The racial discrepancy between the students of color (SOC) at Knox and the faculty of color (FOC) at Knox is large. Though the school’s mission statement opens with the line “Knox College is a community of individuals from diverse backgrounds challenging each other to explore,” former and current faculty members discuss if the mission statement is failing in terms of the professors at the school.
Professor of Africana Studies Fred Hord believes the Knox faculty’s current diversity status is a “disaster.”
“You just can’t bring students in and do nothing to change the courses, the staff support and faculty members,” Hord said.
According to the Office of Institutional Research, the school boasts a 41 percent domestic SOC population. However, as of 2016, the faculty of color population was a mere 13 percent according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 2016 was the most recent data that could be provided.
Beloit in comparison:
Hord listed the lack of development in Galesburg, the poor public school system and a lack of resources for a competitive salary at Knox as main obstacles to getting faculty of color at Knox.
“There are problems. It’s not just Knox. You could talk to any school this size, located where we are. Unless of course, it has a Williams, or an Oberlin, or a Grinnell,” Hord said.
Statistically, top 10 liberal arts colleges tend to maintain higher levels of equity in the diverse faculty to student ratio. For example, according to NCES, Williams College’s FOC population in 2016 was 16 percent below it’s SOC population. This can be explained by the fact that these schools are located in optimal areas, often on the east coast, with larger endowments than Knox.
However, Hord was troubled when he was presented with statistics that say fellow Associated College of the Midwest (ACM) school, Beloit College, has an astronomically lower racial discrepancy than Knox.
“That’s interesting. Knox looked better than Beloit (years ago) and now you’re telling me they’re doing better É We’re at the top of ACM [with students of color]. Why aren’t we in the middle in terms of faculty of color? Its unacceptable,” Hord said.
According to NCES, in 2016 Beloit had a 19 percent FOC population. Their SOC population was 21 percent. This means their racial discrepancy is a mere two percentage points, compared to Knox’s vast 28 percent points.
U.S. News & World Report has Knox and Beloit tied at the 71st spot in national liberal arts colleges. Beloit is also in a similar financial situation as Knox with an economically depressed off-campus area. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Beloit has a slightly larger person of color population than Galesburg. In an email to TKS Interim Dean of the College Michael Schneider addressed the issue.
“I speak with the Beloit dean and other ACM deans about this issue every time we meet. Beloit is similar to us in many ways. One key difference is that Beloit sits on the edge of the suburbs of Rockford and close to Madison, one of the more dynamic marketplaces for academic, professional and technical jobs,” Schneider said.
During the annual Senior Staff Town Hall meeting on April 3, President Teresa Amott and Schneider discussed some obstacles the school faced bringing in diverse faculty.
“We’re frequently competing with top level research institutions for [candidates] and that’s a challenge, but it signals something very positive. If the person doesn’t come here that’s only so much solace,” Schneider said.
According to Schneider, one of the ways the school attempts to bring in more FOC is by altering their hiring practices.
“We have training for department chairs: everything from how to conceptualize the position to attract underrepresented faculty and how to advertise, how to reach students and how to read applications [in a way that] avoids implicit bias,” Schneider said.
Amott agreed and added that the town of Galesburg itself places huge limitations on bringing in a diverse faculty. Amott pointed to the issue of spousal employment for married faculty.
“Many of you came to Knox for four years. Faculty careers are often longer than that. These families are making a commitment to being at Knox for 10 years or 12 years in Galesburg. Candidly, it’s an issue. So Macalester, Carleton places like that are in the Twin Cities. It’s great, it’s hip.” Amott said. “What I will say to you is that [the] thing we have to offer, compared to other small rural schools, is you.”
Examining one case at Knox:
Despite Amott’s statements about Galesburg being a problem, former Professor of English Audrey Petty ’90 actually enjoyed living in Galesburg. The town became a refuge during times of crisis in her time at Knox.
“It was really the campus, more than the town, where I felt uncomfortable. I came to really know and appreciate the Galesburg I knew around campus. ” Petty said.
As a black woman on campus, she often felt isolated and uncomfortable. Her courses lacked diversity components, her professors were primarily white and her peers would sometimes express racist sentiments towards her.
“I remember that one of my classmates, a black student, she talked about an experience where she was asked in class to comment on ghettos. The professors turned to my friend and said, ‘well you’re from Chicago so can you tell us about ghettos?’ It was chilling,” Petty said.
Yet, five years later, Petty returned to Knox as a faculty member only to leave the campus once again.
“Part of the appeal [was] professional. It was exciting to come back to that and work with students that were so engaged and motivated, and energized around being writers themselves,” Petty said.
However, Petty stated that she struggled with the amount of invisible labor she had to do as an underrepresented faculty member. For example she was expected to become “the face” of the English department on any committee or organization created. Petty felt “stretched thin” by the Knox administration due to the amount of work she had to do as a black professor.
“I feel like that was kind of always part of the experience, on most days I understood it was part of the bargain. I understood É that I had a responsibility that I wanted to fulfill Ñ even if it was invisibilized and not counted as [part] of my duties,” Petty said. “I felt compelled and responsible to fulfill that.”
One of the invisible duties that Petty felt compelled to fulfill was the responsibility of helping students of color from less privileged backgrounds. Petty recalled a time when she tutored a student on their writing skills throughout their four year stay at Knox.
“‘Invisible labor’ is a constant concern because we have some capacity to help address it. … At the same time, the long term solution must be to expand the cohort of faculty to share this important work among more faculty,” Schneider wrote.
After the spring of 2001 Petty left Knox to teach at the University of Illinois. According to Petty, the anonymity of being on a large staff with many people of color was a huge selling point away from Knox. Currently, the English Department at Knox has one professor of color in the department and no black professors.
“I think Knox deserves, and students should have, a diverse faculty,” Petty said. “It’s the sign of a healthy institution that [there is] a diverse faculty and faculty across the board with diverse interests,” Petty said.
A Call to Action:
For Hord, students are the key. He believes that faculty involvement will not be enough to pressure administration into bringing more FOC.
“I’m not sure the [change] will come from faculty, it will come from students who are saying, ‘this is unacceptable,’” Hord said.
Hord believes that there could be more of an effort to enter into an exchange program with professors in nearby universities. Furthemore, he thinks Knox could spend more resources on trying to get FOC through the door. Petty added that she believed alternative living arrangements, such as allowing faculty to live in the quad-cities or Chicago, could be explored as well.
“As a residential campus that values student-faculty interaction, we can explore different models, but we cannot stray too far from our core approach. That would have negative consequences for the student experience. But we are experimenting,” Schneider wrote. “Similarly, broadly equitable salaries regardless of academic discipline or background is also a core institutional value. Reorienting funds toward one academic discipline or department or person would have repercussions for our commitment to equity.
Hord stated that he and Schneider often talk about the lack of FOC at Knox. Though he was glad to hear top administrators consider the issue, he expressed some cynicism about the outcomes.
“Just the fact that we don’t have money is not enough because I keep seeing it, I mean to say this very carefully, Knox not do things when it’s really important to do it,” Hord said.
Hord also believes the best way to get faculty through the door is having students inspire the administration to work harder to fix the racial discrepancy.
“If they say ‘How can we be where we are [in terms of FOC] in a time where people pay attention to Black Lives Matter?’ We really gotta do something about this,” Hord said. “I think students are the answer if they say ‘this is a good place, but we’ve done better.’”