According to the Office of Institutional Research and the National Center for Education Statistics, Knox College’s student population was 41 percent students of color (SOC), while the faculty of color population was 13 percent, as of 2016. That’s a 28 percentage point discrepancy.
As a college that boasts its commitment to diversity and a college with an increasing SOC population, Knox must be more active in the search process to identify and attract faculty of color and must do this in actual practice, not just in the official language on hiring practices. This may not be easy due to our geographic location and financial situation, but it is essential to our integrity and quality as an institution.
When teaching courses about diversity and history, such as “The Immigrant Writer,” which will be running next term, it’s important to have faculty who can speak from those marginalized perspectives. Students of color might feel discouraged from taking a class about the immigrant narrative when the professor hasn’t had those experiences.
Similarly, when taking courses surrounding identity, an entirely different environment is created when the professor does not share that identity and cannot therefore speak from personal experience.
Additionally, students of color need faculty of color who they can talk to about their shared experiences, especially on a campus like Knox’s, in a town like Galesburg. Just this year, when students of color spoke out about ‘The Good Person of Szechwan,’ they were met with various white professors telling them what is and isn’t racist. Without allyship from faculty, students of color can be ostracized easily by the whiteness of academia at Knox.
The situation compounds on historic trends in access to higher education and levels of wealth for people of color in America to further make it more difficult for minorities to succeed. Students of color already face a more difficult college experience because of these factors and not having the resources to help them only makes it more likely they won’t get the support they deserve.
When Professor Kwame Zulu Shabazz’s job was in jeopardy last school year, several students of color spoke to TKS about how important he was to their time at Knox and the value of having him as a resource and mentor. Faculty of color spoke out during the faculty meeting about the extra work they have because they are an important resource for students of color, a role they accepted but also struggled in having to take that on because of the extra burden it put on them.
As Audrey Petty ’99 said in our news article, it is important for students to see their identities reflected by adults on campus, to not be seen as a token by professors and to not have their experiences trivialized.
Knox will continue to be a basally white institution until the diversity of its professors can reflect that of its student body. We recognize there are specific factors that make it difficult for a school like Knox to attract faculty of color, but maintaining the existing circumstances, as direly laid out in the news article, would represent a continued failure of the college to properly support and provide for its students.