Diversity Statements: Some Thoughts and an Example
Diversity statements are all the rage when it comes to academic job market materials. Everyone requires one because, well, it looks bad if they don't. However, the diversity statements I've read are [how do I say this diplomatically?] lacking substance and conviction. Almost like the people who write them experience marginalization only as an outside viewer.
For me, I have had the "luxury" of experiencing marginalization in my academic life and in my personal life, so maybe my outlook on what a diversity statement should say varies from the typical "I value the experiences of BIPOC people and put at least one BIPOC author on my syllabus for each class!" type statements.
I bare my teeth (well, a little). I show vulnerability and strength. I tell the truth as I know it. And I offer hope through discussing tangible, concrete actions that work towards increasing the inclusion of multiply marginalized and underrepresented individuals/communities in academe.
Like one of my besties told me to do: Let your freak flag fly because you want people to hire YOU not some bland, small version of yourself.
So, without further ado, here's a copy of my latest (Sept 2020) Diversity Statement. It's still a work in progress --- like, how long are these things supposed to be cuz I could go on and on and on --- but I think it demonstrates something important: THE STAKES.
DIVERSITY STATEMENT EXAMPLE
Decolonization, which we assert is a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects, is far too often subsumed into the directives of these projects, with no regard for how decolonization wants something different than those forms of justice.
Tuck and Yang, 2012, p. 2
I am a scholar who studies the aftermath of colonization and genocide. This framework has greatly influenced the way I think about teaching and research, creating in me a need to take an anti-colonial approach in my academic practice to empower students through socially just curriculum and to recognize and respect the sovereignty of communities through socially just research practices. These efforts are tempered by the cautions of scholars like Tuck and Yang (2012) to not treat decolonization as a metaphor, substituting it for other terms like human rights. Instead, I take an anti-colonial approach that aims to increase awareness of, and resistance to, colonialism's a/effects upon academic knowledge production. This approach draws upon Indigenous, Black, and other traditionally silenced voices, recognizing and legitimizing those knowledges, and using their stories as the basis of theory (Riley Mukavetz, 2014) that is both scholarly and relevant.
In my academic practice, I center my identity as a queer Indigenous woman from a rural Alaskan Native village in order to demonstrate that we, too, are active members of academia. Centering this identity works towards Indigenizing the Academy, as Mihesuah and Wilson (2004) describe, a decolonial goal that will result in:
empowering ourselves … to carve a space where Indigenous values and knowledge are respected; to create an environment that supports research and methodologies useful to Indigenous nation building; to support one another as institutional foundations are shaken; and to compel institutional responsiveness to Indigenous issues concerns, and communities. (p. 2)
During my own academic experience, I have had to actively seek out mentorship from other people of color for support. I’ve grown to understand how much representation matters in academia, and I take that call to heart by openly discussing issues surrounding being queer or Indigenous when it is relevant to contextualizing course material or research. Students have responded well; one composition student stated, “Cana is remarkably effervescent and intelligent. I loved her herness and the encouragement she gave us to find our love of writing.”
However, regardless of my personality, because of my racially-tagged name, my identity as non-white enters every room before I ever enter the door. This initial encounter with my identity potentially gives people pause and they may question my ability to think, teach, communicate, and perform effectively—something someone with the last name Smith may never face. It is a simple fact that women, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC individuals face unconscious and conscious bias in classrooms and professional spaces. As a response, those that can “pass” will often feel pressure to do so in order to remain safe and to establish and maintain credibility. This type of violence is what my academic practice aims to stop.
The reality of centering one’s rhetorically powerful, othered body is this: everyone thinks you’re angry and have an agenda. The truth is that I am angry and I do have an agenda. The system of oppression that persists in our society is something to be angry about and is something that needs changing. Righteous anger has purpose. In my scholarship, I sharply critique and rail against systemic oppression, calling for equity in no uncertain terms. However, in my classroom, while I seek to disrupt antiquated notions of legitimacy and knowledge production that are rooted in white supremacist ideology, I create a welcoming space of mentorship and empowerment through compassion, dignity, and truth.
