Struggling with Your DEI Statement for Academic Job Applications?

Tips for professors to brainstorm and write statements of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for academic job applications at universities.
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Writing a Statement of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for an academic job application can be hard. Job postings don’t always offer guidance on how to address this complex and important subject. Detailed instructions for the statement are useful, but you may still wonder what to say about yourself.

Consider your audience. Colleges and universities publicly express the intent to make campus life more inclusive and equitable for historically underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized groups. Their search committees will look to your DEI statement for ideas on how you, as a professor there, would actively contribute to that effort. In their eyes, this is about what you can do and what you want to do. 

Ultimately, your DEI statement should give its readers an honest idea of a future you: someone whose professional practices help eliminate the systemic barriers to educational success and achievement that countless students have unjustly faced on account of their identity.

There are many ways for you, as an individual faculty member, to contribute. It could be through your teaching and service, for example. Your advising and mentoring are avenues for practicing equity and inclusion too. Your research and scholarship may have their own relevance. The search committee will likely be open to different possibilities.

This post offers concrete suggestions for areas you might address in your DEI statement.

Start Thinking

Before drafting your DEI statement, brainstorm about the following questions:

  •     What is your understanding of “diversity” in higher education?
  •     What might diversity mean in the institution to which you are applying?
  •     Is your own discipline informed by issues of diversity and equity?
  •     What about your own values? What importance have diversity, equity, and inclusion had for you?
  •     In what ways have diversity, equity, and inclusion directed or shaped what you do academically, professionally, or otherwise?
  •     Can you describe experiences that show a genuine commitment on your part to the expression of diverse perspectives and to the success of underserved groups?

Possible Areas to Address in Your DEI Statement

Turn your thoughts to specific areas of your academic life, beyond what your other application materials (teaching statement, research statement) already address.

Teaching

Your teaching experience can be a great topic for giving search committees a sense of what you could do for DEI at their institution as a professor. How you have set up, conducted, and evaluated your courses are areas worth considering. 

With regard to set-up, a university course’s design and introductory language can be important. Course content may bear on diversity in one or more ways. Programmed forms of participation, access points to learning, the accommodation of different learning styles, and assessment tools can speak to your intent to be inclusive. 

Once a course was actually running, inclusivity may have informed what you did, such as your structuring and setting a tone for class discussions. Later, at the semester’s end, how you received student feedback and used it to improve diversity and inclusiveness merits attention. Consider your courses’ outcomes, too. Can you point to how a particular student’s learning was affected by your efforts toward diversity and inclusion?     

Advising and Mentoring

Professors meet with assigned advisees, guide students on theses and other academic projects, and may also mentor student organizations. Here, too, your commitment to DEI may come through. Have you helped students from underrepresented or underserved groups succeed beyond the classroom? If so, in what capacities? What did students achieve through your involvement?  

Research and Scholarship

If your research directly addresses issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, elaborate on that. You may have publications on social inequality, oppression, or underrepresented groups, for instance. Such topics and how you came to them may be relevant for your statement. 

Think further: Did you open that research to nonacademic communities in any way? In certain disciplines, research can be highly collaborative. Has your scholarship emerged from working with diverse groups of colleagues?

Service

Intentional work toward diversity, equity, and inclusion can also happen in committee work and other forms of service. Think about your institutional settings as well as any broader contexts, from surrounding communities to national organizations. If your direction(s) in service of others had to do with DEI, this is something to share with the search committee. Specifics about what you were doing, what you accomplished, and what you learned can help them see more clearly your potential to help enhance DEI at their institution.

Things to Avoid

As you gather your past experiences and translate them into your DEI statement, some ways of writing may fail to win over your intended audience. If you find yourself demonstrating your knowledge of DEI more than your preparation to act, you may want to reconsider. 

If you imply your commitment on the basis of who you are, go further and discuss what you do professionally for DEI. If you have a story of personal awakening or are inclined to present yourself as some kind of “savior,” your statement is not the place for that. (For further discussion of these points, see Dr. Manya Whitaker’s advice here.)   

The Future You

Your DEI statement should not focus solely on your commitments and experiences up to this point. Your future work at a particular place is in question, after all. Your readers will want to imagine you thriving at their school, contributing to what they already do and possibly adding to it. 

Wherever you are applying, be sure to look into that institution’s stated DEI goals. Is there more to it than what the job announcement says? Are there initiatives and resources you should be aware of as you adapt your statement for that audience? See if there are scholars, programs, or centers related to DEI elsewhere on campus that you could connect with through your research or pedagogy. Maybe further opportunities for you to contribute will come into view.

As you write your DEI statement, keep in mind the future you. That idea will give you something to build toward and will help you organize the whole statement with momentum and promise. If you don’t feel you have enough past experience to lay a foundation for that future faculty member, give yourself time to work up DEI-related plans for your teaching, research, advising, mentoring, and service. If you have trouble making it all cohere and flow on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out for constructive feedback on your application materials from Flatpage’s nonjudgmental team of editors.

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About the author

Matt Shoaf is a former tenured professor who has served on search committees and tenure committees (and chaired a few, too). At Flatpage, Matt offers editing for job applicants as well as developmental editing for authors. He also volunteers at public K-12 schools, including mentoring students for a nonprofit organization dedicated to dropout prevention.

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