Diversity and inclusion at Williams: Reflecting on the College’s steps to ensure a representative faculty

Leticia Smith-Evans

Recent events have sharpened many people’s focus on issues of climate, inclusion and retention at Williams, and sparked that awareness for others. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity (OIDE) works to foster and improve inclusion on campus, with efforts that also reach out into Williamstown and surrounding communities. While some of our efforts are well known – for example, the programming done by the Davis Center and the Office of Special Academic Programs – I’d like to lift up to view other important projects that we have been conducting with the faculty and in other less-visible settings. 

The links between recruiting, climate and retention are one such area of major concern. In a presentation at a Fall 2018 faculty meeting, Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell, Associate Dean of OIDE Ngoni Munemo and I shared information on our ongoing analysis of faculty retention. The data looked at issues like departure rates by race, ethnicity and gender as well as rank, division, etc. Our intent was to educate faculty about patterns and trends in retention and departures so the college could target efforts, resources and support. 

Presentations of this sort occur annually and are a regular part of a decades-long effort by the college to recruit and retain a diverse faculty. We know that Williams faculty experience the institution in different ways, and we aim to ensure that all faculty have an optimal experience while here. In particular, we strive to ensure that no one has a negative experience because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or any other identity factor. 

With regards to recruitment, in recent years we’ve increased the range and scope of that work through more robust and involved efforts to build diverse candidate pools; visits to research institutions, including minority-serving institutions such as HBCUs; and support for pathways to the professoriate for students and doctoral candidates from historically underrepresented groups in academia through programs like the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and Allison Davis Research Fellowship, the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) Undergraduate Fellowship and the Gaius Charles Bolin dissertation and post-MFA fellowships. Williams students and faculty have taken advantage of or benefited from all of these programs. We have also hosted campus symposia for doctoral scholars from underrepresented groups, where these scholars can share their research with senior colleagues and get a better understanding of opportunities to teach and research at a liberal arts college. The College is also a founding institution of the aforementioned C3 and the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers consortium (LADO), both of which lead national efforts to diversify the professoriate. 

We are keenly aware that, despite such efforts to recruit a diverse faculty and support promising pathways to the professoriate, not all faculty from underrepresented groups find this community to be as inclusive as it ought to be. To further understand the experiences of underrepresented faculty and aid retention, we’ve gathered data on the experiences of faculty of color and women faculty through UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), as well as Williams’ own Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC) and associate deans’ lunches. As a result, we know that faculty of color and women faculty both at Williams and our peer institutions experience higher rates of stress due to discrimination as a result of prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, among other factors. Subsequently, we’ve used these data to guide our initiatives and programs. For example, we now have an institutional membership to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) and have held all-faculty retreats and workshops on inclusion in and out of the classroom. We also attempt to improve life in the local community by holding workshops on diversity and inclusion topics for area school systems and educators, law enforcement agencies and others. 

In our continuing campus efforts, Dean Buell and I have scheduled upcoming fora and meetings where faculty of color and individuals of underrepresented or minoritized groups can share their experiences and talk about both how they navigate Williams and what changes would make them feel at home here. We’ve held similar fora for students and faculty over the years. Those who prefer a smaller setting may choose to meet with me, Associate Dean Munemo, Dean Buell and/or Associate Dean of Faculty Katarzyna Pieprzak. We will offer similar opportunities for staff from the same groups, and after those conversations will hold forums where anyone interested can hear about what we’re learning and what initiatives we might develop or refine. As we (re)think and (re)envision, we also look forward to engaging the entire community during the strategic planning process, where Presidnet Mandel has made diversity, inclusion and equity one of the working groups. 

There is more work to be done, and we look forward to doing it. We will continue to listen, learn and adapt our approaches to ensuring a more inclusive campus, and we are committed to supporting all campus stakeholders and partners as they do the same. OIDE will continue to promote faculty diversity and retention along many lines as we: 

● partner with the dean of the faculty’s office, departments and programs to attract and recruit candidates; 

● hold workshops about minimizing bias in the recruiting process; 

● carry out the work of the Diversity Action Research Team (DART), a think-tank for OIDE, where we analyze institutional data that help us identify where troubling disparities may exist; 

● conduct exit interviews with departing faculty to understand the factors in their decisions; and 

● implement the College’s non-discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct policy and support the College’s bias incident reporting system. 

We are working diligently to move towards a campus where differences based on identity are celebrated, and we invite the community’s involvement and partnership in those efforts.

Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99, vice president for institutional diversity and equity, has been at the College since 2015.