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Op-Ed: Increased faculty diversity benefits all students

Stanford is known for its diverse student population, and the numbers show that students come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds: roughly 50% of the student body self-identifies as people of color. There is a history of student activists fighting for the creation of community centers, ethnic studies programs, and community resources — a legacy that continues today. But what is Stanford University as an institution doing to show it cares about diversity within the academy?

Yes, we see our diverse identities reflected in the syllabi in many of our courses. But we do not often see these identities reflected in the professors teaching those courses. According to 2010 data from the Diversity and Access Office, only 25% of professors are women, compared to 48% of undergraduates. A staggering 79% of faculty are White, compared to 35% of undergraduates. This severe underrepresentation of women and people of color is troubling, and efforts should be made to correct this discrepancy.  We should also consider the possibility of faculty diversity beyond the current quantified identities: an increase in the amount of LGBTQ-identified professors, professors with disabilities, and other populations underrepresented in academia.

Research conducted by scholars like Sylvia Hurtado demonstrate that diverse faculty and curricula are essential to improving the educational experience for all students, particularly students of color. These faculty can provide mentorship and intellectual opportunities to ensure that all of Stanford’s students can succeed in this intense academic and social environment.

The lack of faculty diversity is not a new concern on campus — students have been advocating for increased faculty diversity since before the Black Student Union “took the mic” from the university Provost and issued their list of demands in 1968. However, a recent incident involving a visiting professor has given us reason to remind the campus community that diversity of faculty continues to be a pressing problem. And it serves as an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which this issue is about more than just representation and mentorship.

An article by Stanford’s Joel Brinkley, a Hearst Visiting Professional in the Department of Communication, illuminated the problems that occur when an institution of higher education offers a diversity of class subjects without an accompanying diversity of professors. In his article, Professor Brinkley demonstrated his lack of knowledge about the lived experience of Southeast Asian students, using his intellectual position to demean the region’s peoples without considering how his argument might be offensive and harmful to many Asians around the world, let alone the Asian-American students on this campus. He described Vietnamese people as “aggressive” and “gruesome” consumers of dog meat, a supposed contradiction to the economic success of the country.

The problematic portrayal of Vietnamese people in Brinkley’s article demonstrates the need for more education on Southeast Asian history, culture, and issues, and the need for faculty from those particular backgrounds who can foster a deeper, more holistic understanding of ethnic and cultural differences among students.

There are currently very few professors who study or teach about ethnic and cultural identities. Those who do are highly valued on this campus, but we still have very few professors who can sufficiently understand a culture and communities’ complexities and intricacies through their own lived experiences and perspectives. The recent incident with Professor Brinkley serves as a reminder of the importance of enhancing faculty diversity at Stanford. It is not simply a matter of what material is taught, but who is teaching it.

As was reported in last Tuesday’s issue of the Daily, the undergraduate representatives of the Asian American Activities Center (A3C) Advisory Board created a survey to gauge the academic and research interests of Stanford students to inform the Board’s advocacy efforts. This is a move in the right direction, but the Stanford community as a whole must demand a faculty as diverse as the student body itself.

ASSU Community Action Board
Asian American Activities Center (A3C) Student Advisory Board Undergraduate Representatives

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