At Eckerd, there is a visible lack of diversity in faculty. 86.7% of the school’s faculty is white, according to the 2019-2020 factsheet on Eckerd’s website. The only Black faculty at Eckerd College are the Director of Service Learning and Adjunct Professor of American Studies Ronald Porter, Associate Professor of History Gregory Padgett and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jalisa Ferguson. While diversifying the faculty is important to administrators, there are significant national disparities in the number of people of color graduating with doctoral degrees, making Eckerd’s efforts to diversify its community a slow-moving process.
First-year Briana Hashim said there’s a noticeable lack of racial diversity among faculty, but when looking around, it’s easy to notice there’s a lot of diversity among staff at Eckerd.
“It’s almost like a representation thing, like for the Black students on campus the representation is the caf workers and the grounds workers,” Hashim said. “But for a white person their representation is the professors and people in a higher power.”
Recruiting more faculty of color goes hand-in-hand with diversifying the student population because of the challenges Black professors face while teaching at a predominantly white institution.
Hashim said if there’s not any Black students then there’s not going to be Black professors. She said in her Human Experience class, other students of color and she felt the need to teach Black culture instead of the professor, putting the responsibility of educating their peers on Black students.
“We need more of an emphasis on diversity and people that can teach diversity and do it well and not just gloss over it,” Hashim said.
Junior Aryelle Lipscomb, a member of the Afro-American Society, said it is difficult to coordinate guest speakers to give presentations on diversity and intersectionality because of Eckerd’s demographics.
“I’ve had speakers that said they didn’t even want to come because of how Eckerd looked,” Lipscomb said. “So it’s even intimidating for them. So it must be intimidating for someone who’s going to be on the payroll.”
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Lipscomb said they noticed a section in class syllabi regarding discrimination in classrooms. However, when a white student gives inaccurate or discriminatory information about Black culture in discussion-based classes, they said professors don’t always correct the inaccuracies.
“Somebody needs to say it, and it should be the professor,” Lipscomb said. “Unfortunately, it’s usually a Black student who is forced to say something because no one else will.”
Director of Service Learning Ronald Porter said the lack of faculty diversity at Eckerd is an issue the school needs to tackle.
“It’s 2021, and the clock is ticking, and we’re tired. I’m tired,” Porter said. “I want to see the school that I graduated [from] with a much more diverse faculty population.”
When Porter graduated Eckerd in 2005, he said there were about three to four faculty of color. Even though the lack of faculty diversity hasn’t changed much, he is still optimistic about the direction the school is heading.
“I really do believe that Eckerd is making awesome strides towards diversity in the student body and in the faculty. However, I'm hungry for more. And I want to see more,” Porter said. “We need to be brutally honest about the lack of diversity within the faculty at Eckerd College, and we need to ask brutally honest questions about why that is.”
According to Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison, diversifying Eckerd’s faculty is a major goal for the college. However, the demographics of applicants for faculty positions include predominantly white candidates. In a study by the US Department of Education, it was reported that approximately 59% of postdoctoral graduates in the United States in 2017-2018 were white. Comparatively, 0.07% of these graduates were Black.
“Diversifying the faculty is a key goal for the College, but our applicant pool is not as diverse as we would like,” Harrison said.
Eckerd has taken some steps to combat these challenges, such as creating a new pre-doctoral fellowship for marginalized groups and joining the Consortium for Faculty Diversity at Liberal Arts Colleges to try to bring in a new faculty member in the next few years.
However, these steps are just the beginning in terms of solving the diversity issues Eckerd faces. Students of color feel as though they are still severely underrepresented on campus, especially in the classroom.
Over their years at Eckerd, Lipscomb has grown a deep appreciation for Porter, Padgett and Ferguson for educating and talking about intersectionality in their classes.
“Thank you to you three,” Lipscomb said. “There should be like 15.”
A previous version of the graph displaying faculty demographic percentage was incorrect and did not include faculty in the Unknown category which holds a value of 2.5%. The graph was changed on March 1 to reflect this.