Empowerment is the central focus of my research and teaching. I define empowerment as the product of someone with a privileged position helping another with less privilege to achieve their potential. I do not intend to set up a false binary that suggests empowerment requires a privileged/non-privileged relationship to exist. Instead, I recognize that positionality and privilege are relative, and that their result is power (Jones, Moore, & Walton, 2016)—that resulting power, my power, is what I feel a responsibility to share. Much like others lent their power to me so I could better succeed, I am paying it forward in my academic practice. This is an act of lending power and creating space for others to rise.
Though this is risky to admit, I’ll proceed with the following admission to boldly represent the experiences that many BIPOC scholars face behind the scenes throughout their educations: in my family and close community we have experienced abuse, neglect, sexual violence, poverty, bigotry, suicide, teenage pregnancy, disability, addiction, and prison. While it might be an unexpected move to point to these issues in a professional setting, I know that it is through these experiences that I have gained valuable perspective that isn’t taught in textbooks. I also know that those instructors who lent their power to me and gave me permission to harness these experiences as expertise changed everything about education for me: suddenly I was capable and had purpose instead of feeling broken and ashamed. Discussions of empowerment in diversity statements might seem cliché, but they aren’t. As bell hooks (1989) stated:
I do, however, wish to help make a world wherein scholarship and work by Black women is valued so that we will be motivated to do such work, so that our voices will be heard. I wish to help make a world where our work will be taken seriously, given appreciation, and acclaimed, a world in which such work will be seen as necessary and significant. (p. 48)
For myself and others hailing from massively underrepresented groups who have had withstood oppression in our everyday lives, empowerment is still a worthy and necessary goal. Empowerment is what we yearn to have, and empowerment is what we yearn to help others achieve.
Creating space for others to unveil and harness their own power is an act empowerment. Actively incorporating knowledges of BIPOC groups—a move towards social justice—is an anti-colonial act.
I take an anti-colonial approach to my research practice. In my own research within the Inuit community, I have sought the input and critique of Inuit Elders throughout my research process. This inclusion improves the accuracy of my work and recognizes that the legacy of research in Indigenous communities is often traumatic. Though I personally come from these communities and have felt the sting of misrepresentation and tokenization myself, I must act with caution as an insider/outsider so that I do not cause further harms upon others. Seeking the advice and input from my Elders is also a way to honor my own heritage and value system within my professional practice.
Looking at the publication titles listed on my CV, it is easy to say that I am a decolonial scholar. However, that designation does not come from word choices. It comes from action. Because collaborating with community partners is one requirement of decolonial approaches to research and advocacy, building positive relationships with community partners is a primary concern. In my fieldwork in rural NW Alaskan Native villages, I investigate how technical communicators interested in doing research and advocacy work can recognize and foster relationship building opportunities in the marginalized communities they serve. I advocate for tangible benefits for local communities to result from research on/in Alaska Native land and communities, such as creating lesson plans for local K-12 students based on their region’s geology, ecology, and society.
In my academic practice, I use my identity as an Inuit scholar to aid in the empowerment of others and to inform socially just curriculum and research. By asserting my own queer Indigenous identity in constructive ways that act to open critical dialogues about issues of race and legitimacy in society, I instill Haas’s call to “rupture dominant notions of what it means to be—and who gets to be considered” (2012, p. 304) when one defines “academic.”
What kinds of materials are you putting in your diversity statements? While writing, I challenged myself to write through my fear of sounding too extra. I paused and reflected on what that fear was based in and made choices about content after I had some time to sit. How did you approach issues of fear in writing a diversity statement?
 Tuck, Eve; Yang, W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, 1(1), 1–40.  Mukavetz, A. M. R. (2014). Towards a cultural rhetorics methodology: Making research matter with multi-generational women from the Little Traverse Bay Band. Rhetoric, 5(1).  Mihesuah, D. A., & Wilson, A. C. (2004). Introduction. In D. A. Mihesuah & A. C. Wilson (Eds.), Indigenizing the academy : Transforming scholarship and empowering communities (pp. 1–15). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.  Jones, N. N., Moore, K. R., & Walton, R. (2016). Disrupting the past to disrupt the future: An antenarrative of technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(4), 211–229. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2016.1224655  hooks, b. (1989). Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking Black. Boston, MA: South End.