College Spotlight: Diversity Programs and Initiatives in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences

Campus in fall with foliage

Students walk to class in front of Withers and Daniels Hall. PHOTO BY ROGER WINSTEAD

Diversity Programs and Initiatives in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)

In January 2013, Dr. Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, was appointed director of diversity programs and faculty/staff diversity and, in March 2015, as assistant dean for diversity in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS). When she assumed this leadership position, she created a college Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC) comprising one faculty member from each department, one staff representative, one representative from the associate dean’s office, one from the dean’s office, and an ex-officio representative from the provost’s office. She worked with the DAC on a charge from Dr. Jeff Braden, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, on faculty recruitment and retention plans.

Dr. Juliana Nfah-AbbenyiRecruitment and Retention Plans

Dr. Braden asked departments to develop plans for recruiting and retaining faculty from underrepresented groups, but especially faculty of color, given their importance to the college and the campus. Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi convened the Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC) to begin the process. The DAC deliberately crafted broad guidelines for departments to use to generate department-specific templates. The idea was for departments to take each point and ask themselves: Is this relevant to my department? How does my department handle this point or certain aspects of it? What is my department currently doing and/or should do in view of this point to foster either the recruitment or retention of underrepresented groups? The DAC deliberately chose not to be prescriptive given that only the departments know: 1) who they currently are as a department, 2) where they want to be in light of the changes they would make, and most importantly, 3) what they are committing themselves to doing given the department’s consideration of 1 and 2. Departments were asked to commit themselves to doing a few things they can do, and not to aspire to programs or activities that would require additional resources. Subsequent to the submission of plans, the dean requested the DAC reconvene to review the plans and provide feedback to departments on how they might enhance their plans. In other words, rather than viewing their plans as an occasional exercise, the dean wanted the development and implementation of plans to be more of a dynamic effort engaging departments and the college committee. The DAC reviewed plans and identified the strengths of each plan, and offered suggestions for consideration on how plans could be improved or incorporate successful elements of other plans. Departments submitted their draft templates and the DAC met and reviewed them. The best practices are a summary of the strengths and innovative ideas the committee highlighted from various templates. Some innovative ideas that were very department-specific were excluded. The committee recommended these best practices be consulted as departments revised their plans to come up with 1) three intentional ideas for recruitment, and 2) three intentional ideas for retention, while working from the premise: a) this is who we are, b) this is where we want to be, and c) this is what we are committing ourselves to. Recruitment and retention plans will be revised annually; recruitment and retention reports are submitted annually.

Diversity Lecture and Panel Discussion Series

How can we teach effectively about diversity? What are the implications for our students, our staff and our communities? Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi invites faculty from various departments and disciplines in the college to share best pedagogical practices. For instance, in April 2013, Dr. Walt Wolfram, William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor, gave the inaugural lecture on “Teaching about Diversity: The Linguistic Dimension.” This groundbreaking series enables CHASS faculty to integrate diversity in all they do. They also invite nationally-known leaders in higher education to complement and extend our conversations beyond the classroom with a look at diversity and institutional culture change: Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (January 2014); Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall, president of Bennett College (January 2015); Dr. Robert Jones, president of the State University of New York at Albany (February 2016). They complement these lectures with panel discussions on microaggressions in everyday life at NC State.

Unconscious Bias in the Search Process

Mindful of the representations of faculty and students in the college; mindful of the need to improve diversity among these populations; and, mindful of unconscious bias in the search process and the need to better foster fairness throughout the search process, Dr. Braden and Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi made the decision, beginning in the fall 2013 semester, to meet with every search committee in the college before the committee proceeds with the search process. In recognition of the fact that we often put all our resources into conducting searches, rather than building the pool for such searches by building relationships with diverse pre-career and career faculty over time, and by doing things to retain the people that we do recruit, Dr. Braden speaks to the importance of diversity in our college; makes the case for fairness in the search process, and Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi speaks to the resources she can and does make available to the search committee before and during the search, further noting why efforts to recruit faculty complement other efforts in the college to recruit and retain diverse students. Once they have met with the search committee, Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi connects the search committee chair with the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, with which they set up a meeting for a more detailed session on the expectations and duties of the search committee as well as a workshop on interrupting bias in the search process.

 Mentoring New Faculty

Sometimes, it is easier to hire faculty than to keep them. In the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, departments have had different mentoring programs and departments were not necessarily aware of what other departments were doing. In fall 2015, they decided to start a college-wide mentoring program. They asked department heads to pair each newly hired faculty member with one or two mentors. They invited Dr. Marcia Gumpertz, vice provost for faculty diversity, to give mentoring orientation sessions to the mentors. Their aim is to have future discussions with these mentors, to draw on their experiences within various departmental programs with the aim over time of putting together a slate of best mentoring practices for the college.

Under the leadership of Dr. Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences was the Outstanding College/Division Award winner of the 2015 Chancellor’s Creating Community Award “for a strong commitment to diversity at NC State University,” a recognition and testament to her diversity programs and initiatives that have and continue to make a huge difference in their college and our campus.