How are you going to handle white students?

I was on the job market this past fall. At the end, there was a lengthy exit interview that occurred as the final step of a three-day, on-campus interview. The exit interview consisted of approximately six white males, one white female and myself—a person of color and a female. The following interchange took place:

White Female: “You realize, of course, that virtually everyone here at [the university] is white and you are not, right?
Me: “Uhm, yes, I guess….”
White Female: “So, our question to you is how are you going to handle that in the classroom? What strategies will you use to handle that situation?”

While I provided a list of everyday strategies for being a good teacher (giving everyone a fair hearing on all topics, etc.), I was struck by her complete lack of sensitivity to the fact that the real question should have been how would the DEPARTMENT support ME in my teaching the students at that institution. Obviously, this was not a question that had been contemplated by the department members. And just as obviously, this was not an institution where I (or anyone else of color) would be provided the kinds of support that faculty of color in philosophy currently need to succeed in the discipline.

It is important to understand that this lack of support and consideration persisted despite a sincere desire on the part of the faculty to hire a person of color. They just did not understand the relevant issues. Until this mindset changes, and until top quality diversity training becomes a regular part of, for example, new faculty orientations and/or REQUIRED faculty continuing education in philosophy, nothing will change. Faculty of color will continue to feel uncomfortable and unsupported in the discipline, despite recent efforts to dramatically increase the number of persons of color in philosophy through large-scale recruitment efforts.

Leave some brown people for other departments

Our department did a self-study, and part of this process was to identify goals for the department. One of the goals we identified is diversifying the faculty.

However, in response to this suggestion, one of my colleagues protested as follows:

“If less than 5% of philosophy Ph.D.’s go to minorities, then not every philosophy department can have even one minority on its faculty, since most philosophy department faculties are much smaller than twenty, and one out of twenty is 5%. So more diversity for one institution necessarily means less diversity for another. I believe that is something for us to think about in relation to what we often call the ‘common good.'”

So the lesson is this: we shouldn’t diversify too much lest we detract from the common good. We’ve got to leave some brown people for other departments.