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ASU English department makes strides in hiring diverse faculty

The three new additions bring various viewpoints and backgrounds

English dept hire.jpg

New director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and English professor at ASU, Ayanna Thompson, poses for a portrait.

Three out of eight new faculty members ASU's English department hired this year were black females as the University works towards improving representation.

Faculty employment rates for black females are typically about four percent for ASU, according to published University statistics. Additionally, faculty employment rates for white women and men have usually been over 60 percent, data shows.  

President Michael Crow addressed the topic of diversity in ASU's current staff, citing room for improvement.

"We have a very diverse faculty, particularly as it relates to other universities," Crow said. "We are working hard. We can always do better, but we are working hard."

Lois Brown, Aviva Dove-Viebahn and Ayanna Thompson bring diversity to the department through their professional interests as well as their personal backgrounds.

Thompson, the new director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and English professor, said she was drawn to working at ASU. 

"I took the job because ASU is an incredibly vibrant and innovative institution," Thompson said. "(If anyone) is looking to push the boundaries of their work, English literature for me, this is the place to be."

Thompson is also the current president of the Shakespeare Association of America. Her work has a connection to race through her research and personal upbringing.

"I am a Shakespeare scholar, but I work on issues of race in the early modern period and also on issues of race as Shakespeare is performed in contemporary performance settings," Thompson said. "I think the questions I ask are probably more pointed because of my personal experiences."

As a new professor, she plans on taking this opportunity to work "hard to diversify the field."

"I love what I do, and I am enthusiastic about my research in teaching," Thompson said. "And if I can model that for (young) people in college who are thinking of what they want to do with their lives, (then) I am showing them that this is a great profession to enter into."

Krista Ratcliffe, English department chair and professor, said that having more diverse faculty members is beneficial to ASU as an institution.

Ratcliffe said diversity at the University adds multiple perspectives and role models to the community and when it comes to faculty diversity, ASU can always do better. 

According to Ratcliffe, the new faculty members are positive additions to the English department. 

"A couple of the new hires, Ayanna Thompson and Lois Brown are both full professors," Ratcliffe said. "They are far along their careers. Professor Thompson is the president of a major Shakespearean organization. Professor Brown is very well-known for research in 19th century American studies. They're great."  

Thompson reflected on how she feels about being a black female professor in academia and the importance of diversity.

"There aren’t many of us in the country and actually in the nation," Thompson said. "I feel like I am doing really good work. I feel visible in ways that are important for young people."

Reach the reporter at and on Twitter @DianaPress55.

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