The illusion of a diverse campus

The illusion of a diverse campus

At the start of the 2020-21 school year, 45% of the Goshen College student body identified as non-white, and 76% of students identified as non-Mennonite.

But a decline in the number of white, Mennonite students on campus – the majority demographic at GC for the last 117 years – is not mirrored by an increasingly diversified teaching faculty. Only seven percent of current full-time teaching faculty identify as non-white.

In the past, Mennonite schools required that 85% of the teaching faculty have Mennonite affiliations.

That has only changed in the last 20 years, said President Rebecca Stoltzfus.

The 2020 statistics for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) teaching faculty at Mennonite higher education institutions, provided by administration at each Mennonite school, show that these institutions are still struggling to diversify.

“This was one of the things that surprised me the most when coming to Goshen,” said Aurora Flores Avila, a sophomore nursing major. “I was stunned by the amount of diversity within students. Within the first year I realized that it was not the same thing for faculty and staff. The first thing that came to mind was, how do they relate to the diverse student body when the majority of the staff are white and Mennonite?”

While the Mennonite Education Association asks participating schools to send in statistics that include assessment of diversity within staff and students every two years, this is not a requirement – just a suggestion for Mennonite colleges and seminaries.

“Time can no longer be an excuse for why things haven’t changed, not just at Mennonite schools but throughout the Mennonite churches,” said Thomas Stuckey, interim director of Mennonite Education Association. “There needs to be diversity, not just in faculty and staff but with board members as well as other leadership roles.”

In January 2018, Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus issued a mandate for the creation of a Task Force to focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion within the campus community.

The statement reads as follows: “At Goshen College, we seek to understand, engage and live with difference. Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion strives to build an intercultural community of practice that takes students, faculty, staff and community members deeper than multicultural or cross-cultural models of community.”

Similar statements by other Mennonite institutions across the country can be found on their websites. Along with these statements, leaders often offer guarantees of a diverse staff, equal to that of the student body.

“Promoting diversity in staffing allows students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds to identify with their professors which will ultimately enhance their trust in a learning environment,” said Grasyen Cockerham, junior sport management major said. “With a racially and ethnically diverse staff, we can build a better understanding and appreciation for those different than us. As a result, we will receive a better education and be better equipped to enter the ‘real world’ after college.”

Leaders at Mennonite schools – President Rebecca Stoltzfus [Goshen College], President Joe Manickam [Hesston College], Jon Gerig [Bethel College], Provost Fredd Kniss [Eastern Mennonite University] – say achieving ethnic and racial diversity among faculty and staff can be difficult for many reasons, stemming from a deep history of systemic privilege that starts early on in the education system and continuing to higher education.

Colleges and universities usually require tenured teaching faculty members to have terminal
degrees, such as a Ph.D.

In the 2018-19 academic year, only 29.9% of all doctoral degrees earned in the United States were obtained by United States citizens of color. 54% of these degrees were earned by white citizens, and 12% were obtained by non-resident aliens, according to the United States Department of Education.

Leaders say another factor is salaries at Mennonite schools. A professor at a public university makes an average of $75,430 a year whereas a private liberal arts Mennonite college pays much less. At Goshen College, the average salary in 2019-2020 for full time teaching faculty was $67,632.

All college administration interviewed said they want and need to hire more faculty of color but
historically their schools have had very little turnover, leaving very little opportunity for a
change in faculty.

Goshen College has a yearly faculty retention rate of 90%.

“We’re in a situation now at Goshen College where our student body has gotten much more
diverse over the past 20 years and the diversification of our faculty has not kept pace with that so now, we have this gap in diversity in our student body compared to our employee body and
especially our teaching faculty body,” President Stoltzfus said.

Recognizing the scarcity of diverse applicants, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has established market equity tiers to provide higher salaries based on various criteria including diversity.

