The results of a recent campus climate survey indicate that 54 percent of all faculty of color reported not feeling treated equally to their white colleagues – a troubling trend for a university that prides itself on diversity.
Survey shows majority of non-white faculty feel they are treated unequally
Timothy Lewis, an assistant professor in the political science department, said he took part in the survey. Lewis is a Black faculty member and offered his thoughts on the results of the survey.
“That’s more than half, and when you just take into consideration about 23 percent of all employees at SIUE are not white, that’s over 500 people, [and] the majority of those people don’t feel like they’re being treated equally,” Lewis said. “So either hundreds of people are experiencing the exact same hallucination at the exact same time, or there is some validity to the differential treatment on campus experienced by minority faculty and staff versus white faculty and staff.”
One of SIUE’s “points of pride,” as listed on the university’s website, is a commitment to anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion. Despite SIUE’s diversity awards, its faculty have differing opinions on the university’s commitment to inclusion.
“It is very evident that there is a prevailing culture at SIUE that doesn’t even see the need for diversity,” Lewis said. “[When] you look at some of the narratives written by people who identify themselves as white … The focus on diversity is offensive to them, or it’s unfair to them.”
Florence Maätita, professor of sociology, said she noticed the common theme of “diversity fatigue,” or an overemphasis on diversity on campus.
“I don’t know what to make of that,” Maätita said. “As a sociologist who teaches a wide variety of students, I know there are students that are going to walk into these classes and are not going to be convinced that racism is an issue in 2022.”
Maätita said it is important for all faculty and administration to come together to have discussions about race and racism.
“[There is an] argument that racism exists because we continue to talk about race, but who are the folks who are most vocal in that argument? They tend to be white people. It requires a great deal of buy-in from everybody,” Maätita said. “It’s not just about the racial and ethnic minorities waving the banner … It requires buy-in from more of our white allies [and] it requires buy-in from the administration.”
Maätita is half-Indonesian and half-Mexican, and said that though she has not experienced any major discrimination due to her racial identity, she has witnessed it in the classroom and with other colleagues.
“I’m kind of in the unique position where a lot of folks don’t know where I sit. I would imagine that a lot of folks see me as being white-adjacent,” Maätita said. “I don’t mind … using my own biography as a lens to understand racial dynamics within the classroom, outside of this classroom, outside of this campus.”
The results of the campus climate survey showed that white faculty reported feeling much more welcomed than faculty of color. 80 percent of white faculty felt “very” or “somewhat welcome” compared to 65 percent of Black faculty, and even lower figures for Asian and Hispanic/Latin faculty at 64 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
J.T. Snipes, an assistant professor with the School of Education, said racism is a tightly interwoven aspect of American society. Both Snipes and Lewis said SIUE is a small-scale representation of wider American society, and this applies to racism.
“I come from a philosophical tradition that says racism is endemic to American society, and it is not occasional or random, but it is the status quo,” Snipes said. “Our campus is a microcosm of the world. Racism exists in our world, [and] it exists on our campus … It’s a part of the normalized experience of Black faculty on campus.”
Experts cite past incidents as explanation for survey results
Snipes recalled the experience of retired staff member Patrick Long, who Snipes said had to go to extreme lengths to get university administration to take action against a white colleague who spat on his vehicle.
Lewis said there is too much tolerance at SIUE for bigotry and that many faculty of color no longer view bias incident reports as worth their time due to inaction on the university’s part.
“It’s gotten to the point where Black faculty and staff do not even want to go through the process of issuing bias reports … because nothing comes of them,” Lewis said. “Even if the investigation is in favor of the Black faculty, nothing is done. That person is not fired, that person is not terminated [and] there are very little disciplinary consequences.”
Maätita said she has seen several students over the years take complaints about faculty and staff directly to the deans and chairs of departments.
“I haven’t seen a lot of instances where the chairs or the deans have supported the faculty,” Maätita said. “Rather than just talking about diversity, rather than just talking about the campus climate survey, do something about it.”
Snipes described himself as a racial realist and said he hopes the university will work with faculty to promote inclusive programs.
“A part of being a racial realist is an acknowledgment that racism will always be with us,” Snipes said. “I hope it goes away … but the historical record, to me, speaks otherwise. I think what we can do as an institution of higher learning is focusing on educating faculty, staff and students to create more inclusive communities, so our vice chancellor of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Jessica Harris is creating programming, working with faculty … To help them think about ways to make the classroom more inclusive to students across areas of social difference.”
Vice Chancellor for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jessica Harris said she wishes to take action on these issues. Harris also said the results were troubling and thanked the faculty who spoke up.
“I was concerned when I saw those numbers, and I’m really grateful for the initiative of some of our Hispanic faculty and staff in terms of their wanting to develop the group,” Harris said. “My job is to support them and listen and do all that I can along with others to improve their experiences on campus.”
Harris said her duties generally involve working with other departments within the university to ensure that diversity and inclusivity are maintained.
“I wanted to know how I could, based on the results, do something and act accordingly,” Harris said. “There were some of the results that were heartbreaking, and I would say disappointing, but they were real, and the whole goal of the survey was to assess people’s perceptions and to learn more about people’s experiences.”
Faculty offer possible solutions to improve conditions
Some of the faculty also suggested potential solutions for creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment on campus. In addition to a zero tolerance for racism policy, Lewis suggested mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all faculty, alongside other mandatory trainings that are already in place.
“We have several trainings as faculty that are mandatory, everything from ethics to sexual harrassment … I do not understand what is the barrier to making diversity and inclusion training mandatory,” Lewis said. “I’m not saying that would fix things, but it would prevent the common excuse given by people who exemplify racism that they didn’t know what they were doing was racist.”
Maätita said she tries to foster a climate where race can be discussed freely in the classroom, often using analogies to communicate a broader point.
“We live in this culture of colorblindness where we’re not supposed to talk about race and we’re not supposed to notice difference, and I think that damages so many aspects of our culture where we have to have these conversations to understand, to make connections,” Maätita said. “If I don’t want to pay my bills, and I don’t talk about them, I still have the bills. It doesn’t solve the problem.”
Maätita also said that if the university has a commitment to retaining students, faculty and staff of color, it should actually set aside room in the budget for following through on promises of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“If there is a true commitment to keeping faculty, to keeping staff, to keeping students, in my mind, there are ways to find that money,” Maätita said.
Harris said any response to the climate survey to improve the experiences of non-white faculty would require a lot of collaboration. One example of such collaboration is work being done to form a Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association.
“One of the things that I’m doing, along with Lindy Wagner in the Hub, is we’re supporting the creation of a Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association, which I think will be really helpful in terms of creating community and bringing members of the Hispanic faculty and staff together to not only voice their concerns and share more about their experiences, but I’ll be able to work directly with them to try and address some of these issues and concerns,” Harris said. “I was concerned when I saw those numbers, and I’m really grateful for the initiative of some of our Hispanic faculty and staff in terms of their wanting to develop the group … My job is to support them and listen and do all that I can along with others to improve their experiences on campus.”
Harris said the survey results indicate a number of successes on SIUE’s part, but also point to areas that need a lot of work.
“There is always room for improvement, and I think the campus climate survey is evidence of that,” Harris said. “There’s things that we are doing well, but there’s things we can be doing better.”
The results of the SIU system campus climate survey can be viewed online.