History Department’s Statement Sets Diversity Goals

History professor Faith Hillis started drafting the mission statement this past summer.

By Xiaohe Grace Gu, Contributor

The history department unanimously approved a mission statement that affirms its commitment to “diversity, inclusion, and equity.”

The statement is part of the department’s ongoing efforts to reflect diverse experiences in Chicago and nationally. In recent years, the department has worked on several diversity initiatives, including a diversity hiring committee formed last May as well as a process that brings talented scholars from underrepresented groups to UChicago as postdocs and paves a path to full-time tenure jobs at the University.

History professor Faith Hillis started drafting the mission statement along with other faculty members this past summer. They believed that the statement was timely in the context of national political events.

“We felt that progress that we’ve made in this domain in recent years has become more tenuous in this new climate. It’s necessary for those of us who truly believe that diversity benefits us intellectually to stand up and explain why we think that,” Hillis said.

After faculty completed the draft of the statement, it was sent to about 20 faculty members within the department who had strongly supported the creation of the diversity committee in the spring. It took these members a month and a half to agree on the wording. The statement was then taken to the department as a whole. On October 23, the entire department sat down, discussed the statement, and approved it unanimously.

“A few people couldn’t be there [but] wrote in to express their support. The way our rules work is only those that are present can vote. Everybody who was there voted for it,” said History Department Chair Emilio Kourí.

Hillis found the approval process surprisingly smooth. “The discussion on the department level was quite cordial, actually,” she said. “The statement that was ratified is actually very similar to the one that circulated.”

Medieval history professor Rachel Fulton Brown’s high-profile and controversial statements supporting right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos did not come up at all during the discussion. The department addressed Brown’s role in the controversy earlier in September, emphasizing that for scholars, free speech comes with responsibilities. Kourí and Hillis clarified that the department hopes the statement on diversity will represent its broader values.

Brown said that the diversity statement does not pertain to her.

“I don’t think it’s a direct response to me. The mission of our department has the entire time that I have been a member of the department, since 1994, been committed to this vision of having as many voices as we can,” Brown said.

Faculty said that the statement guides the department to continuously evaluate itself and to take concrete actions.

“We want to guide our actions [with the statement] in terms of what we teach, who we hire, and the students that we have. Also, to send a message in particular to the students that these are things that the department faculty hold dear,” Kourí said.

Other academic departments are following suit. The English department published a letter addressing free expression and diversity of viewpoints on October 27. According to Hillis, Deputy Dean of the Social Sciences Division Professor Mark Bradley is in the process of appointing a divisional committee to address the climate report that came out last year.