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Writing a DEI Statement

By Misbah Hyder

What is a DEI statement?

A DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) statement, also called “statement of commitment to diversity” or “contributions to diversity statement,” is a brief (1-2 pages) essay in which you are highlighting your contributions with respect to DEI within your classroom, university, and discipline. The ideal DEI statement would follow a narrative about your goals and accomplishments in advancing DEI as an educator and researcher. 

Quick note about terminology

  • Diversity: This refers to all aspects of human difference. A diverse environment is one where a variety of individuals, groups, and/or communities with different characteristics exist together. Diversity is essential, but it is not sufficient.
  • Equity: This refers to acknowledging that different people will have different needs in order to have the same access to opportunities. Equity further addresses historical differences in access and opportunities between various groups.
  • Inclusion: This refers to the kind of active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity that cultivates an environment where any individual or group can feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. This values impact over intent.

Why write a DEI statement?

Increasingly, academic jobs are requiring DEI statements as part of the materials. Besides this fact, the DEI statement is an opportunity for you to reflect on your own role in the advancement of equity, inclusivity, and belonging in your scholarly (research, teaching, and service) communities. 

These statements also allow you to take stock of the important work you’ve already done. Since this can be quite challenging to do for ourselves, you can ask colleagues, mentors, and students about your contributions to advancing DEI in your classrooms, department, and discipline. This is a great way to reflect on the work you’ve done to make your scholarly communities more inclusive thus far, and how you see yourself building on it further. If, from this reflection, you are dissatisfied with your commitment to inclusivity thus far, you can use the DEI statement as a space to describe how you’d prioritize these commitments moving forward with goals for the future. These statements are as much about the future as they are about the past and present.

Ultimately, the DEI statement is an opportunity for you to discuss concrete ways you advocate for minoritized communities (your students, your colleagues, your research populations) and strive for a more equitable learning and scholarly environment.

The most important tip on writing a DEI statement is to get lots of feedback from trusted mentors, colleagues, and peers! 

Note: Potential overlap with teaching statements

DEI statements are not the same as teaching statements, but the classroom is often where you can get your concrete examples about your approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s okay if there are some overlaps in the specific DEI principles you’re committed to, but be sure you are using distinct examples in both statements. (Tip: you can have separate teaching statements for applications that do and don’t ask for DEI statements.)

However, be sure to incorporate language about inclusivity in your teaching statement, even if a DEI statement is requested! One approach could be that the DEI statement can emphasize how you promote scholarly inclusion, and classroom-related examples go in the teaching statement.

How to write a DEI statement:

A DEI statement, especially as it’s relatively new to many academic job applications, varies and is highly personalized. Different institutions might also have slightly different prompts, so be sure to tailor your statement to the prompts.

Regardless of the specific prompt, it is important to ground the DEI statement in examples. It is not enough to communicate that you are committed to inclusivity in your classroom and discipline – demonstrate to a committee how you have done this work and what you hope to accomplish as you move forward in your career. Be concrete.

Below we provide some guidelines to help walk you through the process of writing a DEI statement, with guiding questions to get you started!

Guideline #1: Disclosing your identities is
your choice 

You do not need to feel compelled to disclose any of your identities within your DEI statement. This is and will always be your choice.

If you are from a historically underrepresented community, consider focusing on how this identity has shaped your approach to the classroom, your research, and disciplinary/university service – do not only focus on describing your background.

When you do choose to disclose your identities, be sure that you are connecting it to the principles and/or concrete examples both about your past experiences and your future contributions. 

  • How does your racial identity inform how you have contributed to conversations about racially excluded groups within your field? How does this racial identity further motivate you to mentor students and junior scholars from racially minoritized communities to thrive in your field? 
  • Has your own disability impacted how you have navigated higher education (as an undergraduate and/or graduate student)? How do you seek to use this perspective to mitigate barriers for future students and scholars?

Remember that DEI statements are not designed only for those who come from historically underrepresented communities. These statements are less about your identities and more about your contributions to inclusivity.

  • What are your contributions to decentering the historically dominant voices within your field? Are you allowing students to challenge disciplinary norms and contribute to your discipline in new ways?

