(Posted October 19, 2015)

Rosalie Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for inclusion and diversity
Rosalie Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for inclusion and diversity

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Over the past decade, Juniata College has enjoyed much success in diversifying its student body. Today, approximately 25 percent of students come from backgrounds of diversity. Despite this achievement, the College's hiring practices have not been able to achieve similar results, which inspired Juniata to create a program to increase their effectiveness in the area of diverse recruitment.

The relatively recent program, dubbed Stewards of Diversity, is part of Juniata's effort to evolve as an institution. The goal of the program is to better represent national demographics among faculty and staff. The initiative, which started in 2011, now boasts 50 trained stewards.

Rosalie Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity & Inclusion, explains that the student body has grown much more diverse since 2002, pointing out that the number of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students has increased from 2 percent to 14 percent, while international student recruitment increased from 4 percent to 10 percent.

"Our faculty and staff has not mirrored that change," said Rodriguez, one of the founders of the Stewards of Diversity. "If the rest of small private liberal arts colleges are doing something and we're lagging behind, it makes us look like we're not competing on a national scale. If we're going to be nationally ranked, we need to be doing things on that level."

The College holds training sessions for stewards at the Raystown Field Station twice a year. The trainings cover a breadth of issues that range from from best hiring practices to mindfulness of subconscious biases.

One of the stewards' roles is to make sure search committees are not overlooking applicants based on their own preconceptions. As director of human resources, Gail Leiby Ulrich plays a pivotal role in the program. "There was a time when individuals would think, 'This applicant wouldn't be happy in Huntingdon,' and reject them out of hand because of their own personal beliefs about what another person's happiness may or may not be," says Ulrich.

Though stewards do adhere to clearly defined guidelines during hiring processes, the grassroots program is not intended for patrolling or policing Juniata's hiring committees. Their role is proactive, rather than reactive. "I don't want it to be punitive, because people react negatively to that kind of thing. I'd much rather be a resource," says Rodriguez.

"(Steward training) doesn't say that you must hire people of diverse backgrounds for this position," says Joel Pheasant, director of the Technology Solutions Center and steward of diversity. "Stewards increase the scope of the search, the fullness of the process."

The stewards weigh in on such issues as how Juniata announces job openings, how to reach diverse applicant pools, and which résumés are being discarded and why.

"(The Stewards program) is a conduit to help broaden the pool of applicants," said Jim Borgardt, professor of physics and steward of diversity. "To me, it's a meritocracy. You want to hire the best person available. It should be blind."

Grace Fala, professor of communication and chair of the Stewards of Diversity, helped develop the Stewards' guidelines after several consultations with diversity professionals and Temple University's director of faculty recruitment.

"To the best of our knowledge, none of our peer and aspirant institutions have anything like the Stewards," said Fala. "We have an obligation to offer a healthier balance to our students. We should not ask how new hires will be like us, but how they're going to change us."

By Tyler Ayres

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.