by Chris Ervin
Last fall in The Success Kitchen, Anna Bentley provided an overview of the Academic Success Center’s and Writing Center’s learning process around equity during 2020-21. In this edition, I take a deeper dive into the work we did around equity in the recruitment and hiring of student staff. Our goal was first to learn about equity in recruitment and hiring, then examine our own practices for potential bias, and finally to enact change that reduces those opportunities for bias. I offer here an example of how our learning process resulted in some revisions to recruitment and hiring for my unit, The Writing Center.
Informed by our Search Advocate training, including building a criteria matrix, we considered a number of questions: Which students might see themselves as potential writing consultants? Who are we inviting to apply? How are we sharing that invitation? Who are we selecting to advance as finalists? Who are we offering positions to, and how are we communicating with those who wouldn’t be offered positions? In other words, we began testing some of the basic assumptions that had become embedded in our hiring process.
We examined how what we share in recruitment or in the job posting might deter someone from applying in the first place. For example, we now highlight that we are looking for students who are interested in supporting their peers, facilitating conversation, listening, and asking thoughtful questions. Our baseline criterion is no longer that an applicant can “hold their own” in a conversation about writing and reading. After all, a number of factors might lead to an applicant being able to talk about the last great novel they read or the challenges of writing an IB research paper in high school, none of which necessarily translates into the kind of facilitative role we want our writing consultants to play. Related to that, we stopped asking for a writing sample because our goal isn’t to hire great writers. Rather, we hope to hire students who become great facilitators of student writing growth and development, and ironically, sometimes strong writers get in their own way with regard to facilitating a peer’s thinking about their own writing.
We also tackled how applicants’ prior preparation or cultural backgrounds might inform how they show up in an interview, and we adjusted the interview setting to provide a more open-ended approach that, we hoped, would facilitate more individualized responses to our prompts. We designed interview questions that asked applicants to speak to their experience creating a welcoming environment for others, facilitating learning around challenging tasks, and working with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. We provided those questions to the applicants 24 hours in advance so they would have a chance to prepare their responses and we could hear their best thinking while minimizing nervousness associated with interviewing. We also coached ourselves on how to show up in the interviews—what to listen for and how to guard against bias. During the interviews, we listened carefully to how applicants responded to our questions, and when an applicant’s response seemed truncated or we wanted to hear more, we asked pointed follow-up questions that, for some, resulted in richer and more telling responses than had originally been offered.
Once we completed interviews and were deciding which applicants to make offers to, we met as a committee and made those decisions collectively, as we recognized that bias can enter into those decisions when interviewers weigh certain criteria more than others. In particular, abstractions are ripe with potential bias, like how well someone held up in a conversation or how invested an applicant seemed in to be in the process. Our use of a Search Advocate-style criteria matrix helped us guard against those opportunities for bias and stay focused on our qualifications. And finally, we offered to provide written feedback to applicants who were not offered positions. Some of the applicants who were not offered positions might end up in a future applicant pool for the Writing Center or for another unit on campus, and we felt invested in their growth and development as potential future applicants for OSU student employment.
In sum, our revised recruitment and hiring process allowed us to emphasize transferable skills like creating a welcoming environment and individualizing needs for others, and place value on a wide range of experiences with academic writing. We were prepared to make job offers to applicants who demonstrated an ability to facilitate learning for students who had a wide range of experiences with academic writing. The results have been promising, and I’m eager to refine our process, revisit our new assumptions, and apply our learning for our next hiring cycle, which begins in Winter 2022.
If you would like to view a copy of the “Equity in Recruitment & Hiring of Student Staff” guide that the Academic Success Center & Writing Center developed for our department’s use, please email Marjorie Coffey to request access.