Guideline #2: Be honest and reflective about your experiences

Avoid writing what you think your audience wants to hear rather than about your authentic experiences. If this means that you’d like to improve your commitment to DEI for the future, clearly state why and how. Committees want to see how you are improving and growing in this area. Again, this statement is not just about your past – but also about your future.

  • Is there an experience that caused you to reflect on your assumptions about DEI within your discipline, research, teaching, etc.? 
  • What was your response to the experience? Did you make any changes? If not, how do you plan on addressing this in the future?

There is no one correct way of approaching issues surrounding DEI. Be authentic in how you communicate your experiences and have trusted colleagues look at your statement for feedback.

Guideline #3: Your DEI contributions might not be on your CV

To demonstrate your contributions to DEI, it is not necessary to have started initiatives specific to DEI within your field and/or served on committees with these specific goals in mind. Instead, your contributions to DEI might be about your approach to all aspects of your scholarly work.

  • Are you ensuring that historically underrepresented voices within your field are included in your syllabus and research citations?
  • How do you ensure that your students’ voices are heard? Do you survey them before the class, ask for their feedback, and consider final evaluations for your teaching in the future? Do you ask students their preferred names, use NameCoach, and/or ask for their correct pronouns?
  • Did you observe something in your department, lab, or other academic space that you found to be unjust? Did you address the issue, intervene, and/or advocate on behalf of those affected? Even if you did not, did you notice how the unjust behaviors impacted the climate of that academic community? How does this inform how you would build an inclusive scholarly community in the future?

Guideline #4:
Show more than you tell

With the DEI statement’s focus on your contributions to building inclusive and equitable academic communities for your colleagues and students, examples are critical to how you can demonstrate that commitment. Ideally, you would start with a thesis statement that summarizes your values within DEI (e.g. commitment to building a just society, decentering privileged voices in your discipline, amplifying marginalized voices in your teaching & research) and provide examples throughout the statement to support how you’ve done the work toward those values. It is important to remember that if you teach and/or research issues of race, class, gender, etc. that this does not speak for itself. The DEI statement is not asking about what you know — it is asking about what you are prepared to do in your academic career. Finally, when deciding between examples, choose ones that more closely relate to the position’s needs and are different from your teaching statement.

Below are examples of how to show more than you tell within your DEI statement. 

  • The first excerpt is telling more than showing; it does not give a reader any information about how you approach inclusivity in the classroom and beyond. While this can be a start to your introduction paragraph, be more specific about your values within DEI – what are you seeking to change within your academic communities that will lead to a more equitable scholarly environment? 
  • The second excerpt is an example of how to show your commitment to DEI within the classroom (this can work for both teaching and DEI statements) in the body of the statement. Be specific about how you engage with your students, peers, and research communities to promote inclusivity, explicitly state your values (e.g. the writer spoke of building relationships & trust) and provide demonstrable examples (e.g. the writer provided student testimony).

Excerpt #1:

“I care about diversity, equity, and inclusion in my teaching. I am committed to creating a more equitable learning environment for my students.”

Excerpt #2:

“In my teaching, I will also strive to remain attentive to the negative impacts of power and privilege. My pedagogy is designed to confront these impacts, ensuring that classroom spaces offer inclusive and equitable learning environments, such as utilizing pedagogical and assessment practices shown to offer particular benefits to minoritized students. Both inside and outside the classroom, I also make a concerted effort to build relationships of trust with students who experience their education from minoritized positions on campus or in society more broadly. Building this trust means expressing interest in who these students are, where they come from, their aspirations, and the unique challenges they may face. In the past, these efforts have included guiding students toward relevant scholarship and networking opportunities; providing guidance on course material, research, writing; and meeting with current and former students to discuss pursuing advanced degrees and career options. In other cases, I have found that the most valuable thing I can do to support minoritized students is simply to listen, reinforce the idea that their perspective matters, and express confidence that they will succeed. I was overjoyed to hear recently from a former advisee—a first-generation student whose parents emigrated to the USA—that a six-month research internship has been extended into a full-time “dream job.” With the student’s permission, I would like to share a few of their kind words: “I can confidently say that I would not have ended up at a place like [this] had it not been for people like you who encouraged me to maintain faith in myself and be driven by passion instead of a fear of uncertainty.”

(The second excerpt is from a University of Notre Dame graduate’s successful academic job application; it is shared with permission.)