63 percent of new professors hired by the college in 2018 are people of color — 10 out of the total 16, Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein reported, with two additional professors identifying as international. Last year, six of the 13 new professors hired for the tenure track were people of color — a comparatively lower proportion at 46 percent.
In 2005, only 15 percent of the faculty at Amherst were faculty of color. This year that number has jumped to 24 percent. Self-identifying students of color, in contrast, make up 45 percent of the student body.
While the percentage of faculty of color itself is not highly significant, Epstein said, it is a mark of success in a gradual and long-term process.
Nationwide, professors of color make up a small proportion of college faculty. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 76 percent of full-time faculty — which includes professors, associate professors, assistant professors, lecturers and instructors — in degree-granting postsecondary institutions were white in the fall of 2016. The same study showed that 82 percent of full-time professors were white. Previous NCES reports also show that higher percentages of faculty of color report intentions to leave institutions of higher education than their white counterparts do.
Currently, there is a cap of 188 faculty members as dictated by the Board of Trustees. New faculty positions open up through the departure of current faculty members or the creation of new positions. The college provides new faculty with resources such as access to mentoring, professional development opportunities and competitive salaries and compensation. “We make special efforts with faculty of color to connect them to other faculty at the college or in the Five Colleges with similar identities, backgrounds and/or disciplinary interests,” Epstein said.
The change in the makeup of the faculty was sparked by two lines of progression, Epstein said. First, it followed more general hiring patterns of fellow institutions of higher learning, and second, the process was accelerated by the demands of the student body during Amherst Uprising.
Amherst Uprising was a student-led movement in November 2015 that protested the treatment of marginalized communities on campus and the lack of structural support for students of color. One of the main issues raised was the lack of faculty diversity, a perceived poor retention rate for faculty of color and the extra burden on faculty of color to provide emotional support to students of color.
In a statement responding to the list of demands presented by the movement representatives, President Biddy Martin outlined goals to “build a more diverse staff and faculty, with more aggressive recruitment and effective hiring and retention strategies,” and “acknowledge and support the work done by those staff and faculty who are primary sources of support for low-income students and students of color.”
Looking back on the movement, Epstein said that “it was an enormous gift from the student body — a wake-up call to us, the administration.”
Ludia Ock ’19 was a first year in her first semester at the college when Amherst Uprising happened, and became part of the committee pushing for more faculty of color.
“Even though I knew it was so important at the time to have student voices heard, now as a senior getting ready to graduate, I realize that I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point where I’m getting ready to graduate without the faculty of color who were there for me, who listened to me, who advocated for me in times of uncertainty … and in the moments when it felt like the administration didn’t really understand me or really care about me and my voice,” Ock said. “So the fact that there is this push and this acknowledgment that faculty of color here at Amherst are valuable is so important to me, and I know that this is not the end — that there needs to be more done to not only bring in faculty of color but also accommodate them and make sure that retention is a key point in conversations moving forward.”
Rachel Kang ’21, a member of the Asian Students Association and diversity intern in the Office of Admissions, agreed that increasing retention rates should be a priority.
“We have to think about … how many faculty of color are being replaced by faculty of color and who’s being hired in which departments,” Kang said. “I do think there are some departments that have more than others, and the identity of the faculty is a key factor for me when I’m choosing my classes, although it’s a heavy burden to put on the professors.”
Sade Green ’20, a senator in the Association of Amherst Students, said it is “beyond amazing” that the college has increased its hires of faculty of color. “Diversity and inclusion work is not a one-time thing,” she added.
“Amherst College needs to actively cultivate an environment that is consistently equitable and just,” she said in an email interview. “In other words, the college needs to treat faculty of color with the same amount of respect that they treat white tenured faculty with. The college needs to ensure that faculty of color aren’t doing all of the emotional labor when engaging in dialogue regarding race. The college needs to deem faculty of color’s concerns legitimate and take active steps to rectify unjust situations.”
The goal is not “an even representation along racial lines,” Kang said. Rather, the focus should be on what a diverse and inclusive faculty line means for students’ experiences at the college. “What does it mean when a student of color works under a white professor on a thesis? Does that make them uncomfortable, does that make them not want to write a thesis, does it make them want to spend more time with them and go to office hours and feel comfortable asking uncomfortable questions?” Kang said.
She suggested including students on search committees for new faculty and incorporating their opinions into criteria for candidates.
“One more thing would just be examining what kinds of backgrounds these professors are from — people of color is a very umbrella term,” Kang added. “So, who are these people? As an international student, there is always a desire for a professor with global perspective, someone who has lived or studied abroad, with a global approach to material. There are more ways to approach diversity than self-identification with are you white or no.”
Ultimately, the drive to create a “diverse intellectual community” at Amherst is rooted in the community as a whole — from administration and faculty, to students and staff, said Martin. “A significant number of retirements over the past several years have allowed us to attract talented faculty from a wide range of backgrounds, bringing us closer to the goal of creating a diverse intellectual community in which all three terms in that phrase have as much meaning as the middle one has always had,” she said in an email interview.