Faculty 411

Writing a diversity statement

Note for 2020 applicants

Our department has required a DEI statement as part of our application for several years and this document is what is described in this article. Starting this year, the College of Arts and Sciences had added an application question that asks all applicants to answer the prompt: Please describe your vision and experience teaching and mentoring students of diverse backgrounds. In order to roll this prompt out to all Emory College searches, this question has been added to all active searches, including ours. This inadvertently creates some confusion for applicants as they are being asked two versions of a similar question – one at the department level and one at the college level. Applicants will not be penalized if they answer the form question with “see diversity statement.” If your diversity statement does not address teaching and mentoring or if you wish to expand on your diversity statement in this additional space, you are welcome to do so, but this is entirely optional. The diversity statement is the only required element for a full review by the chemistry search committee.

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We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our department and we are looking to recruit colleagues who share our vision for full engagement. For this reason, we request a diversity statement as part of the application package for faculty positions. In our advertisement and Interfolio application portal, this is described as: a statement addressing past activities and future plans to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in your professional career.

Admittedly, this is an open-ended prompt addressing a complex set of concepts. Our intent is to allow you to share the wide range of experiences and competencies that you bring to the task of diversifying the discipline of chemistry. There is no one best way to write a compelling statement. However, part of our ongoing commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our department is challenging ourselves to be transparent regarding what we are seeking from faculty applicants so that unspoken expectations—so-called “hidden curriculum”—do not create unnecessary barriers for applicants. In this post, written by members of our search committee, we seek to define our terms to clarify what is expected from this document.

What is a diversity statement?

A diversity statement is a written explanation of your experience of and commitment to diversity. This can be defined in many ways. While our prompt asks you to address your contributions to diversity in your professional life, we recognize that personal experiences will also have an impact on your engagement. We invite you to discuss aspects of your heritage, educational background, family life, physical ability, gender identity, etc. that have informed your professional development. However, self-disclosure should not be considered a prerequisite for a strong statement. A diversity statement can also address your own definition of “diversity” and the ways in which you can contribute to the development of a diverse and inclusive community.

What is diversity?

Good question. Diversity can mean a lot of things! Our request for a diversity statement takes into account the fact that in academia “diversity” is most often used to refer to diversity of heritage–the ethnic, social, and economic background of an individual in terms of the groups with which they identify and participate.

The United States has a complex history that includes ongoing systemic racism and disenfranchisement of certain groups based on their heritage, physical ability, social status, family context, etc. When academic disciplines talk about diversity, they are often attending to groups whose representation in the population of the country is not proportionate to the representation of these individuals in a given field.

In chemistry, women, LGBTQIA individuals, persons with disabilities, and people of color are among those who are not present as students or faculty at a rate commensurate to their presence in the broader population. We also recognize that individuals at the intersection of multiple forms of underrepresentation typically face even greater hurdles. Academic institutions recognize that groundbreaking research engages the perspectives of as many people as possible. Attending to diversity helps ensure that biases and barriers do not keep certain groups from either access to or participation in an academic community.

Importantly, diversity in an academic community is defined as something that cannot be achieved by access alone. A community must consistently interrogate the ways that they engage all of the people who are present. Our goal at Emory is full engagement–actively making space for and providing support to people from all backgrounds and experiences in order to ensure that all members of our community have the opportunity to participate as learners and leaders.

International scholars are a key part of a diverse community. However, diversity as it is defined by American universities might not be familiar to scholars whose professional life has been primarily in countries where the conversations surrounding equity and inclusion use different terms and engage most closely with non-U.S. history. If this applies to you, it might help to reflect on the academic and cultural context of your home country. What perspectives will you bring to an academic community that might be unique to your experience? How would you support international scholars—undergraduate, postdoctoral, and graduate—at Emory? It can also be helpful to place your experience in your home country into context. Americans are often unfamiliar with international political movements and traditions. If there are aspects of your experience in your country that affect your academic preparation or perspective, the diversity statement can be a place to share this information.

What are examples of “past activities and future plans” that would be considered relevant to diversity?

We are interested in your ongoing participation in work that contributes to full engagement in chemistry. Examples could include, but are not limited to:

  • student mentoring and commitment to learning and using inclusive mentoring practices
  • starting a new organization (including a chapter of a national organization) or leadership in an existing organization committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • outreach to communities historically excluded from STEM
  • SciComm, particularly elevating the voices and perspectives of scholars historically excluded from STEM
  • promoting scientific exchange of ideas/interdisciplinarity
  • supporting communities who may not have full access to your field with research-based practices
  • understanding the concept of bias and seeking to mitigate your own biases in your academic work

When it comes to future plans, it may be helpful to consider how you might participate in work already happening at Emory. This includes:

  • Student chapters of affinity groups including NOBCChE, AWIS, SACNAS, and a group devoted to international scholars (IGSS)
  • A departmental diversity and inclusion initiative, Spectrum, that creates chemistry-specific programming to promote full engagement in our community.

We have also hosted training seminars from the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity and Equity (OXIDE) and The Committee on Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence (STRIDE).

Of course, DEI work at Emory is not confined to the chemistry department. There are also university-level resources that might be of interest, such as:

We would also welcome the opportunity to learn about initiatives from other institutions that you feel could have an impact if adapted to Emory’s context.

Do I have to talk about my background in a diversity statement?

No! Being asked to define the ways in which you experience diversity can feel like a veiled request to commodify your personal experience. You should not feel compelled to share anything that makes you uncomfortable or that you simply prefer to keep private. There are many ways to contribute to a diverse community. Our search committee respects that not all applicants identify as diverse or wish to share their personal identity story. The requirement for the statement is to share the ways you will contribute to supporting a fully inclusive community at Emory. To be an anti-racist, diverse, and engaged department, we must require every member of our faculty to consider the impact of their actions on diversity in their professional life.

By Kira Walsh

Kira Walsh is the manager for communications and outreach in the Department of Chemistry at Emory University. She received her PhD from Emory in the Institute of the Liberal Arts with a project that focused on communications and affect theory. In chemistry, she has served as the administrative lead for multiple faculty searches and for graduate recruitment. She is also a co-founder of Spectrum.