In Spring 2020, I started to take issue with how universities are addressing diversity concerns and whether or not the needs of minority students are being addressed to mitigate mental health issues. I believe the future of the university within the United States is entangled with issues birthed from systemic racism.
According to NCES (2020), 43% of hate crimes on college campuses are racially motivated. Minority students continue to experience pervasive racism in academic spaces. To address racist incidents, predominantly white institutions (PWIs) use campus climate surveys to measure student demographics and capture insight into student experiences. I argue that climate surveys perpetuate racism by what Hoffmann (2020) calls “data violence.” Data violence is data science and technology that facilitates material and symbolic violence. I posit that the method by which universities use climate surveys perform data violence by perpetuating racism and collecting culturally insensitive information about multiply-marginalized communities. I am reviewing existing research in technical and professional communication (TPC), higher education, and other disciplines concerned with imbued racism in data collection and recruitment efforts. The research I will move forward with will help me reimagine an anti-racist data collection and response process that will hold institutions accountable to multiply-marginalized communities.
If universities continue to invest in diversity recruitment initiatives, they also need to ensure that they invest in inclusive climate initiatives. Currently, universities track their diversity initiatives with climate surveys. I do not believe that surveys are the right tool for supporting multiply-marginalized students as they attend PWIs for multiple reasons. Surveys lack the required expediency to address critical campus climate issues; they use classification structures that are oppressive and lead to data violence.
Scholars such as Aimee Kendall Roundtree (2016) examines TPC programs’ desire to have diverse students in the field, reflecting the diversity of the global industry. To that end, Roundtree identifies effective recruitment strategies for possible implementation by TPC. Some impediments to diversity recruitment include “inadequate financial resources and lack of commitment to recruitment efforts and policies are common obstacles” (p.3). Roundtree highlights issues linked to diversity recruitment, and my research will build on her work by confronting issues with the inclusion efforts.
I engaged in preliminary research by analyzing my university’s climate surveys, and in my noticings, survey participants were subjected to polarizing identity classifications. Johnson et al. (2018) caution the use of classifications because they “[seek] to segment the world,” whereas “standardization is an attempt to connect the communities of practice” (p.64). Furthermore, I yield to Hoffman’s insight that “inclusion discourses can further rather than subvert vulnerability” (p.2) as data violence through the classification of identities reproduces stereotypes and othering. As a graduate employee of my university’s Reimagining Diversity Initiative, I benefit from access to various survey data to sharpen my critique on understanding the implications of classifications in climate surveys and other harmful language. As I foreground my research with scholars in TPC and other disciplines, I seek out how universities should collect and use climate data that centers the needs of their multiply-marginalized students.
I say all that to say—I look forward to how the American university continues to tackle diversity issues.
Hoffmann, A. L. (2020). Terms of inclusion: Data, discourse, violence. new media & society, 1461444820958725.
Johnson, M. A., Simmons, W. M., & Sullivan, P. (2017). Lean technical communication: Toward sustainable program innovation. Routledge.
Roundtree, A. K. (2016). Program Recruitment.