The Office of the Provost and the Division of Equity and Inclusion are working together to start a new active retention initiative for faculty of color at the University of Oregon. The project is led by the UO Center on Diversity and Community and will focus on conducting exit interviews with faculty of color who have left in the last five years so the university can better understand how to make the institution a more inclusive and welcoming space.
CoDac Director Charlotte Moats-Gallagher said the project is not only about attracting faculty of color to the university, but keeping that attraction going so they choose to stay long term.
“It’s how we do recruitment — making our recruitments more equitable, more inclusive, more civil,” Moats-Gallagher said. “We’re doing things, but we’re not doing it in a deliberate, intentional way. We’re at the very beginning, nascent stages of coming up with a parallel, deep dive on retention.”
She said that since the United States is on its way to becoming a non-white majority, it is critical for the university to look and feel like the overall demographic of the country. According to census data from 2019, the U.S. is 60.1% white, and that number seems to be declining every year. As of the 2019-20 school year, UO students are 60% white and staff are 83% white.
“I think what this initiative is for me is a chance to listen in ways that we haven’t before, to really listen to our faculty who are currently here and to our faculty who have left,” Moats-Gallagher said. “To hear in ways that we have not heard before, and then to act in ways that we have not even conceived of acting before based on what we hear.”
Associate Professor Gerard Francisco Sandoval is working on the initiative from the academic literature side. He has spent the last several months doing an extensive literature review on the five main factors that contribute to faculty of color leaving the university.
The first factor is cultural taxation, which is the extra time faculty of color are expected to spend working on diversity and inclusion issues. The second factor is psychological racial trauma, which deals with the hostile racial environment of the university. Sandoval explained a concept called John Henryism, which is when faculty of color feel they have to prove to their peers and even their students that they belong at the university.
“Every time I start a class I tell my students I have a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley,” Sandoval said. “Cause in a way I have to show my credentials, that I am legit.”
Factor three is devaluing scholarship, meaning faculty of color’s research is not always seen as legitimate as white faculty’s research on the same topic. The fourth factor is racial battle fatigue, which is the combination of experiencing the other three factors at once. Some compare it to PTSD, Sandoval said, as the amount of pressure on faculty of color to do extra work and represent their ethnicity often becomes too much.
“We don’t live in a bubble at the university. We live in the state of Oregon and we go out and interact with the community and there’s just a lot of racial tension in this town,” Sandoval said. “The accumulation of all these things can have health consequences on faculty.”
Sandoval calls the fifth and final factor “transforming the racist narrative.” As the university becomes more diverse and creates more programs for equity and inclusion, it puts an added burden on faculty of color because they want to nurture these programs, she said. All of the work they put into these programs takes time away from their research and productivity, and in order to get tenure, faculty members must be productive researchers.
“I’ve experienced all the things I’m talking about,” Sandoval said. “It’s great to do the research, it’s almost like therapy for me.”
Associate Professor Lamia Karim has been at the university since 2003, and she said she has noticed an improvement in diversity in recent years. However, she said she is presently the only brown-skinned faculty member in the Anthropology department, and the few others that were there either left or transferred to another department.
“People often say that they were not comfortable in the departmental climate,” Karim said. “So how do you change existing climate and make units really diverse and inclusive? That is, how do you change people's attitudes and make People of Color feel welcome? That is a much harder thing to do.”
Karim said having a diverse faculty as well as a diverse student body helps everyone in terms of understanding the world and bringing in different perspectives.
“We live in a multicultural world, not only a multicultural United States. As I tell my students, when you graduate, you don't know who your boss or your fellow workers will be,” she said.
Sandoval also mentioned that being exposed to people of color in positions of power and influence is a critical component of every student’s education, because some students may have never experienced that before.
“There’s a really difficult and sad history in this state around issues of racism,” Sandoval said. “In a way there’s that equitable piece and the ethical part that the university needs to make amends for all of that injustice. The university should be the one at the forefront of that.”