The School of Arts and Sciences Prioritizes Diversity and Inclusion in Faculty Hiring, Retention and Support

brandeis statue

October 14, 2022

Simon Goodacre | School of Arts and Sciences 

Diversity and inclusion have always been part of Brandeis University’s DNA. As an institution founded by the American Jewish community during a time when Jews and other minorities faced quotas that prevented many from studying at elite American universities, Brandeis is one of the few institutions of higher learning in the country that can claim these principles as part of its founding values. This ethos has always impacted the School of Arts and Sciences’ approach to learning. The School graduated its first Black student, Herman Hemingway ’53 shortly after its founding and was one of the first in the country to create a department of African and African American Studies (AAAS) on April 24, 1969. 

One of the unique features of Brandeis is the constant activism of its student body, which often includes addressing problems within the University. In fact, the establishment of the AAAS department was a direct response to an eleven-day protest led by students of color in Ford Hall and Sydeman Hall. In 2015, the protests were revived in what became known as the Ford Hall 2015 protests, and students issued a list of thirteen demands to the administration. “Our history shows that faculty and students will not allow us to ignore any gaps between our professed values and our actions, and I am thankful for that,” says Dorothy Hodgson, Professor of Anthropology and Dean of Arts and Sciences. So how did the School of Arts and Sciences respond, and what has the School done to embrace and promote diversity and inclusion in the years following the protests? 

A primary focus has been the recruitment and retention of field-leading faculty of color. For the past several years, faculty members involved in hiring new faculty are required to complete training in best practices for inclusive and equitable hiring. “The School of Arts and Sciences has also established equitable search procedures, which require search committees to work closely with academic departments and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to establish equitable search plans, application processing, campus visits and reporting for faculty candidates,” says Joel Christensen, professor of classical studies and senior associate dean for faculty affairs. Faculty search committees have expanded outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and institutions with high percentages of Black and Indigenous people of color among their graduating PhDs. In 2020, the School established its first minor in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Studies after a rush of student activism inspired by the Ford Hall 2015 protests. It has also created an endowed chair in AAAS and is actively seeking funding for one in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, which will help to further diversify the faculty.

Beyond hiring, the School has taken strides to create a sense of inclusion and community for all faculty members through the two-year Faculty Mentoring Program, developed by former faculty member Carina Ray, and now led by Ulka Anjaria, Professor of English and Director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for the Humanities. “Increasing diversity without addressing issues of equity and inclusion will serve neither the faculty nor the broader university community,” says Hodgson. “The Faculty Mentoring Program is not just about professional development opportunities—it is intended to create a sense of belonging for faculty at all stages of their careers.” Participants are placed in small cohorts and paired with a dedicated faculty mentor outside of their department. The second year of the program is more loosely structured, and participant driven.

With support from the Office of the Provost, the School also launched a Faculty of Color Collective, led last year by Ray and currently by Anjaria. Sarah Mayorga, Associate Professor of Sociology, also serves as a mentor for the Collective. Anjaria and Mayorga are available to share their insights and advice about navigating career trajectories at Brandeis and the academy at large to faculty members from across the university. The Collective also fosters peer mentorship through virtual writing and research accountability groups. It also sponsors a communal meal each semester as a means of building community among faculty of color.

The School has also taken steps to increase accountability within its academic centers. At the departmental level, all programs must include reports on diversity, equity and inclusion activities and accomplishments in their annual planning documents. Faculty also have the ability to address “invisible labor” in their own activity reports—highlighting important work that used to go unrecognized. This is particularly important for faculty of color, who often spend a lot of time providing support to students outside of the classroom in addition to their formal advisees. 

Some academic programs have enacted changes to their curricula and requirements to provide a more holistic, less Eurocentric approach to their fields. One example is Art History, which has redefined its requirements to provide students with more flexibility and expand geographical and temporal boundaries. The intention behind these changes is to eliminate the traditional emphasis on western European material and move toward a more global approach. Fine Arts is also conducting a search for an art historian with expertise in Latin American, LatinX and/or Afro-Latin Art this year.

With the support of the School and the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Sociology Department piloted a two year faculty position of Equity Liaison, held by Mayorga. She facilitated initiatives in the department to redefine their curricula to better incorporate insights on race and racism, train instructors in antiracist pedagogy, bring BIPOC sociologists to campus, and assess their classroom culture. In 2022, 77 percent of undergraduates in Sociology reported that the department’s commitment to antiracism in their curriculum as “effective” or “very effective,” an 18 percent increase over 2020. The School hopes to expand this pilot to other departments in the coming years. “The implementation of the equity liaison role helped us better integrate antiracist values and practices across the department's many functions to make department life more equitable and inclusive,” says Mayorga.

These efforts have enabled the School of Arts and Sciences to double the number of faculty of color in the past five years. “This work is ongoing, and I want to emphasize that nobody is declaring that our mission has been accomplished,” says Hodgson. “When I became dean, our students had been consistent and clear that increasing the number of faculty of color needed to be a priority for the School, and I am happy to report that progress has been made.” Moving forward, the recruitment and retention efforts will be expanded and strengthened throughout the School, and Hodgson encourages any member of the community—students, faculty, staff or alumni—who has a question, concern, or idea about the implementation of these initiatives to be in touch with her.