UW News

February 16, 2022

Faculty programs welcome most diverse cohort in recent UW history

UW News

head shots

The University of Washington welcomed its most diverse cohort of new tenure-track faculty in 2021. Among the new hires are assistant professors (l-r) Jelani Ince, sociology, Esther Uduehi, marketing, and Angelic Amezcua, Spanish.University of Washington

Angélica Amezcua never thought she’d achieve a doctoral degree, never mind landing a tenure-track job at the University of Washington. Raised in Mexico, she moved to California when she was 11, and she’s the first in her family to earn a Ph. D. She once believed that a career in academia was unattainable due to the obstacles placed in society for people of color.

Now an assistant professor of Spanish at the UW and director of the Heritage Language Program, Amezcua said coming to the university directly from a doctoral program was intimidating. It was a new place, a new position, and she is breaking ground in a new field. But Amezcua said she feels at home thanks, in part, to an effort designed to support and retain underrepresented groups and first-generation faculty at UW.

“I just felt so reassured that I made the right decision,” she said. “Not only did I feel validated, but I felt like I was going to be receiving support.”

It’s all part of a multi-pronged effort introduced last year to diversify the faculty ranks at UW and fits within the Race and Equity Initiative the university launched in 2015.

UW Sociology Professor Alexes Harris

Amezcua participates in a new Faculty Development Program led by UW sociology professor Alexes Harris. The inaugural cohort has 28 faculty from the Seattle and Tacoma campuses. These new faculty are paired with a mentor — a tenured professor — from their academic unit. There are workshops and discussions to provide supportive spaces to build community, network and foster professional development.

“We have created this program because we cannot be an excellent university without a racially and ethnically diverse faculty,” said Harris, the UW Presidential Term Professor and special assistant to the provost. “We cannot just hire diverse faculty, but we need to fully support our colleagues of color and ensure our community is a space where everyone can flourish, particularly at a predominantly white university.”

Mark Richards in front of brick building

Mark Richards, UW provost and executive vice president for academic affairs

Provost Mark Richards last year announced the Faculty Diversity Initiative, a multimillion-dollar effort that included funding to hire and support diverse faculty. At his annual Town Hall Tuesday, Richards touted UW’s hiring trends and anecdotal feedback and noted that more work is necessary.

“We are making some strides in this direction — though there’s still a long way to go,” Richards said.

Watch video highlights of the Provost Town Hall.

Students benefit from a university with faculty members whose knowledge and understanding represent the diversity of Washington state, as do the people and communities that benefit from the UW’s research and scholarship, Richards said. Additionally, a diverse faculty signal to historically marginalized students, especially underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, that teaching and research careers are accessible, achievable and encouraged.

Nearly 27% of new hires into tenure-track positions in 2021 are from underrepresented populations, mostly Black and Latinx, Richards said, the most diverse new faculty cohort in recent UW history and a significant increase over previous years. What’s more, the number of underrepresented faculty in tenure/tenure track positions has increased 22% since 2017, and the number of women faculty in tenure/tenure track positions has increased 6.4% in that same timeframe.

“Maintaining our fidelity to our public mission depends upon BIPOC scholars being offered jobs, joining, staying and leading our academic community,” Richards said. “Now is the time for us to make these efforts a more explicit, invested and systemic behavior at UW. Further and more critically, the Faculty Diversity Initiative is building upon efforts of generations of BIPOC faculty whose labor toward these ends has often gone unacknowledged and now must be properly centered and recognized.”

In addition to UW’s Faculty Development Program, the university is taking multiple approaches to diversify the faculty and support underrepresented tenure-track groups.

The Office for Faculty Advancement in the past year presented 67 anti-bias workshops to faculty hiring committees, as well as two anti-bias webinars available to all UW employees.

At UW Medicine, Dr. Kemi Doll launched the Success for Underrepresented Faculty (SURF) program. Like the Faculty Development Program, this is a 12-month, small-group program focused on career development, coaching and peer co-learning for incoming medical faculty.

“We are investing in this important work to ensure the success, retention and recruitment of underrepresented minority faculty, and to realize the UW Medicine mission of an anti-racist institution that maximizes the potential of all faculty to improve the health of the public,” Doll said.

Getting to know the UW and meeting faculty across campus has been invaluable, said Esther Uduehi, an assistant professor of marketing at the Foster School of Business. Given that she is the only Black tenure-track faculty at Foster, connection to a larger community through the Faculty Development Program is especially important.

“Having a sense of community can really help make the experience more enriching,” she said. “We are able to learn from each other’s journeys as well as what it means to be faculty within the classroom and a research scholar. The program helps us gain access to faculty and administrators who are at various stages of their careers so we can truly envision our own careers at UW.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jelani Ince, an assistant professor of sociology. He sought out the UW to launch his faculty career because of the university’s reputation for forward-facing research that’s connected to community.

“What’s been encouraging so far is the fact that although we are in different disciplines, have maybe different research agendas or different reasons for why we entered this profession, we’re here,” he said.

In academia, where so much emphasis is placed on producing the next research paper or publication, Ince said he now is part of a cohort that also supports him in celebrating small achievements in the moment.

“It’s encouraged me to again look outward and recognize the commonality that I have with other faculty of color, rather than the things that may direct differences,” Ince said. “What’s giving me hope is the fact that I know that I have a community that cares about me holistically and not just about what I can produce.”

For more information, contact Harris at yharris@uw.edu.