BY JANET TOBIN
Mount Holyoke has long been known for the diversity of its student body. The first international student arrived in 1842, and today the College enrolls more than 2,000 women from the fifty United States and more than seventy other countries. Approximately one in every three Mount Holyoke students is an international citizen or African American, Asian American, Latina, Native American, or multiracial. What is less well known is that the College also stands out for its commitment to diversifying its professoriate and the success it has achieved in this arena. In fact, the College has been more successful than most liberal arts colleges and universities at building a faculty that is reflective of its student body and the diversity of the global community.
“The presence of a diverse faculty and staff is an important part of our effort to create a powerful learning environment for all of our students," says Beverly Daniel Tatum, dean of the College and an expert on race relations. “Students of color who see themselves reflected in the diversity of the faculty and staff are less likely to experience the sense of alienation and invisibility that sometimes characterizes their experiences on predominantly white campuses. White students benefit from the opportunity to be exposed to perspectives and life experiences that may be different from their own. One of the reasons I came to Mount Holyoke was because of the evident commitment to faculty diversity. Now, as dean, I find that our success in this area makes it easier for me to attract talented staff of color."
The College's curricular and cocurricular life is enriched by its faculty of color in exactly the way Tatum describes. Nina Gerassi-Navarro, associate professor of Spanish, has brought her scholarly interests into such classes as Building the Nation with Outlaws: Bandits and Pirates in Spanish America. Lois Brown, assistant professor of English, rediscovered the first African American biography, a narrative that sheds new light on the spiritual and political education of African American children in the antebellum North. A new edition of the work, edited and with an introduction by Brown, was issued last year by Harvard University Press.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Sean Decatur, who studies how protein molecules fold, has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Dreyfus Foundation, and was recently awarded the College's Maribeth E. Cameron Faculty Prize for Scholarship. He was instrumental in organizing Race and Science: What's the Connection?, a conference held at the College last year that brought to Mount Holyoke distinguished scholars and activists to examine ways that race and science intersect. Notes Decatur, “While I've had many mentors (of all races), having the opportunity to meet and work with African American teachers/scientists while I was a high school student and an undergraduate was significant in motivating me to pursue a career in chemistry. Achieving diversity in a range of fields is important; it sends a message that all branches of knowledge are open to everyone, regardless of race. Even in the so-called ‘objective' hard sciences, one's own experiences and identity play a role in shaping one's perspective on the discipline."
While success in the area of faculty diversification is easy to qualify, it is harder to quantify. However, research conducted by other organizations and informal survey results confirm Mount Holyoke's leadership role in this area. In the spring 2000 issue of Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the College ranked third among the nation's prestigious liberal arts colleges for having the highest number of black faculty. The publication notes, “The performance of Amherst College and Mount Holyoke [in having blacks make up 6.9 percent of the total full-time faculty], both located in rural areas of western Massachusetts, is a signal achievement, especially when the results are compared to their nearby peer institutions Williams and Smith, where blacks make up 2.5 percent and 3.9 percent of the total faculty respectively."
A recent informal poll conducted by the College's Office of the Dean of Faculty of twelve liberal arts colleges in the Northeast comparable to Mount Holyoke revealed that Mount Holyoke has the highest percentage of faculty of color and the fourth-highest percentage of women faculty. Forty-five percent of the College's faculty members are women and 20 percent are men and women of color—and the hiring trend is toward diversification. Says Donal O'Shea, dean of the faculty, “Seeking diversity on the faculty is the story of finding extraordinary talent and intellect that we might otherwise not have found. It is about increasing the collective experience, intelligence, and brainpower of the faculty, and making that available for the formation of students' minds and identities."
While Mount Holyoke has done well in attracting and retaining faculty of color, efforts will continue to increase faculty diversity. Says President Joanne Creighton, “The College is committed to making diversity a cornerstone of its educational mission. This millennium will be one of increasing pluralism and globalization. It is critical that Mount Holyoke educate its students with a curriculum and within an environment that reflect these new realities."