‘Did You Know’ questions faculty diversity at college

A ‘Did You Know?’ poster hangs in a bathroom in McCabe. (Holly Smith/The Phoenix)

In the past months, the enigmatic “Did You Know?” group has taken to periodically posting information sheets in the McCabe bathroom stalls amongst other campus locations, ostensibly as part of a strategy to stimulate greater discussion on issues of diversity within the Swarthmore community.

The most recent postings address the racial makeup of the Tri-Co colleges by presenting a range of statistics concerning minority groups in instructional faculty positions. Previous flyers have provided a gendered and racial breakdown of Swarthmore faculty salaries.

The group set forth its intentions in a February e-mail to the Phoenix, referring to itself in the third person. It described its mission as one devoted to creating a more informed community and catalyzing greater discussion of critical issues. “The purpose of ‘Did You Know?’ is to encourage people to ask questions about our college community. ‘Did You Know?’ sets out to expose information about Swarthmore and other similar institutions that is hidden and unknown in order to spark conversation and raise awareness. As individuals who are encouraged to be critical thinkers it is also important to be critical of our present environment,” the group stated in an e-mail. From its inception, the group has been steadfast on maintaining its anonymity, only listing its Gmail address on their flyers as a means of contact. When asked about this choice, the group indicated that its main priorities are to provide information. “An advantage to the ambiguity of ‘Did You Know?’ is that it is not group affiliated and therefore the focus is on the information presented rather than the people ‘behind the curtain,’” the group said.

In regards to their choice of the McCabe bathroom stalls to display their flyers, the group responded; “‘Did You Know?’ has chosen no permanent space in which to exist,” further stating that the group intends to be as “visible and accessible as possible.”

According to the group, 17.79% of Swarthmore faculty members are minorities and 7.1% are black, compared to the 23.19/7.6% and 13.81/3.7% observed respectively at Haverford and Bryn Mawr. The recent postings also display the percentages of black instructional faculty members in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences divisions at each college in the Tri-Co.

One prominent trend observed in the data was the low representation of black instructional faculty in the natural sciences, contrasting with their more noticeable presence in the humanities and social sciences. Black faculty members currently compose 9.3 and 9.4% respectively of Swarthmore and Haverford’s instructional faculty in the humanities. However, there are currently only four black natural sciences faculty members out of the 165 natural sciences faculty in the entirety of the Tri-Co consortium. Only one of them, Dean Garikai Campbell, teaches at Swarthmore.

The college continues to employ some of the highest percentages of black faculty in American higher education. In a recent survey of the nation’s liberal arts colleges, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education ranked Swarthmore fourth, with 6.2% black faculty. Haverford led the field by a broad margin with 9.0% black faculty. These numbers contrast significantly with the statistics printed by “Did You Know?”

College faculty lauded the school’s diversity. “After having returning to Swarthmore after a decade and having taught here for the last thirteen years, I feel like the school has made terrific and wonderful advances in terms of faculty diversity since my undergraduate experience. I have yet to meet a group of people as diverse, talented, intellectually engaging and creative as the Swarthmore faculty,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves ’88.

Reeves stated that faculty diversity is critical to ensuring that the college remains vibrant and competitive. “In order for Swarthmore to remain competitive, the school must seek the best and the brightest faculty of all stripes. Diversity both in faulty and students is important in pushing students’ conceptions to train them for the complex global community,” said Reeves.

However, Reeves also indicated that fulfilling the school’s mission requires a broader view of diversity that extends beyond racial classifications. “I also hope that the college remains sensitive to the less ascriptive aspects of diversity, such as logical and class diversity, in the future. These factors also contribute heavily to the diversity of the Swarthmore experience,” said Reeves.

Although “Did You Know?” indicated in late February that it had no set membership, recent postings in McCabe stated that it will be forming a group in order to discuss and present information. No specific officers, places of meeting, or website are known to exist, although the group did provide a Gmail address. They stated that they intend to be “inclusive of all contributions, suggestions and criticisms.”

Contributions from members of the Swarthmore community are hoped to play an important role in future postings from the group. “‘Did You Know?’ hopes that the campus community will participate in diversifying the topics that are raised by contributing ideas, facts, and questions,” the group said.

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