MIT tells prospective faculty how to write a successful diversity statement

November 26, 2022 • 11:45 am

It was inevitable that when universities began requiring diversity statements for prospective faculty, postdocs, and grad students, sites would pop up telling you how to write a good statement.  (Some places will even charge to help you!) This site, from the MIT Communication Lab (click on screenshot below) is fairly extensive, covering not only the format of your 1-2 page statement, but also the content.

Although I was a political activist in college (I’m not going to go through that again), it turns out that there’s no way I could write a statement the way MIT suggests. This means that had this been a critical criterion when I was applying for jobs, I’d be flipping burgers now. Several of my colleagues who have read these requirements have said the same. People would have more burgers, but who would have written a book on speciation?

These DEI statements are often critical. Although the MIT site says this:

A diversity statement alone is unlikely to get you an interview or a job offer, but a well-written diversity statement may enable you to stand out among a large pool of qualified candidates.

. . . in reality, in some places like Berkeley, if your diversity statement isn’t up to muster you have no chance of getting a job, no matter how good your academic qualifications are (see here and here). And since you have to talk about efforts you have made in the past to increase diversity, as well as your philosophy of diversity, you have to start doing social-justice work well before you intend to apply for jobs. Woe to those students who have immersed themselves wholly in quantum mechanics or classical literature out of the love of the field and of knowledge. Without a track record in promoting diversity, as well as a philosophy of diversity, those people are doomed.

I don’t of course object to universities encouraging diversity efforts as a way to “broaden” a candidate, but there are many ways to be broad besides fighting for equity of races and genders. These include doing general outreach to high schools, writing popular books and articles on your field, doing an internship at a newspaper or other organization,, and so on. But those don’t count nearly as much as showing your history of fighting for equity.  And is this attempt to turn universities from places of learning into instruments of specific types of social justice that bothers me. As Stanley Fish said (it’s a book title): “Save the world on your own time.”

And, in the end, DEI statements may be illegal. As my colleague Brian Leiter (a law school prof) pointed out, such required statements, if used to cull candidates, may constitute illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. As he notes:

I recommend that those applying for jobs in the University of California system say only this in the diversity statement:  “I decline to supply this statement which constitutes illegal viewpoint discrimination in violation of my constitutional rights.”   There are already lawyers gearing up to bring legal challenges; I hope they act soon.   If you have been rejected from a University of California search, and suspect it was on grounds of insufficient ideological purity about “diversity,” please get in touch with me.  I can connect you with one public interest legal organization looking for plaintiffs.

But back to the MIT recommendations from this site:


Here’s the recommended breakdown of how you should divide your diversity activities and knowledge:

This means you have to have studied DEI extensively, and have a good track record of “advancing DEI”. I’m surprised they don’t recommend a reading list.

Here’s what you need to do (all quotes are indented):

Identify your purpose:

A faculty application diversity statement is NOT a document explaining how you as a candidate are diverse. While it is fine to include personal stories if they have informed how you think about diversity, this should not be the main focus of the statement. Rather, a diversity statement is an opportunity to show that you care about the inclusion of many forms of identity in academia and in your field, including but not limited to gender, race/ethnicity, age, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and ability status.

Note: you have to show how much you care, not about the field itself, but about mentoring and gathering in people diverse not in viewpoint but in disability status, race, gender, age, and so on.

And you better know your onions:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community.

Oy! Where’s the reading list?

Demonstrate knowledge of DEI:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community. . .

Demonstrate experience with DEI:

It is not sufficient to demonstrate knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion; your statement should also show experience with them. While this need not be a separate section, your statement should make it clear that you have not only thought about DEI in the abstract but have applied that knowledge and are prepared to continue doing so in the future.

There’s other stuff like “be concrete in your future plans” (you’ll have to do more than say you’ll treat all students with equal effort and respect: that’s a statement that will get your application binned). Rather, you have to be absolutely specific in what you will do to promote equity and inclusivity. This is where MIT is more or less writing the application for you:

Note that specific actions are required; you can’t just say “I’ll treat my students equally, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, age, and so on.” You have to go to orientation and recruitment events, and act somewhat as a psychologist to your students. Nor do I don’t understand the difference between having a lab that’s “inclusive of women” and “striving for gender parity,” but that’s how it works, so you’d better be on board.

Now the advice to be specific in what you’ll do is not so bad, it’s just that they’re prescribing what you should say. This—along with the site’s other advice—is the compelled speech (and belief) that Leiter thinks may be illegal.  Some day we shall see, but to test the legality of DEI statements you need someone to sue who didn’t get a position (presumably because of a faulty statement). And finding someone with that “standing” may be hard. But come it will, and we shall see.

