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Closing the gap at UW-Eau Claire: Striving for equal representation with faculty of color

May 16, 2018

College campuses nationwide are seeing a growing number of students of color, yet that same growth has yet to be seen in faculty.

Between the year 2000 and 2015 school years, the percentage of college students who were black rose from 11.7 to 14.1 percent. The percentage of students who identified as Hispanic rose from 9.9 to 17.3 percent, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data.

The future goals and plans of UW-Eau Claire’s diversity measures stepping forward. Photo credit goes Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity.

In 2015, 77 percent of full time faculty at postsecondary institutions identified as white. Meanwhile, only 57 percent of students identified as white, meaning students of color don’t have a proportionate number of professors who look like them and share similar experiences.

Tamara Johnson, the assistant chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) department said the university works hard to close this gap and ensure equal representation in its faculty.

At UW-Eau Claire, about 88 percent of the student population identifies as white, according to the Office of Institutional Research at UW-Eau Claire. Meanwhile, about 87 percent of the faculty identify as white, according to College Factual.

Johnson said it’s important to consider that Eau Claire’s population is mostly white. According to the U.S. Census, 1 percent of the city’s population identifies as black, 0.6 percent as American Indian, 2.3 percent as Hispanic and 4 percent as Hmong, according to the U.S. Census.

“So when you have that small of percentage in the area, then that often makes it tough to recruit to the institution,” Johnson said.

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, director of Blugold Beginnings and executive director of EDI, said societal barriers already make it difficult for student of color to have access to post-secondary education.

“One of the issues we face as a college is that when students get here they don’t have many faculty of color in leadership either classrooms or offices.”

The college deans have made intentional steps to make up for the lack of diversity in staff, Johnson said. This includes outreach efforts and letting potential faculty know a small, yet supportive community of color does exist on campus

Still, given the statistics the overwhelming proof is in the pudding, and there is a need for students have to access to multiple perspectives.

“It is helpful for people like me to have people who look like me teaching,” Johnson said. “But it is also good to have people who don’t look like me to see people like me in teaching positions so there is always value in having a diverse backgrounds.”

In order for the university to hire faculty of color, positions have to first come available, Johnson pointed out. Then the university has to engage in extensive outreach efforts.  

TaNevia Johnson, a student at UW-Eau Claire, said she would like to see equal representation of leaders on campus.

“I think it would be great to have more faculty of color,” TaNevia Johnson said, who has noticed efforts to make this happen.

For some students, like Mariah Deyo, it’s not the lack of faculty of color that stands out to them, but the lack of students of color.

Deyo, who’s white, said she’s aware that there are far more students on campus who look like her.

“I will say that as a school that talks about how they are so inclusive and diverse,” Deyo said. “We’re one of the campuses that are supportive of the LGBT community in the Midwest and that is awesome, but we need to take it another step further, especially with race and ethnicity too.”

Student Hannah Wolff also wants to see more change, especially when she hears about blatantly racist comments she can’t believe people still make.

“I feel like there needs to be a course requirement to take classes of different backgrounds at all schools,” Wolff said.

There is indeed a requirement that students take diversity related classes, according to the Academic Affairs Provost page. All students must take two learning experiences that satisfy the R1 learning outcome. This means course material centers around equity, diversity and inclusivity, while requiring critical thinking to evaluate assumptions and challenge existing structures.

Thesing-Ritter said EDI is working hard to pressure the campus to do more overall — by sharing stories and voices to shine a light on the issue.

“We have come a long way,” Thesing-Ritter said, “but we still have a long way to go.”

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