Preparing Your Diversity Statement: A Commitment to Inclusive Teaching and Research

Amro El-Adle
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Abigail Rose Lindner
Abigail Lindner
Regent University                                

Diversity statements, in which candidates for academic positions are asked to write about their experiences and abilities to positively impact diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts on campus and specifically in their own classes, have become widespread in the academic community. These statements represent an opportunity to highlight how candidates’ research, teaching, and service, or their own life experiences help them understand and support students from diverse backgrounds. In practice, these statements present a unique challenge, particularly for early-career candidates with nascent research topics or limited teaching opportunities. Moreover, the criteria for evaluating diversity statements are not universal.

For many private and public institutions of higher education across the country, particularly those operating in majority-minority communities, preparing students for a diversity of interactions with the people, environments, and world around them has become a central part of their teaching missions [1]. According to the 2020 racial and ethnic population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation is diversifying at a faster rate than demographers had predicted [2]. While the segment of the population identifying as White has gradually declined over the past few decades, the populations identifying as Black, Asian, and Hispanic have grown. Some projections suggest that by 2050, no single racial or ethnic group will constitute the majority of the U.S. population [2].

Many academic institutions thus seek to develop inclusive teaching practices amongst faculty, for whom a diversity statement serves as an increasingly important element of evaluation and potentially of distinction. To better understand the criteria by which institutions consider diversity and how job candidates may address them, we interviewed several academic guests with a variety of diversity-related training, research, and administrative experiences:

  • Dr. Amanda Jungels, Associate Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, Rice University;
  • Dr. Norean Sharpe, Dean and Joseph H. and Maria C. Schwartz Distinguished Chair at the Tobin College of Business, St. John’s University;
  • Dr. Cole Smith, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse University;
  • Dr. Willem-Jan Van Hoeve, Carnegie Bosch Professor of Operations Research and Senior Associate Dean of Education at the Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University.

Defining Diversity and its Impact
Central to a successful diversity statement is developing a familiarity and depth of an institution’s definition of diversity. For candidates on the job market, investing time to learn about a school’s student body may yield a distinct advantage in both the diversity statement and the cover letter as part of the application. Dr. Smith recommends thinking about a diversity statement as a pyramidal structure: at its base, a candidate may take time to learn about the demographics of the student body, the university’s standing in the local community, and with indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands may be part of the university’s campus, as well as other DEI considerations particularly relevant to that institution. Continuing with the pyramidal analogy, Dr. Smith explained “Do [candidates] understand why [these issues are] important? Even better if [they] understand why [these questions are] important at Syracuse. And then as you go up... [how would candidates] see themselves as being a part of a solution to [these] problems?" In that vein, it is essential to acknowledge the specific values of the institution’s commitment to inclusion. For example, while the term diversity has become a catch-all to represent DEI issues more broadly, some schools also consider accessibility a key part of their mission. Identifying these details in a diversity statement indicates to the reader a concern for understanding the depth of the topic.

Although academic institutions often rely on metrics on race, ethnicity, and gender, restricting the definition of diversity to a set of surveyable factors may understate the depth of certain challenges. For many institutions of higher education, there is a focus not only on the outward appearance of diversity – for instance, in tabulating the growth of particular groups of students on campus – but also on the diversity of experience and thought that a university gains by encouraging representation in enrollment and hiring. Dr. Smith, an industrial engineer, provides an example of the diversity of thought that positively benefits the learning and solution-finding process:

You take non-engineers that jump into a problem and give a brilliant solution because they’re not thinking about it using all the same techniques that we normally use….[T]hey are so creative and they have a different way of approaching this….That’s actually what you’re trying to promote is a collection of people that think about problems from a fundamentally different point of view. So then when I teach a class, why is it that I want everybody to think about the problem exactly the way that I’m thinking about the problem. I have diversity of thought in my classroom. Why am I trying to quash that?

With increasing, surface-level diversities may come a deeper level of diversity in upbringing that influences how students learn and approach problems. Diversity, according to Dr. Van Hoeve of Carnegie Mellon, is partly about understanding that “...people have different cultural backgrounds. They may react differently in classroom settings... it’s not a matter of color or gender only.... [W]e try to create an atmosphere in the classroom that is inclusive.”

Inclusion, the “I” in the DEI acronym, often receives less attention than the leading “D”. Dr. Sharpe of St. John’s defines an inclusive classroom as one in which,

[We ask] how does a faculty member encourage class participation? ...[T]o be an inclusive, all students [should] feel that they’re participating, that they’re involved...[W]e look [for] faculty who have techniques... [to facilitate] a lot of interaction between the faculty member and the student. We want to hear about how do you involve students, how do you engage? And now of course, with COVID, we’re looking for experience with online teaching. [Whether using] chat rooms, blogs... [or] creating breakout rooms for the students before bringing them back together to the larger class.

