First Steps: Best Practices for Recruiting Underrepresented Folks in Communication Studies

Last week, I posted the first in a short series on “Recruiting Underrepresented Folks in Communication Studies.” Today’s post is about first steps that you can/should be engaging in to set the foundation for a broader strategy that involves making diversity, equity, and inclusion central to your new hires and, indeed, your department. I believe the most simple initial thing you can do is to make connections on campus and community.

I believe the most simple initial thing you can do is to make connections on campus and community.

I think especially if you’re a majority (or perhaps even entirely) white department, the first step is to meet people unlike you around campus. No, I’m not saying you need to make a black friend — and for the love of all that is holy, don’t tokenize people from different racial groups and hold single people up as the exemplar for their entire community. But what you do need to do is figure out where African American and black studies, Latina/o/x studies, Native American or indigenous studies, etc., are concentrated on your campus (perhaps a department or an interdisciplinary program) and meet with relevant directors, chairs, et cetera. I think this step is especially important for department chairs, directors of undergraduate and graduate studies, and chairs of diversity committees (if your department has one of those). Talk with them; find out what their needs are; find out how you can support and partner them given the unique constraints and affordances of your institutional setting.

Every unit should be making these kinds of connections as a general practice; and as a result of these connections, every communication studies unit should be seeking and welcoming opportunities to co-sponsor events and speakers, advertise events, etc. Your modus operandi should be to form strong partnerships with other units because healthy partnerships can strengthen everyone involved. For example, during Black History Month or Latinx Heritage Month, communication studies units can/should be joining with the relevant campus units and organizations to highlight key programming relevant to the month. This is just a general (and I think really easy) thing that every communication studies department could be doing, which is a good in-and-of itself because it exposes students to a wider variety of perspectives and issues that they may not be getting in the classroom.

Your modus operandi should be to form strong partnerships with other units because healthy partnerships can strengthen everyone involved.

Such connections serve a further instrumental good of cultivating partnerships that can become useful for recruitment and retention. Especially in an era of neoliberal universities, when budgets get tight and people are consistently expected to “do more with less,” administrators are looking for opportunities to do hires that help multiple units in a college or university. When two departments approach a dean with a proposal for a joint hire that fulfills the needs of multiple units, the case for that hire can be more persuasive than either department might be able to make on their own. Yes, I’m talking to a certain degree about a form of interest convergence (see, Bell), which is hella reformist of me (and introduces its own problems, as any “diversity” work does [see last week’s post]); but in an institutional setting that isn’t radically rethought or re-funded, it may be the best kind of option that’s available in the world that actually exists.

Beyond the university’s institutional settings, communication studies unit leaders should consider also the populations of local communities of color. Beyond campus units, you can be reaching out to community organizations that engage the actual populations of the cities surrounding your campus and through your state/region. So, for example, if you live in the Southwestern United States (though this is certainly shifting) you might ask yourself if you have Latina/o/x scholars who do work in Latina/o/x communities on your faculty? If not, why not? Consider the importance of having scholars who may be able to create meaningful partnerships with local communities. Consider also the importance of “engaged scholarship” for your university and for boards of regents and state legislators. Those partnerships can be good for all involved, and they can further help to recruit and retain graduate students of color who may be more likely to feel that their voices are heard and interests are represented in the institution.

There are, undoubtedly, countless other ways to approach these first steps. What kinds of things have you or your department done that have helped lay the foundation for diversifying your faculty? What other ideas do you have that could be added to the above?

[Next week, I’ll be taking a break from posting because I’ll be traveling with family. The next post, on proposing hires, should be up on or around January 1.]