In 2008 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion organized by graduate students in sociology at Indiana University, my graduate alma mater. My main contribution to “Building Bridges: Developing a Language for Discussing Race” was to outline my “Quarterback Theory of Diversity in Higher Education.” After returning to the University of Minnesota I shared it with the Chief Diversity Officer, and we mused about writing an article about it. We never got around to that, but I’ll share it here, as the theory popped back into my head as part of a decision process about joining country clubs.

First, for readers not familiar with American football I’ll note that the quarterback is the person who is often the face of the team, and receives the bulk of media attention, be it good, bad, and/or ugly. In higher education faculty of color are the “quaterbacks” of diversity efforts, and will be highly visible. A quarterback will receive attention even if not wanted (and/or warranted), but there are ways to mitigate this attention, on institutional, departmental, and individual levels.

On an institutional level in American football, the league can have rules to protect the quarterback from unnecessary wear and tear, such as a rule to make it illegal to knock down the quarterback if the defender is more than two steps away after the ball is released on a pass attempt. On an institutional level in higher education, tenure-track faculty of color can be explicitly rewarded in promotion and tenure documents for the service they are called upon to do to serve students of color, and/or excused from other types of service.

On a departmental level in American football, the team’s head coach can call for more handoffs to the running back if the quarterback has been overwhelmed by the pass rush. On an departmental level in higher education, the department chair can notice that her assistant professor of color has been asked to join every student advisory group, so she could work with chairs of other departments to find other volunteers to lessen the new professor’s load.

On an individual level in American football, the quaterback can decide that it’s not worth the punishment to try to gain an extra yard in an attempt to run over a defender at the end of a play, and just step out of bounds. Similarly, on an individual level in higher education a faculty member of color can decide that jumping into a new battle would lesson her effectiveness in other activities.

In sum, the Quarterback Theory of Diversity in Higher Education suggests that there are institutional, department, and individual strategies that help faculty of color effectively deal with demands on their time to improve multicultural climates. Maybe I should try to develop this idea more and get it out there in an article….