Racial disparities low at universities with diverse faculty, climate


Higher education institutions that prioritize diversity both in employment numbers and an inclusive climate lessen the psychological disparities among faculty of color, a new University of Michigan study found.

Research on organizational diversity initiatives often focuses on either the number of minorities at a particular institution or company, or the racial climate. The current study evaluates these two concepts simultaneously, which helps determine if institutions engage in “authentic” diversity practices.

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The data set included 35,000 faculty members at public and private colleges and universities nationwide. About 84 percent of those surveyed — or 29,400 faculty members — identified as white, while the remaining were black, Hispanic or Asian.

The questions asked involved invisible labor (a feeling of having to work harder to be perceived as a legitimate scholar), stress and dissatisfaction with co-workers. The research factored numerical diversity (high or low) — based on the proportion of white faculty at a given institution — and climate diversity (positive or poor).

Racial disparities between faculty of color and white faculty for various psychological outcomes are smaller in authentic diversity institutions compared to those with a low numeric diversity and poor racial climate. An environment with fewer minorities and poor racial climate left many faculty of color feeling dissatisfied with white faculty, the study showed.

“These results suggest that diversity climate may be the primary driver of mitigating psychological disparities between faculty of color and white faculty,” said lead author Emily Vargas, a doctoral student in psychology. “However, it is necessary for institutions to authentically engage in diversity — by promoting both entities — to become more effective in reducing disparities.”

But even when schools are authentic with diversity components, faculty of color still encounter challenges. In fact, minorities in the study reported significantly more stress from discrimination and invisible labor than their white counterparts — suggesting an environment that might not entirely be inclusive.

Nevertheless, improving the campus climate can foster positive collaborations among faculty and their departments, leading to innovative work, the researchers said.

The study appears in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. It was also co-authored by U-M alumna Amy Ko Westmoreland, psychology doctoral student Kathrina Robotham and Fiona Lee, professor of psychology and associate dean of diversity, equity, inclusion and professional development in LSA.


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