History Department Diversity

Increasing diversity at Texas Tech has been a prominent battle for the university. Although Tech was designated a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2017, there is still a focus on diversifying not only the student body, but the faculty and staff as well.

According to the Department of Institutional Research demographic data, as of Fall 2018, Tech has an estimated total of 1,788 faculty and staff members. Of these faculty and staff members, 1,282 identify as white and 506 identify as non-white or people of color.

Due to this lack of diversity, the Department of History at Tech is taking the steps to search for candidates of color as potential additions to its faculty and to include more extensive course offerings. 

The history department currently has 31 faculty members: 12 female and 19 male. Of the 31, there are four persons of color, two of which are Latino Americans and two are Asian Americans.

For Kiara Bess, a senior history major from Rowlett, the lack of black professors in the department was troubling after transferring to Tech from Prairie View A&M University, which is a Historically Black College or University, she said. 

“For the fall of 2017 when I first got here, my being the only black person in the room and being one of the few women in the room was quite shocking, because I had never experienced anything like that before,” she said. 

What troubles Bess the most is not always the lack of representation in students and faculty, she said. It is some of her classmates who worry her. There have been countless times of being in classes with students proudly donning what she describes as symbols of hate, such as MAGA hats or Confederate flag gear, she said.

However, she has found ways to maneuver around the lack of representation in her classes, she said. By choosing the classes that relate to her interests and experiences as a black woman, it gives her access to some form of diversity in the department.

“I am strategic about what classes I take,” she said. “I try and take classes about people of color… and hope that maybe there will be another person of color there. That gives me a little bit of peace of mind.”

After spending four semesters at Tech, Bess said she has morphed the harsh reality of being the only person of color in her learning spaces at Tech into a lesson for her future plans in the real world.

“Being a lawyer, I know there are not too many black women, black people or people of color who are lawyers, so I know I will be alone, it has honestly made me better,” she said 

Jordan Butler, a junior honors arts and letters major from Lubbock, said he has taken five history classes to fulfill his history minor requirements. He said the department has some diverse course offerings but also echoed some of Bess’s thoughts about the lack of diversity in the history department.

“I think the course list is pretty diverse, you know I’ve taken courses on early western civilization and the Protestant Reformation, LGBT history and women’s history,” he said. “In terms of the faculty, I think it could be more diverse.”

The history department’s approach to diversifying its course list has positively transformed his prior miseducation and understanding of history, he said. Prior to taking the LGBT history class, he was somewhat knowledgeable about queer history, but it was a version of history that did not often factor in activists of color.

“(Queer history in America) tends to center white gay men. That’s not the case, those aren’t the people who have pushed the queer liberation movement and LGBT rights forward,” he said. “I think after taking that class, I had a greater understanding of the stories we are told and the ones that we aren’t told.”

Emily Skidmore, an associate professor of gender and sexuality within the department, spearheaded efforts to offer the LGBT history course Butler took last semester. She said the response to the class was overwhelmingly positive.

“I had students emailing me and asking when I was going to teach it again and saying things like ‘I’ve waited my whole life for a class like this to be offered, I’m so sad that I can’t make it fit in my schedule,’” she said. 

These positive student responses were a testament to the fact there should be an increase of diversity in the history department, she said. 

Skidmore also recalled the changes she has witnessed in the department. When she first came in as faculty in 2011, men outnumbered women in the department at around a 2:1 ratio, but those statistics have drastically improved since then, she said. Although the department has taken leaps toward gender diversity, there is not as much racial diversity. 

“We’ve run job searches every year and most of the candidates we’ve hired in the last seven years have been women,” she said. “So that’s a good thing, but in terms of racial diversity, we are still very much struggling to have a department that reflects the university, which I think should be the goal.”

Alan Barenberg, an associate professor in Russian history and president of the Faculty Senate, praised the department for its efforts to diversify its class offerings which he said spans over a wide array of countries and peoples. 

Even when the department offers “traditional” classes like the history of western civilization, it is not taught the way it has been in the past, he said. 

“Traditionally, that’s a class that’s just been there to glorify white men and their accomplishments, and that’s not the way I or other people in the department teach it,” he said. “It’s a class about critiquing the notions of western civilization and its civility.”

There is a goal on campus to develop more comprehensive training for search committees all across campus, he said, so that all faculty who run search committees are aware of implicit bias. He had the opportunity to participate in a training with representatives from Purdue University to model what they do in training faculty on implicit bias. 

“One of the weird things about academia is that we hire our own colleagues,” he said. “We are not really trained to think about issues of diversity necessarily. I applaud the fact that Texas Tech is working to help give us some training and tools that we can use to do a better job of diverse hiring.”

Department chair and associate professor Sean Cunningham said he has been involved in efforts to hire more faculty of color since his term as the chairman of the department. The department has made a lot of changes since he first arrived as faculty for the university in 2007. 

However, he said the department still has a long way to go when it comes to increasing minority representation.

“To be a faculty member in this department you need a Ph.D.,” he said.  “Unfortunately, the academy is not graduating enough African American Ph.D.’s. So even though the job market is saturated with qualified individuals, we don’t always have enough African American candidates, and when we do, we don’t always have the necessary resources to attract them.”

The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion allocated about $2,000 as an added incentive for diversity hires, he said, yet the competition to acquire professors of color is so steep that universities with more money often have more to offer candidates. 

Candidates of color bring diversity to course offerings, he said. 

“There is a direct correlation between the people you hire and the courses that you offer,” he said. “We would love to offer more courses that deal with racial and gender diversity, but in order to do that, we have to make the hires and bring in the expertise to teach those.”

Cunningham said the department and university as a whole are committed to diversity for the future generation of incoming history students. 

“To say that we are working on it is, I know, a rather unsatisfying answer,” he said. “But I would ask for patience and trust that we really do value diversity, and that we are working with other offices…to create new degree plans and bring new interdisciplinary curriculum offerings that will meet some of these desires for a more diverse experience.”

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