By the way, you can even see a successful example of a diversity statement published on MIT Communications’ web page, with the useful parts highlighted.  It was submitted by an MIT postdoc who got a faculty position at Brown.  Here’s part of it with the good bits coded in different colors: Pink indicates the recommended subheadings.

h/t: Luana

35 thoughts on “MIT tells prospective faculty how to write a successful diversity statement

  1. Nor do I don’t understand the difference between having a lab that’s “inclusive of women” and “striving for gender parity,” …

    The latter implies a 50:50 ratio, so equality of outcome (aka “equity”); the former could just mean equality of opportunity (which is not nearly good enough in woke eyes).

    1. The former only means that you are only inclusive of women, and not people of other gender/sex identities.

      It seems like we’re back to the days of mandatory pledges of allegiance, national anthems, and flag-waving.

      And to hop topics, ya know, just once, I’d like to see a major sports event without any nationalistic/patriotic touchstones. Imagine the World Cup with no flags or national colors. Mandatory ideological conformity is everywhere. Sigh…

  2. What it really means is this: Men and Women doesn’t excist, these concepts are just two extremes on the sex spectrum axis. And don’t you dare say otherwise.

    1. Well, it should. Particularly if you have a strong record of getting clients to make larger than minimum down payments.

  3. This is just another way the U.S. is lowering academic standards. If I were considering a career in any of the sciences, I would leave the U.S.

    1. Where do you recommend otherwise? This garbage is proliferating everywhere in the western world. It would be a funny situation though, Americans students flooding universities in third world countries while students there are trying to escape here.

  4. Well at least the tenured or otherwise already hired faculty don’t need to worry about that.

    But I’m sure that is no threat – as if any students will make them get fired – I mean, that never happens!

  5. It’s so depressing. I have enough first and last author publications to apply for assistant faculty positions (including in some high-impact journals), but I can’t write the DEI statements.

    I nearly barfed a few minutes ago because I tried to adopt a cat from a shelter in Boston. They asked for my pronouns in their screen for whether I’d be a suitable cat mommy. Do I make shit up just to increase my chances of getting a kitty?

    We need a Dear Abby for these ridiculous predicaments. I’m not kidding.

    1. I had a chuckle filling out the 23andme form. Under the section where you check off “Birth Sex”, you have the option of selecting a “Gender Identity”. From a purely DNA standpoint, I have no idea how the latter is relevant.

      1. It would be if they were doing research on the genetics of personality, gender, and other things related to identity.

        1. Given how “gender identity” fluctuates, a time series analysis would be more appropriate. A single survey question is useless.

      2. Just one more comment :

        Notice how preconceived the ideas of such a “statement”, and predetermined the content.

        That is, imagine a knowledgeably and skillfully written statement which makes clear that written “DEI” music is precisely what a higher ed school should NOT be concerned with – I’m referring to Stanley Fish’s Save The World On Your Own Time, where he argues universities must make clear their “this” and “not that”.

    2. “We need a Dear Abby for these ridiculous predicaments. ”

      Or in the case of cat adoption, maybe a “Dear Tabby”… 🙂

    3. Consider outsourcing the writing of the statement. There are plenty of underemployed liberal arts students sufficiently studied to write you a good fealty statement.

  6. “We need a Dear Abby for these ridiculous predicaments.”

    Or in this case a Dear Tabby. Perhaps you should ask for a non-binary cat and see how they respond.

  7. I recently submitted my first assistant faculty application that required a DEI statement (i.e., one to a US university) and more will follow. Currently, my strategy for remaining true to my (classical liberal) conscience while playing their repugnant game is to mostly write about my significant experience and genuine love for living and traveling in intercultural environments, rather than using the ideological language and slogans that I all too well know are expected. To that I added a few common-place “obviously I won’t discriminate” phrases getting as close to DEI language as I can without feeling sick in the stomach. My best hope is that this is just good enough to not disqualify my application so that my actual academic achievements can be taken into consideration. But this hope may well be naive and I would therefore love to follow Prof. Leiter’s advise mentioned in this text (i.e., simply writing “I decline to supply this statement which constitutes illegal viewpoint discrimination in violation of my constitutional rights.”). However, isn’t the catch 22 with this kind of thing that they’ll always have plausible deniability that the DEI statement was the reason I wasn’t considered for the highly competitive job?
    Genuine question, and happy for any crowd wisdom on the DEI predicament, generally.

