Diversity Statements Added to English Department Syllabi


(Courtesy of the College of Humanities)

By Joseph A. Moss

Diversity and inclusion has been the goal of Joy Pierce, associate dean of the College of Humanities, since the start of her time here at the University of Utah. As she’s worked to turn pushes for diversity into concrete policies, she’s changed the College of Humanities — for now, one syllabus at a time.

Scott Black, the English Department Chair, said his department did not switch to requiring diversity statement on its own. “We were told earlier this year by the college that us, as a department, had to come up with our own diversity statement that would go on all our syllabi.”

“Before this, professors on their own were welcome to have their own statement if they chose to, which many did and have,” Black said.

“Rather than have a college diversity committee I wanted there to be a task force,” Pierce said. “This would mean that we would implement policies that would last longer than a one-year committee where we would discuss things.”

“So last year” — the same year that Pierce began her tenure as the associate dean — “I put together a committee with a representative from every department, as well as some of the programs and centers we have.” This committee included “full professors, associate professors, assistant professors, career-line instructors and staff, so that everyone on all levels has a voice.”

“When I asked everyone what their priorities were — other than consistent training — diversity was what came up.” These comments encouraged the College of Humanities to actively work toward increasing diversity. Their mission included a “diversity statement for each department and at the college level and a prominent place on the websites where there could be resources available for students, staff and faculty.”

After implementing this policy, Pierce realized there were still roadblocks in encouraging a safe, diverse classroom environment. “In doing this, we realized that some faculty weren’t quite sure with how to intervene, when to intervene, what things crossed the lines or didn’t in terms with microaggressions, implicit biases and so on,” Pierce said. “After hearing this, we determined that it would be a good idea to have each department to create their own civility statement or diversity statement — whichever was most appropriate for their discipline.”

Pierce said this policy needs to be included in every department syllabus.

What would happen if a professor doesn’t have the diversity statement on their syllabus, or does something that goes agains the statement?

“If a student feels there has been offensive language or discrimination by the instructor, a student could go the department chair or me and I’ll write the report,” Pierce, who is also the deputy Title IX coordinator for the College, said. Since she is the associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, she herself handles all faculty matters, meaning she would be the one the departments or college itself would turn to for a solution.

Pierce believes that it is unlikely a department would not have a diversity statement. “This was an informed decision by the college, so they all should have one.”

Pierce made this change a reality within a year of starting her new position. “It’s based on the task force,” she said. “They have stated they want information more prominent on our website. Be it a statement, resources, just something.”

To report discrimination within a class, consult respective department chairs, associate deans or the Office of the Dean of Students. However if an incident takes place in the College of Humanities, contact Pierce.


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