC: Professor of Modern Languages and Literature Marie-Denise Shelton.

Professor Shelton argues that “faculty from diverse backgrounds bring a special perspective to the disciplines that they teach, and it seems like the college is denying students access to these different perspectives by not hiring a diverse faculty,” as promised in 2007. In spite of this, Professor Shelton remains optimistic because “the administration is trying to remedy the gross lack of diversity among the faculty.” Some of the good news includes the opening of a full-time Africana Studies position with a concentration in philosophy, effective July 2018.

Now I understand that the hiring process is complicated: a vacancy or new position must arise, the Dean of Faculty authorizes a search, the department advertises the position and accepts applications, and the designated search committee (usually three or four members of the department) narrows down the applicant pool. At this point, decision-making is extended to the full department, eventually leading to a vote after the finalists visit the campus. The campus visit for each finalist normally consists of interviews with faculty and college administrators, meetings with students, a job talk, and a class demonstration. This is only what happens once a position becomes available: it does not account for the time it can take for positions to open.

Even given this elaborate process, I still have trouble excusing the current lack of Black professors, especially when the Diversity and Inclusion Board and other student-led affinity groups feel they have to spearhead many of the diversity initiatives with minimal support. According to the Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Board, Maya Love ‘20, “it's tricky because the process of hiring more teachers requires a lot of resources and organization behind the scenes. I think where we can improve as a community is linking the dialogue between what administration and what students want to see. Having students in the conversation for hiring and the courses offered on campus can only add to the success of a new or evolving program.”

More dialogue between students, faculty, and administration would improve transparency and allow students to stay informed and provide their opinions on the recruiting process every step of the way. For example, just like the Queer Resource Center notified students via email about its efforts in hiring a new director, so too should CMC inform students about the new Africana Studies position. This model of engagement could easily be accomplished or at least initiated through a brief email announcement.

There are numerous smart, competent, and sagacious Black intellectuals and scholars in the world. Unfortunately, the current system has minimized their presence in the academic space. CMC has a responsibility to hire a diverse faculty if it wants to uphold the promise it made back in 2007. Make it happen.


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