  8. I note that, among a litany of other things, they stipulate that “a diversity statement is an opportunity to show that you care about the inclusion of many forms of identity…including…ability status.”

    So, you have to include people who are no f***ing use at their job.

    Any bets on how many similar inclusivity tests are in place in, say, China or India? Yes, I know the Chinese have to pay undying loyalty to Xi Jinping ‘thought’, but I doubt they have to worry about the balance of races, sexes, genders and pronouns in their laboratories. They are more interested in outcomes than inputs. We used to be, once.

  9. Shades of Order #1208 from the Soviet Ministry of Higher Education, in August, 1948. It directed university administrations to “review within two months all departments of biological faculties to free them from all opposed to Michurinist biology and to strengthen them by appointing Michurinists to them”. The imposition of this particular ideology was
    rescinded about a dozen years later, but its brief ascendancy affected Soviet biology for the rest of the 20th century. The new science of molecular genetics, growing out of approaches alien to Michurinism, swept through the entire science world except that of the Soviet Union. It is likely that the USSR’s remarkable sterility in this area is due not only to the conceptual limitations of Michurinism, but also to the kind of mind-sets created in academia by forced and pretended orthodoxy. Perhaps MIT, Berkeley, and similar institutions in the USA can look forward to the same experience in all subjects that the Soviet Union enjoyed in Genetics.

  10. The successful diversity statement given as an example is mostly padding. The only concrete thing the author did was compare male and female scores on test questions to look for sex-based (er, gender-based) differences. This was a safe bet. It would be unlikely that men and women would score differently at the university level. “Fortunately” this was the case. Had he dared do the same analysis by Black race vs. other, he might have had some uncomfortable ‘splainin’ to do. The rest of what he describes is just good teaching methods: don’t interrupt, encourage partipation by the reticent, just dressed up with gratuitous references to oppressed (my word, not his) minorities. Interesting that the statement landed him a job even though he admitted he had made no explicit outreach to actual minorities, just women in his test-score analysis, and made no specific table-tilting on behalf of anyone.

    If this is all you have to do to write a successful DEI statement, I suspect any good bull-shit artist could succeed. Do people in DEI sinecures really need degrees to evaluate this stuff? Or are they planning to raise the bar once they get some experience under their belts?

    1. I do acknowledge that the example was a diversity statement by an MIT postdoc seeking a job at another university. Perhaps the bar is already much higher for people applying to MIT. If so, the example is disingenuous. “Oh, no!” they chortle. “You would have to do much better than that to get an appointment with us!”

  11. So bonkers. And understand that it is not a fad or a trend that will go away. Why? Because there is big Money behind it. Some academics have spoken about the administrator v academic ratio and how “woke” administrators ratios have prevailed.

    This teaches – to the exclusion of any freedom of thought – an ideology based on either nothing (“micro-aggressions”), or b.s. (intersectionality in its extreme extent) and tutors the next generation.
    So “racist” witches will be sniffing out “racists” and “sexists” out into the predictable future.
    Other moral panics, like satanic panic, didn’t have the money and people behind them.


  12. A new Dark Age is dawning. Ways of thinking are changing. That which will pass for knowledge will become ideology and dogma, like religion.

    Coincidentally, today I noticed a response from the Taliban in Afghanistan to a UN report over their treatment of women.
    Their response, “Keep within your limits and respect human diversity. Democracies have the highest rates of violence and rape against women. One in three women in the US experience rape & violence, similar holds true for other democratic governments.

    Well, if that’s true maybe the Taliban have a point. Or maybe it isn’t true and the manipulation of studies and data, with suppression of countering data started quite some time ago. In the west.
    Even Pres Biden says ““It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there — 1 in 5.”
    This woke dishonesty started way back and has come right around to bight many many people.

  13. It took me 10 to 15 minutes to identify the Brown prof (and former MIT post-doc). Such is the cookie-cutter nature of this newest fill in the circles approach. Search for “DEI statement” and you’ll find guides from many universities and non-profits — Harvard, Penn, UNC, Texas, Brandeis, Gates, Washington, US Chamber of Commerce. The Chronicle of Higher Education summarizes “5 Don’ts in Writing Your DEI Statement.” The author of that piece writes, “I suggest that you prioritize this document and use it to frame the rest of your application.” So, it verges on becoming, not just a consideration, but _the_ consideration. Plug in a few hundred successful DEI statements, and a machine learning algorithm should manage that task well.

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