The following is an adaptation of a diversity statement I recently wrote as part of my application to several academic faculty positions in the field of English composition. The diversity statement is a curious new genre that stems, at least in part, from the need of higher education institutions to demonstrate culturally responsive hiring practices. My understanding is that it is—for now—more of a human resources requirement than a hiring committee requirement, though no doubt it will be a factor in my hiring.
Academic hiring committees: I may actually use a version of this in class, and ask students to reverse-engineer the prompt that would have occasioned this piece.
Other employers: let this serve as evidence of my skill at writing for targeted audiences.
Fellow academic job seekers: the following piece should not be used as an example of a successful diversity statement, insofar as it has not yet led to my hiring; I do feel however that I did a good job with it, and it does represent extensive peer feedback and revision.
In a classroom, cultural awareness starts with me. Today I identify as a white heterosexual cis male: a convoluted term that represents an ongoing struggle in America to recognize and label diverse identities. I am also Jewish, a historically non-white culture. As someone with family members that survived the Holocaust, I see it as my duty to recognize oppression and the subtle ways it manifests in social institutions.
As a teacher, I try to create an atmosphere that sparks curiosity in cultural differences. I treat students as multiliterate learners, each bringing to the classroom his or her own language and culture. I assign literacy narratives and writing journals to provide spaces for students to discover themselves through their writing. And I use class discussions and group work as a way to foster community, trust, and student ownership over the learning environment.
In these forums I’ve heard military students try to reconcile their pride with discomfort at people applauding their service; Muslim, black, gay, and disabled students speak about the stereotypes they’ve encountered; and I’ve seen a student who commuted from a farm write (brilliantly) about his feelings of inferiority. These moments create metacognitive and reciprocal teaching opportunities.
Discussion itself has to be consciously modeled, studied, and practiced, particularly for students that come from different cultures and home languages. My students practice asking questions, alternating roles, and using self-reflective writing prompts based on class and group discussions. Sometimes these discussions and writings are very raw, and require sensitivity and diplomacy. But they can also be uplifting. And to avoid them is to widen the communication gap that exists in this country. So if writing is learning, and learning is a social act, then writing about one’s culture is paramount to becoming a healthy member of society.
I do my best to establish a sensitive and respectful classroom environment where where course materials and spaces are designed with everyone in mind, where students can be open and honest, and where their voices and backgrounds are not just accommodated but truly valued.