“We can’t change the diversity from hiring one person here and there,” said Jesse Loewen, academic counselor at GC. “There needs to be a conscious effort and continuous dialogue to understand the other and make sure we are making the appropriate changes. Additionally, having representation at ‘the top’ matters.”

Loewen’s passion for diversity among faculty largely influenced his decision to return to GC after graduating in 2017.

“I took this job to be the person those students could come to because it wasn’t working out otherwise,” he said. “I wanted to be the middleman that can break through to both the student and the professor to ensure they can both be successful in what they do. I’m extremely passionate about this and have truly lived in the gaps. I know I’m doing my part. Now we just need Goshen College as a whole to buy in.”

Flores Avila also believes that there are specific ways that the school could foster a more
diverse staff and says she has sometimes felt misunderstood by faculty and staff members
who don’t understand her cultural background.

The college always asks students where they want to see change on campus, Flores Avila said.

“I always tell them that a good way to start would be to add a on-campus counselor who is culturally diverse,” she said. “It could be anything, but just add a counselor who understands different types of people because that would be helpful.”

Cockerham says she’s not sure what Goshen College can do to foster a diverse faculty and staff.

“But I think it’s vital that something be done,” she said. “I’ve watched the student body gradually
become more diverse each year I’ve been here, and I’m hoping we can see that trend take place among the faculty sooner rather than later.”

Stoltzfus recognizes that representation is a key factor for the success of students of color in higher education.
“We know from lots of education research that students are more motivated to learn and pursue education when they are encountering teachers and professors who look more like them,” Stoltzfus said.

 


 

Leaders at Mennonite Institutions answered additional questions about faculty diversity at their institutions. The following are the questions and their answers. 

Why does ethnic and racial diversity matter in academia? 

“Diversity matters with respect to ideas, the way people think, the way people process information, to me the more diverse a college campus is, the stronger and more resilient they are, because they draw more depth from people’s experiences. That is the campus will be incrementally stronger with every student and employee that comes here that’s not a white Mennonite, said Jon Gering President of Bethel Kansas. 

We know from lots of education research that students are more motivated to learn and pursue education when they are encountering teachers and professors who look more like them,” said President Rebecca Stoltzfus.

What effects does an ethically and racially non-diverse faculty have on an ethically and racially diverse student body? It directly effects the sense of belonging at a school, understanding shared experiences, and broadening limited experiences.

“When a student walks on campus and they see the whiteness of our campus in our phenotypes it sends a certain message. The question for me is are we going to leave it there or are we going to present something different to that student body? The piece that really hurts us, in our faculty and staff we don’t have enough people that students can relate to their pain. The best they can do is empathize, but they can’t understand.” said President of Hesston College Joseph Manickam.

“We are bringing students into a discipline and that’s more than just knowledge that is a practice, it’s a way of life. Because of that role model aspect to faculty work, we want to have people who are role models of all of the diverse population that you want to attract into those disciplines. Racial/ethnic identity is an important piece of being able to be a role model. The same goes for advising, you want advisors that can understand the experiences and background of the students they are advising,” said Fred Kniss Provost at Eastern Mennonite University. 

“When our students leave and go into their professions, they need to understand how to live and work with people who are different from themselves. All of us need to know what kind of history we have inherited from living in a racialized country that has had legalized slavery, segregation etc. and understand how that has shaped the systems and structures we have today,” said Professor of PJSCS Regina Shands Stoltzfus.

A couple of faculty and staff members at Goshen College were invited to share their experiences at the college. The following are the questions and their answers. 

Do you ever feel out of place or misunderstood by your colleagues because they don’t share or sometimes don’t understand your experiences and or racial/ethnic diverse background? 

“Yes. There are plenty of things I don’t say because I don’t want to be misunderstood. But I do speak up if something needs to be said.” – Professor of PJSCS Regina Shands Stoltzfus.

“Yes. I pick and choose where and what I say based on who is in the room or listening. Regardless of my long-lasting connection to GC, there are still days I feel like I have my guard up, or, that I must “code switch” not only to more professional language but more “white” language. I question whether if the way I did something is the “right” way. Or if I’ll be looked at more closely because I am younger and black.  The older I get the more and more people or society tells you to embrace yourself and be who you are. That holds true, but I think there is some privilege within that statement. I don’t think I can really be me, and really be the black part of me when I’m here on campus.”- Jesse Loewen Academic Counselor in Academic Success Center

“Something else I’ve noticed; certain professors will go directly to my supervisor rather than coming directly to me about a student we both work for. There are likely reasons for doing so, but my supervisor has often responded in their own words, why would you ask me? Ask Jesse? So that makes me feel good, but I made some mental notes to myself. Hmm, I wonder why those professors didn’t feel like they could come to me.”- Jesse Loewen Academic Counselor in Academic Success Center

Would you be comfortable inviting a BIPOC person to work at GC? 

“Yes and no. It’s growing more towards no, but I’m not sure if that’s my true feeling or the consensus from the others who look like me and work for GC. Yes, because I think it’s an extremely unique place. but that’s not good enough. No, because depending on your department, who you work with, etc, that can have a large impact on whether or not a person really wants to work here for one but also to stay.”- Jesse Loewen Academic Counselor in Academic Success Center

“In my own experience, I’m so grateful for a supervisor who is in an interracial marriage and who has worked with not only students of all colors, but of all abilities too. I’ve told my supervisor before that I think I thrive in this job because she lets me be me for the most part. We also have harder conversations, we let each other know when personal life becomes tougher. For example, Black Lives Matter and police brutality is high on my list of concerns. Not being able to share how I was doing would have eaten me up inside. She was more than willing to engage with me and sit with my experiences and feelings.” – Jesse Loewen Academic Counselor in Academic Success Center

“It depends. I want anyone who wants to work here to be able to be here, to be safe and comfortable and satisfied with their joy, and to be able to have a friend network here. That is not always easy.” – Professor of PJSCS Regina Shands Stoltzfus.

“I would want them to be clear on what the demographics are here, and especially what it is like to live in Goshen (or northern Indiana) as a person of color. They would need to understand that they will likely always be the numerical minority in most situations. Someone coming here to teach would have to understand how things like student evaluations have been proven to be biased against women and people of color.” – Professor of PJSCS Regina Shands Stoltzfus.

What do you think it would take for GC to have a more ethnically/racially diverse faculty and staff? 

“The city of Goshen needs to be a place where people of color feel safe, and right now I don’t think that is the case. I’m used to living here now, but I am careful about where I go and especially where I drive at night.” – Professor of PJSCS Regina Shands Stoltzfus.

I think until the college shows some real action, not just talking about it, it’s not a place where at least certain ethnic/racial groups will thrive the way we all want. I’d love to see more visit days geared toward the minoritized groups in our region. Outside of my own reach, I haven’t seen the support that is needed for black students to be successful in my time as an employee. I was a product of that for multiple reasons, some my own, but until I had professors that truly watched over me and cared about my success, I wasn’t getting the real support I needed.”- Jesse Loewen Academic Counselor in Academic Success Center

Do you think it is important to have a racially/ethnically diverse faculty and staff for a diverse student body? If so, why? If not, why?

“Yes,100 percent. You need to reflect those being served. If the demographics have/are changed, which they have, and students and staff alike are voicing their concerns, sharing their experiences, and asking for change, it needs to take place. There are so many what-if scenarios, but I find it ridiculous to think that GC couldn’t become a better place with an increased amount of both students, faculty, and staff of color. I realize that this is a large problem, but it’s been repeated decade after decade. When change does occur on our campus, within a few short years it feels like we’re back where we started. At what point will we really change?” 

– Jesse Loewen Academic Counselor in Academic Success Center

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Written by Amber Heydon, Staff Writer

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