Anitre Bell is a College Success Facilitator and Instructor at Community College of Beaver County
Education is instrumental to an individual’s growth and development, but what happens when just being you has multiple barriers?
There are many stereotypes that surround being an African American, and it is important to change that narrative.
Recognizing a Lack of Diverse Faculty
One barrier is the lack of faculty within institutions. Throughout my education, I encountered only three or four African American teachers/professors.
According to a study cited in Inside Higher Ed, that followed the growth of racial diversity amongst faculty across different institution types, “Diversity issues were shown to be particularly prevalent at doctoral-status institutions, a category representing universities with the heaviest research focus, where the number of black tenured faculty members grew by only one-tenth of a percent from 2013 to 2017, to comprise 4 percent of the total tenured faculty.” The same study showed that at master’s-level institutions, 5.6 percent of tenured faculty were black, but the group grew by only .07 percent during the years of the study.
A recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, cites the overrepresentation of white professors to the students they teach. The author suggests it might cause minority students to feel a lack of belonging and wonder if they can succeed in a learning environment where it’s harder to find faculty who look like them. According to officials quoted in the article, “When the people at the front of the classroom are as diverse as those in the seats, students of color see role models, and white students participate in the kind of multicultural world they will enter after graduation.” Joanne Epps, Temple University Provost puts it well: “What you want as a student is to be exposed to the broadest range not just of knowledge, but of ideas and perspectives so that you can equip yourself to be a watchful, thoughtful member of society…. That comes from a diverse range of faculty.”
The Benefits of Faculty Diversity
Research shows that having diverse faculty benefits institutions as well as the students they serve.
According to one article exploring three benefits of faculty diversity, 96 percent of minority students polled in a survey of over 1,000 undergraduate students claimed their education was positively impacted by “studying under minority professors.” Studies cited in the same post also showed that faculty diversity can increase minority students’ retention rates and real-world readiness, with 69 percent of student respondents reporting they were “better prepared to work in a corporate business environment having taken a class taught by a minority professor.”
A diverse faculty can have a tremendous impact on classroom discussions as well. When exploring how faculty felt about classroom diversity, the aforementioned article highlights that approximately 70 percent believed it motivated students to “examine their own perspectives” and get exposure to “new concepts and ideas.” Isn’t this the type of critical thinking and real-world readiness we are trying to foster in our students every day?
Creating Relatability Through Representation
Diversification is paramount for many students because they are entering an educational environment where a familiar face is comforting. Fostering a sense of relatability within the education community can have an undeniable impact on student confidence and learning outcomes.
As a young African American student attending classes, being the “only” person of my race in each class was daunting. As a young African American professor in my dream position, it is important to do well. This provides other people of my race with a sense of empowerment, determination and an opportunity to see themselves in different spaces.
My role has given me the chance to connect with diverse backgrounds and use my experiences to motivate as many people as possible. I work with the student athlete population, where many students are not local. Because so many had felt detached, I’ve become their “team mom.” I understand the value of a village; I understand the meaning of belonging, so becoming their “team mom” provides comfort and connection to the students, and peace of mind to their parents.
Leveraging My Journey to Support Students on Theirs
My past experience as a traditional and non-traditional student offers me a unique connection to both student populations where I can share what I’ve learned along the way to help them navigate their own college experience.
Traditional students who are trying to transition from a structured environment to an independent environment accept my advice more readily, because of my recent experiences working with and learning from traditional students. Non-traditional students are receptive because we share similar challenges (i.e. family, responsibility, and work-life balance). This dual ability yields maximum connectivity and enhances my capacity to reach all students—and that is my ultimate goal. I also have a son in college who shares his experiences with me. This knowledge informs how I structure my courses, the materials and support I provide my students.
My purpose as an educator is to uplift students, create a safe learning environment and share experiences that could be a bridge to deeper learning—academically, personally, and professionally.
I believe changing the narrative helps students, and today’s climate is an example of the change to come.
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