Inversely, making little or no effort to foster such diversity on campus might stifle academic growth and skew students’ views of modern society. Dr. Van Hoeve notes, “We should have a diverse [environment] ... [that is] reflective of society. We cannot give our students an education where they don’t have access to a diverse group of peers”. In the 1970s, American essayist and cultural critic Wendell Berry explained that the university aims to produce “not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture” [3]. For the stewards of the university - the faculty - it may be important to inculcate the culture of scholarship in its many dimensions.

Diversity in the Classroom
To that end, faculty hiring committees seek evidence that an applicant’s teaching methods and materials align with the school’s DEI goals. It is helpful for students to see advisors and mentors with whom they identify; it is equally, if not more, important for students to enter an environment with which they can identify and contribute. According to Dr. Van Hoeve, “creating a more inclusive environment is, in fact, a skill” and, therefore, something in which a candidate must be “willing to invest some time.” He went on to note,

[T]here are many people who live in the US...who may not be fully aware of the challenges...even in their own country. …[T]his is a topic that study and cultivation. …If you give people teams with only white males or with only people from India, or only people from China, that’s not going to be a good outcome for the students. [It] doesn’t matter what your political opinions [are] if you look at it purely from an educational point of view. …[Y]ou want people to thrive in our current society. They need to have exposure to different settings. You have to force them into that because they need to learn those skills.

Composing a Diversity Statement
Although the expectations for diversity statements from candidates may vary by institution and department, Dr. Jungels of Rice University, who co-instructed an online course on inclusive teaching (the link to which is available at the end of the article), explained that in general,

[The] diversity statement is not intended to be really a recitation of all the ways that a particular candidate is diverse or their life story about adversity that they’ve dealt with or overcome. That certainly can be there. But it really is supposed to think how is this person going to engage diversity, equity, inclusion issues if they become a faculty member here? What are they going to bring to the classroom? What are they going to bring to research? How are they going to advance the mission of the university or the department with relation to these topics?

Our panel unanimously suggested that candidates seek out relevant workshops, webinars, and conferences on training for inclusive teaching practices. Many of these resources are available freely or at reduced cost online, as listed at the end of this article. For example, Dr. Jungels cited a phenomenon known as the “leaky pipeline" at many science- and engineering-oriented departments, which contends that underrepresented student populations in these disciplines, such as women and students from racial and ethnic minority groups, drop out at a much higher rate than other students. There are academic teaching journals that publish articles investigating this and similar issues that can be addressed pedagogically. Beyond the academic literature, candidates may benefit from reading non-fiction about cultural and ethnic challenges in the United States more broadly. This can be an especially valuable resource for candidates who grew up outside the United States and are interested in the experiences of first-generation students.
Recognizing that many faculty candidates are graduating from doctoral programs, which are typically heavily research-focused and leave little room for DEI or training in inclusive teaching practices, our panel suggests focusing on acquired experiences, even if they seem limited. Dr. Van Hoeve suggests that a candidate might discuss “[f]or example, a specific cultural difference or maybe a discussion session that you found a little bit uncomfortable. Now, even recognizing that that is a challenge for you is I think the number one step towards improving it.” Acknowledging the discomfort, and any subsequent steps taken to address that in oneself indicates an interest in “learning more, an understanding and growing in that direction.”

Mentorship opportunities can also be valuable in this regard. Becoming a role model for college or high school students from diverse backgrounds may be an excellent experience through which a candidate can describe their motivation to learn more about inclusive teaching. According to Dr. Jungels, disaggregating diversity data can have a significant impact through this lens. In the absence of large-scale experience with inclusive teaching, having just a few rich experiences with students may be sufficient evidence to portend a commitment to DEI issues.

Just as institutions of higher learning evaluate research statements and publication records in search of candidates with potential for impactful work, diversity statements may be a signal of a candidate’s willingness to invest time, effort, and accommodations into their time on campus to contribute to the school’s research and teaching missions. Inclusive teaching, in particular, is a skill that can be inculcated, and the diversity statement should reflect how a candidate has developed in that dimension and may continue to do so over time. Finally, some schools publicize clear rubrics on how their hiring committees evaluate diversity statements. Several of these rubrics are provided in the resources at the end of the article.

Additional Resources



  1. Flaherty, C. (2018). Making a statement on diversity statements. Inside Higher Ed, Available:
  2. Frey, W. (2020). The nation is diversifying even faster than predicted, according to new census data. Brookings Institution, Available:
  3. Hickerson, M. (2009). What’s the purpose of a university? Emerging Scholars Network, Available: