I work at an elite, liberal arts college in southern California. I feel lucky to have a job, and especially lucky to have a job that I love. My students, my colleagues, and my work are constant sources of fulfillment.
But life in the world of higher education–particularly in the small liberal arts college variety–leaves a lot to be desired.
The lack of meaningful racial/ethnic diversity in higher education continues to challenge my existence within academia. Things are, of course, better than they were. I am a product of a movement to increase diversity–a movement which existed since before my birth. My educational training connected me to this movement as a participant, even in some ways a leader at my local levels. My role as a professor has been to foster the continuation of this movement and to assure it takes root in new and substantive ways at my local institution, while continuing to represent a measure of its success.
But change has come slowly. Increasingly, it hasn’t even kept pace with the broader social changes marking the need for even more. Often it feels as though we are moving backwards.
Generally, when we discuss the issue in higher ed, the primary focus is on student populations. This is appropriate. We are in an urgent crisis when it comes to educational equity measured by a diverse student population. (Really, we have never not been in crisis.) The elite liberal arts colleges of the nation have done admirably well in the last 20 years (at my college Latinos comprise about 12% of the student body) but even these advances are not enough. When it comes to faculty diversity, the numbers nationwide are far gloomier.
Let me give you some perspective, based on the recent data from the 2010 Census:
In California as a whole, 37.6% of the population is Latino. Almost 48% of the people in Los Angeles County (where my college is located) are Latino. In nearby San Bernardino County, almost half–or 49.2%–of the population is Latino.
Despite this, on a monthly basis, I am the only Latino in the room at work meetings and/or work-related social functions. Rather regularly, I am one of two.
I am certain the non-Latinos in the room don’t think twice about this fact. Perhaps even, when they see me, they think how my presence imbues the context with diversity. Who knows?
I am never not aware of it.