Diversity committee seems to be the buzz word for academia in 2020. If you are a graduate student of color, you have probably encountered one in your department or institution.
If you’re like me, you may have been recruited to join a newly-minted committee early on in the scramble to create these committees in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. While we have been quick to take action in some areas, like hosting a series on webinars on anti-racist pedagogy, the gears have slowed down a bit over the last few months due to the chaos of a full pandemic semester.
Anxieties surrounding joining a diversity committee as a person of color are not uncommon, and while I am proud of the things we have accomplished, there are things that I wish I had asked before joining.
If you’re a person of color on the fence about joining a diversity committee, here are a few questions you should consider before making a decision.
Who/what am I joining a diversity committee for?
We all have our reasons. You might think that joining a diversity committee just so you can add a line to your CV is a bad reason – and it probably is if that’s your only reason. But it’s okay to get that CV line if you have the passion and the contributions to back it up later.
A CV line means nothing if you didn’t actually help change or organize anything.
Am I prepared to invest my time and energy into this work?
At the very least, you’ll have to commit to regular committee meetings and helping organize and facilitate specific projects. You will need to carve out time in your schedule for these things.
You should also prepare yourself to expend some emotional energy on these meetings. Putting energy into a committee that does nothing can be especially draining.
It’s important to seriously consider how much of yourself you are willing to give to improve your department, institution, or field. If you’re not up to the task, then you should take this advice:
What do I hope this diversity committee will accomplish?
If you’re going into a committee without at least some vision for the future you are helping create, then you probably aren’t joining with the right intentions. Take some time to think about what you’d like to see happen in an ideal world.
Do you wish students and faculty were required to attend mandatory anti-racism training? Would you love it if your department collaborated more with the local community? Save those ideas!
What are the committee’s intentions? Do they seem good or bad?
You can consider this from any number of angles.
Find out why the committee was formed
Research the people who are chairing the committee (if you aren’t familiar with them)
Ask what goals they have for both the near and distant future, and
Determine what resources might be available to accomplish those goals
It’s okay if the goals aren’t concrete and actionable yet (the committee I’m on was brand new!). But it should be clear that that’s what they’re working towards.
Am I being compensated for this work?
This is something that might matter to you, or might have never crossed your mind until now. I’ll be honest: most diversity committees won’t pay you for the work that you’re doing. But it is possible to advocate for positions that will. All you need to do is ask. What’s the worst they can do? Say no?
Well, so can you.