I know of several "diversity" hire searches in my field this year (through the grapevine); a good friend of mine — in a different field — is on a search committee this year that is also looking for a "diversity" hire; and my department (I'm faculty) is planning a "diversity" hire search in the next few years. In these situations, it's been explained to me that the line is more or less contingent upon the candidate increasing campus diversity (as determined by the dean, the chair of the search, and potentially the committee?). In all of these cases, the language in the job ad is pretty ambiguous — maybe a vague statement about wanting a candidate that can relate their instruction to diversity issues, and certainly no statements about the applicant's personal group membership. In at least one case, informal conversations suggested that the candidate would likely need to appear non-white. Because my department may also have a similar "diversity" hire in the next few years, and I'm struggling about how to reason about it, and how to conduct such a search ethically, legally, and productively.
To be clear, I am deeply troubled by the overall lack of diversity in all fields of higher education, and especially in psychology. For example, it would be very challenging to teach a course that included papers written by a population of authors that was demographically equivalent to the US population, or to the world population. If my department never hired another white person (or another person who came from other groups — including socioeconomic groups — of privilege), I would be totally OK with that, and I bet it would improve the quality of students' experiences.
My main question here is how do/should/can search committees think and talk about these issues of "diversity"? The reason I've put the word "diversity" in quotes is that it is a serious catch-all. Who is the most "diverse" hire/who would be read by a search committee as the most "diverse" hire: (1) someone whose skin is dark, who comes from a background of socioeconomic success and who studies psychophysics; (2) someone whose skin appears light but who came to the US as a refugee and who studies language learning; (3) someone whose skin appears light but who studies issues directly related to skin-color related bias; (4) someone who is trans* but "passes" and who studies psychological issues related to the construction of gender; (5) someone who is obese and came from a background of substantial socioeconomic hardship, and studies power dynamics, etc…..? There's no clear answer here, of course — nor should there be.
But, what I'm wondering is how committees do and should reason about this information. Which types of diversity are most important to students, and how/when is a search committee supposed to know/talk about these issues? For example, some information (e.g., the tone of your skin, an accent) is obvious during an interview, but is — of course — illegal to officially discuss in hiring decisions (and, obviously, skin tone/ native language may or may not tell you much about the person's ethnic or genetic or whatever-thing-you-care-about background). Still, this type of information may be especially helpful to an increasingly diverse student population who want to (and should be able to) learn from professors who look like they do, and from those who look differently from how they do. There's also some information that will be super obvious from the application package and is LEGAL to discuss (e.g., a research or teaching focus on issues related to race, gender, ethnicity, diversity, SES, culture, etc…), and could clearly help contribute to the diversity of students' experiences. Still, statistically, I'm pretty sure that focusing on just the topic of research is likely to get you someone who is both white and privileged (and a glance at many of the researchers who study these topics at top R1's is consistent with this).
Other information — like socioeconomic background, international birth, or ethnic group membership — may be something that candidates disclose in parts of their application or during the interview process, but may also be omitted by the candidate. This type of information may, however, be especially important in ensuring that a diversity of perspectives is present on a faculty. Finally, some information may be actively hidden and/or excluded from all conversations (e.g., trans* or intersex history; membership in stigmatized groups; low-SES background). What's a committee/applicant to do?
I'm interested in resources, perspectives, etc… on how people think about diversity in hiring, or about how other committees are handling this. I am so 200% behind the idea of diversity hiring, but I am so nervous about how I hear people talk about implementing these types of searches. I worry that people might want to use Skype interviews as a way to screen both qualifications and skin color (which I've heard discussed), which sounds illegal and scary — but I also don't have a different suggestion — I'm not sure how best to ensure that diversity hires actually diversify the faculty. This is especially a concern in places where the people in charge of running the search haven't had a lot of exposure to theoretical issues related to race/gender/sexuality/ethnicity/privilege/etc…. how do you start a legal and productive conversation on these topics? What should we be doing?