More commonly, graduate students on the academic job market are being asked to submit a diversity statement as part of their application materials. The diversity statement requests they see are worded in many ways:
What is the purpose of these documents? A diversity statement demonstrates how you strive for equity-based practices in your teaching, research, mentoring, and/or service. In this case, equity-based practices refer to actions taken to actively address educational barriers for historically underrepresented and marginalized groups. These barriers can include implicit bias, overt prejudice, underrepresentation in materials, and many other factors that demonstrate how diversity and academia intersect. By drawing on your past experiences with equity-based and anti-discrimination work, you explain how you will apply these practices, skills, and knowledge to your potential future institution. Questions that might guide your responses to these requests include the following:
- How do you incorporate diverse perspectives into your classroom materials and methodologies and/or in your own research and writing?
- What methods do you use to embrace students’ diverse perspectives?
- How has your personal background prepared you to address equity related issues?
- What methods do you use when managing classroom and interpersonal interactions?
- What work are you doing toward equity and structural justice in and out of the classroom?
- How do you address the aspects of classroom climate?
- What experiences have you had that shape how you understand and work for inclusion?
Diversity statements are good tools for self-reflection, allowing you to consider your equity and inclusion practices (or lack of) in regards to your teaching, research, and service. Doing so helps you educationally support all your students, allows you to enact equitable policies, and helps you understand the experiences of others and yourself. Addressing equity practices can lead to the inclusion of multiple voices, which can lead to open critique, reflection, and acceptance (Adichie, 2009). It is also necessary to consider the multiple understandings, histories, and relationships of commonly used words related to diversity-work.
“Diversity” as a Buzzword
For graduate students applying to academic jobs, the diversity statement is usually two pages long and in a persuasive essay format, although there may be disciplinary differences.
Paragraph 1: You can take different approaches to the beginning paragraph of a diversity statement. Some start with a personal story to situate their experiences and how they use those experiences to guide their actions. Sharing a personal story is not necessary and one study cites that applicant self-disclosures of diversity were uncommon in some fields, occurring in less than one quarter of the letters (Schmaling et al., 2014). Others start with a standard thesis - describing their argument. (What equity related issue needs to be addressed in academia/your field? What are you trying to solve?) Some prefer to write about how their discipline situates studying diversity and how they use these epistemologies to engage with students.
Paragraphs 2-4: Similar to a teaching statement, the diversity statement should include evidence to support your points. Show the reader that you think about justice in your classroom practices through examples; do not just tell the reader. These body paragraphs should use specific examples that highlight past equity work you have done and plan for future practices. Many writers focus on their anti-discrimination work in relation to teaching, research, and service.
Paragraph 5: You can conclude by explaining the specific ways in which you will use inclusion and justice-based practices in your research, teaching, and service at the institution in which you are applying.
Common Pitfalls with Diversity Statements
- Viewing a diverse student/perspective as something you need to fix. (“Helping” the person who “disrupts” your regular teaching style.)
- Not understanding the organization’s view of diversity. What programs do they have in place? What is their mission statement or equity statement? What are their demographics?
- Only understanding “diversity” as a necessary buzzword. Here are some phrases that show the evolution of a writer’s understanding of diversity work.
- Not providing examples or providing inappropriate examples:
- Thinking that people who have “less than” need to be saved by the more powerful. Or, doing anti-discrimination work for praise, rather than for equity and justice. Teju Cole (2012) describes this as “the White Savior Industrial Complex” and explains that it “is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”
- Perpetuating the idea that we are all equal - including in regard to access and potential for success. This ignores structural disparities of historically marginalized groups of people (Smith 2012).
Who Is Doing This at IUB
Many department-based pedagogy courses are starting to train their graduate students in how to write diversity statements. However, you would need to check with each professor to determine whether or not this topic is discussed in the course.
Many IU graduate students have written diversity statements that are used as examples in our workshops:
- Cognitive Science diversity statement sample
- Linguistics diversity statement sample
- Area Studies diversity statement sample
When looking at these sample diversity statements, ask yourself what you know about this person's understanding and experiences with diversity and equity. And what are you left still wondering about? Look at the organization of the paragraphs and how they connect back to the thesis (and what WAS the thesis?). Notice the inclusion or lack of specific examples.
For More Help or Information
CITL staff conduct workshops for graduate students every fall and spring semester on how to develop diversity statements. Your department may also sponsor diversity statement workshops facilitated by the CITL – just contact us to set one up. You may also contact CITL to meet with a consultant to discuss your diversity statement or to set up a classroom observation.
Adichie, C. N. 2009 The Danger of a Single Story. Ted Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
Carnegie Mellon University's Global Communication Center has an online resource about diversity statements.
Cole, T. 2012. The White-Savior Industrial Complex. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/
Golash-Boza, T. 2016 The Effective Diversity Statement. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/06/10/how-write-effective-diversity-statement-essay
Kelsky, K. 2014 The Professor Is In: Making Sense of the Diversity Statement. Chronicle of Higher Education.
Schmaling, K. B., Trevino, A. Y., Lind, J.R., Blume, A. W., & Baker, D. L. 2014, December 22. Diversity Statements: How Faculty Applicants Address Diversity. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.
Smith, D. M. 2012 The American Melting Pot: A National and Popular Discourse. National Identities 4: 387-402.