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It’s Time for Campus Search Committees to Reconsider Their Hiring Practices

Now that many colleges and universities have published solidarity and commitment statements in response to Black Lives Matter and calls for the eradication of structural racism, what’s next? As higher education leaders convene in virtual meeting spaces this fall, they must begin difficult conversations about actions they can take to address structural racism and racial inequities that have long affected Black students, faculty, and staff.

Institutional racism is perpetuated on college campuses when colleges and universities hire and promote people to positions without having them address their own understanding of systems of oppression and consider what actions they will take to dismantle these systems. The recent hiring freezes that many institutions have implemented due to COVID-19 make this an opportune time for campuses to pause and begin reimagining hiring practices and interview protocols.

I suggest one action that all campuses can easily take: restructure both the screening and on-campus interview stages by explicitly asking job candidates how they view whiteness and will work against oppression and anti-Black racism. Anti-Black racism is best understood as the policies, practices, and beliefs that dehumanize Black people and forbid them from thriving and living authentically. Whiteness, in relation, captures the structural advantage that upholds white dominance, exploitation, and westernized ways of thinking and doing. Job candidates should not only demonstrate an understanding of these concepts but should also explain how these concepts are reflected in higher education structures, processes, and practices and how they can affect the development and well-being of faculty, staff, and students.

Roman Liera and Cheryl Ching detail ways that hiring committees can reconceptualize merit and fit to be more equity-minded. One recommendation calls for hiring committees to add questions about supporting racially minoritized groups to interviews and screening processes. While Liera and Ching’s questions are helpful for supporting racially minoritized students, they leave whiteness and privilege untouched. Questioning whiteness and privilege are important if we aspire to hire people who can help the institution advance racial equity and eradicate institutional racism. Below, I recommend a new set of questions that administrators, faculty, and staff can add to their job applications and interviews as they work to change the current systems of racism and oppression that exist on our campuses:

  • In your previous experience(s), how have you seen whiteness and anti-Blackness show up on a college or university campus?
  • Can you give an example of a time you used your privilege(s) to help a marginalized or oppressed group?
  • How will you play a proactive role in dismantling structural racism and anti-Blackness in higher education?
  • If hired for this position, how do you imagine supporting, advocating for, affirming, and being mindful of the Black students, faculty, and staff you will work alongside?
  • What do you believe the campus’s responsibility is to protect and support Black students, faculty, and staff in the face of ongoing state violence against Black people?

Of course, if higher education hiring committees are to incorporate these questions meaningfully into their interview processes, more attention must also be paid to who serves on the committees and their own awareness of these equity issues. Search committees need to be racially diverse and aware of their own personal and professional obligations to address and confront anti-Blackness, whiteness, and racism in all their forms. While we have seen progress through many campuses administering diversity and inclusion training to faculty and staff, hiring committee members should take additional steps to examine both their individual awareness and collective awareness before the first screening is conducted, and search committee chairs should be able to articulate these expectations to potential committee members before they agree to serve.

In accordance with equity-minded hiring, members of hiring committees should defend their decision to accept or reject a candidate and allow other committee members to challenge the individual’s decision. Using the questions above will help hiring committee members hold themselves and their colleagues accountable.

Sometimes, search committees must be willing to fail and restart searches if none of the applicants can properly articulate their commitments to understanding and dismantling racism, whiteness, and anti-Blackness in their work.

By no means are these recommendations the sole answer to eradicating structural racism and anti-Blackness on college campuses. But they can be a start. This shift in hiring practices can help institutions more intentionally hire employees that can build a new institutional culture where racism and anti-Blackness are concepts we fight together and, hopefully, obliterate.

Jordan Harper is a research assistant at the Pullias Center for Higher Education and a PhD student in the Urban Education Policy program at USC Rossier School of Education.

Have an idea for a blog post? Write to dedman@aacu.org.

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