3 Secrets to writing an effective Diversity statement

Requests for diversity statements have become standard in college teaching job applications. I get a question about how to write a compelling EDI statement about once a week, so here are my top 3 secrets to writing an effective diversity statement.

But let’s first get clear . . .

What is the search committee actually looking for?

Make sure you read carefully and think through what you are in fact being asked to submit. The job posting may include a request like one of these three sample listings:

. . . describe in no more than two pages how you incorporate diversity into your teaching, research, and/or service.

. . . explain how your teaching at the [NAME of INSTITUTION] will contribute to a culture of inclusion and campus diversity.

. . . address how your past and/or potential contributions might serve to advance [NAME OF SCHOOL]’s commitment to teaching and mentoring young people from a variety of personal experiences, values, and world views that arise from differences of culture and circumstance.

Ultimately, schools want to hire faculty who create engaging, inclusive, and diverse learning environments. But each of the three prompts above has a particular focus and nuance that needs to be considered along with the context of the school you’re applying to.

In the statement, what do you focus on?

For this, let’s turn to a terrific article by Karen Kelsky in the The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The first thing to realize is that a diversity statement can take several different angles. It can address how you deal with a diverse range of students in the classroom. It can address how you incorporate diversity into your teaching materials and methods. It can also address how your personal background has equipped you to deal with diversity among your students. Beyond teaching, it can discuss how you administratively support diversity among staff and faculty. And it can consider how you address diversity in your own research and writing.”

As for which of these angles to choose, that depends on the prompt you’re responding to and the teaching and life experience you have (or what you’d plan to do on the job). Take into consideration the range of diversity issues (race, age, gender, culture, etc.) And yes, addressing more than one of these angles is a good idea as long as you use concrete examples, preferably from your own experience.

How can you best present yourself in a diversity statement?

Keep in mind that the search committee does NOT want to hear your assertions that you treat everybody with respect and are a good person. That’s nice, but it’s unsubstantiated, abstract, and it’s the basic stuff that we’d expect of anybody.

Instead of you proclaiming that you’re “woke” and that you’ve read a slew of books on becoming anti-racist, what’s needed are stories that illustrate your actual teaching and mentoring in action and show how inclusion, equity, and diversity factor into these.

This leads me to my 3 secrets to writing an effective diversity statement:

Secret #1: Use Stories to bring your statement to life

Narrative is always more compelling than straight information. The rule is to “Show, don’t tell.” Use anecdotes that reveal how diversity has played a role in your teaching.

One of my clients wrote about his own experience being the “other.” He wrote in a concise statement about his family immigration to the US and without English skills and how challenging it was in school. And then he explained how this experience sensitized him to his own students’ needs and all the ways that they might experience “otherness.” He detailed how this led him to incorporate more mentoring and specific leadership development opportunities within his studio classes, orchestral sectionals, and chamber coaching situations. He actively worked to help students who were experiencing “otherness” to find a welcoming and appreciative learning environment. And he modeled for all of his students how he expected people to treat each other.

What my client actually used was written as story: “My family moved to the US when I was ten. I attended a private school where I was the only Asian student and the the only one without English skills and this was my first experience with being ‘othered.’ It taught me a powerful lesson . . . ”

Secret #2: Include how your teaching has been changed by issues of diversity and inclusion

For example, another client, a voice faculty member, wrote about having her world view being expanded by having a non-binary student meet with her and explain how challenging a studio class discussion about casting in musical theater had been. In her statement, the voice teacher focused on how that discussion inspired her to open up the studio discussions to address relevant social issues. And how this helped empower students to connect their studies, musical performances, and actions to the change they want to see in our culture. This takes setting your ego aside and reflecting on how you’ve grown as a teacher and how perhaps difficult conversations have helped you see the world anew.

Secret #3: Clarify and articulate your ultimate aims as an educator

This is what most musicians neglect, even in their teaching philosophy statements. So I recommend using your diversity statement as an extra opportunity to clarify what matters to you most in your teaching.

This should NOT be about teaching technique, repertoire, or interpretation. Think about the larger impact of your work—the larger results you want for your students, whether or not they pursue music professionally. What are the transferable life skills you most want your students to leave school with?

The way you can focus in and find your core aims as a teacher is through first identifying key teaching stories that illustrate you in action. And from these you’ll be able to extrapolate your aims.

Take this further

If this is something you’d like help with, check out my self-paced Teaching Philosophy Bootcamp video course—which you can adapt this to write your diversity statement since the key concept involves identifying stories to use.

In this exclusive training, you’ll get seven pre-recorded video lessons, plus detailed worksheets to help you avoid the confusion and self-judgment. The work is broken down to a step-by-step process with worksheets and examples from a range of musicians. You can work through all this at your own speed. In the Teaching Philosophy Bootcamp you’ll:

  • Uncover stories from your own past that illustrate your teaching effectiveness.
  • Gain clarity on who you are as a music educator so you can network and interview with real confidence.
  • Edit these stories to bring your teaching to life on the page—even if you’re not an excellent writer.
  • Demystify the writing process so you can stay motivated and on track.
  • Analyze sample statements so you can apply key concepts to your own writing without being a copycat.
  • Identify your core values as an educator so you can convey your distinct strengths.

Through the course platform, I can help you articulate and convey who you are at your very best so you can make a great first impression with search committees. That way, you’ll be one step closer to winning the job—check it out HERE.

Here’s to your forward motion,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well


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