Change from within

Badia Sahar Ahad shares instrumental new ways the University prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion when hiring faculty

American society has had to grapple with the effects of institutional racism for centuries. Higher education is not immune to this societal ill. Badia Sahar Ahad, Loyola University Chicago’s vice provost for faculty affairs, is tackling this issue at Loyola. “Structural and institutional racism is reproduced because it is often invisible,” Ahad says. “There are many processes and policies that masquerade as benign or objective, but they’re not.”

By implementing new and intentional practices within the faculty hiring process, Ahad and her team are raising awareness and changing the culture of the University from within. Ahad shares below not only the explanation behind recent hiring process changes, but also why these changes are so instrumental in the University’s pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This work is part of the University’s Anti-Racism Initiative, and sprung from the initiative’s Goal 1, Strategy 3, focused on creating a safe, respectful, inclusive environment for students, staff, and faculty of color, and offering ongoing anti-bias training for staff and faculty.


faculty members have undergone training


Of the full-time faculty at Loyola have participated


fully trained Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liaisons (DEILs)

What was your first step in changing hiring practices to better address issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The first thing I did was make inclusive hiring practices explicit. Previously, implicit bias workshops for search committees had been optional, so we made them mandatory. Serving on a search committee is a privilege; search committees play an immensely important role in the composition of the faculty body. Search committees, inherently, function as gatekeepers and the decisions they make have longstanding implications for the University. We all have biases, and it is important to have an awareness of our blindspots during the interview process. If faculty take on the privilege of serving on a search committee, then they should be well educated and well equipped to undergo the process of identifying their biases. Failing to educate faculty on the front line of hiring—those who are actually taking on the bulk of the hiring process—would really be a disservice to the academic unit and the University more broadly.

Why was it so important to make that implicit bias training mandatory?

In rethinking the hiring practices for faculty, we wanted to interrupt the system in place so that we are accounting for implicit bias and instituting some level of accountability. You have these processes that look very straight-forward and neutral, but inherently they lend themselves to all kinds of biases. You can give people guidelines, and they can choose to follow them or not. By making training mandatory, we ensured that search committees were not approved to move forward with hiring until they had completed this important professional development. Academic units should see the implicit bias training for search committees as the starting point—not the final frontier—of examining hiring practices within academic units (i.e. how is “fit” assessed).

Is this training available to faculty members not on hiring search committees?

Yes. To date, 252 faculty members have undergone this training, which makes up 25 percent of the full-time faculty at Loyola. In the process, I’ve realized a lot of people want to do more, but they just don’t know how or have the tools. So, as an institution, we need to give them the resources they need in order to come along in this journey and cultural shift. I’m encouraged that many departments and schools participated in this training as a unit because they recognize that the entire unit is an important part of the faculty hiring process.

Who conducts these trainings?

The trainings are offered by the University’s newly established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liaisons (DEILs), a program that was Robyn Mallett's brainchild and grew out of the Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI). These are faculty members from academic units across all three campuses.

What else do the DEILs do to support DEI work across the University?

Currently, there are 10 fully trained DEILs, (plus there are two additional DEILs currently going through the process) who have been doing implicit bias workshops, serving as diversity advocates on search committees, and navigating academic units through the Racial Examen. 

DEILs make two-year commitments to serve in the role and, in addition to the work mentioned above, part of their charge is to create new modules and workshops for the University.

They have been an incredible resource and there is a lot of interest in their work across the University.

Outside of mandatory implicit bias training, how else has the faculty hiring process changed to be more in line with DEI?

In changing the hiring documents this year, search committees were also required to use data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which provides higher education demographic information, data specific to the field in which academic units and departments are hiring. The New Faculty Hiring plan now requires search committees to reference this information. I wanted search committees to get a sense of what the demographics of their available pool looks like. For example, if we’re hiring in Art History, and 60 percent of PhDs in the last three years were women, and your final slate is all men, I think that that gives you fact-based data. I’m not telling you what you have to do with that information, but I want you to see it. So now, with this information, search committees can assess how their candidate pool measures up against national demographics.

How can being aware of this data be useful in hiring more candidates from groups historically underrepresented in academia?

This data can be helpful so people can see the demographics of the available candidate pool, but also so they have a sense of what the demographics are like in various fields within their discipline. It’s about seeing what’s there, and also knowing where to look for areas where there are higher concentrations of faculty of color rather than always trying to find the needle in a haystack.

For example, it may be the case that in American Literature, 70 percent of the people who received PhDs in the last three years identify as white. But IPEDS also gives you information about subfields. So, if I look at African American literature, or Asian American literature, those demographics look very different. These are fields, for example, in which you are likely to have a higher concentration of racially and ethnically underrepresented faculty, and these are also fields that many of our students may want to experience as part of their curriculum.

“In addition to bringing forth different scholarly perspectives and lived experiences—which ultimately make for a dynamic and rich community—there is also an opportunity for students to have representational role models who may serve as mentors”

- Badia Ahad

How could more faculty from diverse backgrounds affect students and their experience at Loyola?

Like most institutions, higher education has a long history of exclusion. I think it’s really important for people to understand the reason why persons from “historically underrepresented groups” (i.e. African Americans, Indigenous persons, etc.) are historically underrepresented. It is not because they are less talented or less intellectual, it is because they have been excluded. With the exclusion of those people, comes the exclusion of knowledges, histories, and cultures. So, in addition to bringing forth different scholarly perspectives and lived experiences—which ultimately make for a dynamic and rich community—there is also an opportunity for students to have representational role models who may serve as mentors. We have a significant gap between the percentage of faculty from historically underrepresented groups and students from historically underrepresented groups. With a more diverse faculty, students may actually begin to see themselves in these broader fields of knowledge, and identify issues that are pertinent to their experiences, histories, and cultures. Who knows? They may also begin to see themselves as scholars with an interest in advancing certain fields of knowledge and want to enter the professoriate. I also think it’s crucial to note that ALL students benefit from a diverse faculty body who are able to share with them ways of knowing and thinking that have been historically marginalized.

Why is diversifying our faculty pool so important?

The broader imperative for me in revamping the faculty hiring process was to create spaces where people can ask questions of themselves, where academic units can interrogate their formal processes and potentially redefine criteria like “fit,” for example. If we’re just looking for people who are like us, then a lot of people aren’t going to be a good fit. But this is why diversity is important—you don’t want to just hire people who look like you and think like you. What I have attempted to do in revising the hiring documents is create spaces of self-awareness and accountability that I hope will lead to institutional change. A diverse faculty body enriches the University in incalculable ways, and is key to the institutional aims of scholarly excellence and innovation. Diversity also works to create a culture of inclusion and belonging—for everyone. It is not a perfect system but it’s a beginning. I recognize that there is a lot of labor, emotional and otherwise, involved in this new process but I think it’s for the greater good.

Fighting for racial equity

Loyola University Chicago is committed to the pursuit of racial justice on our campuses, in our community, and in the world at large. In 2020, we established the Anti-Racism Initiative, a group of students, staff, and faculty charged with working to move Loyola along the continuum toward becoming a fully inclusive anti-racist institution. Learn more about the work of our Loyola's anti-racism intiatives and our ongoing efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Read more stories about Loyolans working to improve access and equity on our campuses and beyond.