Office of Inclusive Excellence

White People’s Responsibility for Fostering an Inclusive and Welcoming Environment

May 11, 2023

Once, as I was just starting my faculty career at another institution, a senior colleague remarked aloud, “We tenured faculty never use the power of tenure as we should.” Now, as a tenured full professor, I couldn’t agree more. 

Ironically, though tenure grants us increased capacity to say and do exactly what we believe in without fear of repercussion, it seems in practice, many of us only grow quieter once we have it. Or worse, inactive, sometimes absent altogether, from campus affairs. The phrase “resting on our laurels” comes to mind. Perhaps it’s just our academic mien, a result of the lengthy and effective “make no waves” socialization we experienced while untenured. Perhaps our quiet absence reflects how deeply invested we are in our research, prioritizing scholarly over campus community pursuits. Perhaps our selective mutism has simply to do with it being an easier route at a challenging time in our lives. Or, perhaps, our silence is just another way for many of us to continue to benefit from the white supremacist culture rife on university campuses.

White people are significantly over-represented in the tenure track, tenured and full-professor categories, on this campus and at every campus across the U.S. This inequitable distribution makes the disuse of our power even more consequential. We sit comfortably at the zenith of our faculty careers, as we do so many other places, too often ignoring the significant opportunities we have to move our campus toward a more inclusive, welcoming one.

With tenure and promotion comes professional freedom and high job security. Tenure protects our civil rights, serving as a bulwark against termination for expressing our beliefs. Never could there be a safer time to use our voice! So I ask you tenured, promoted white folx: Where are you? What do you want? Can we hear your voice? What steps will you take to lead in creating a welcoming place for diversity, equity, and inclusion to flourish in our campus community?

A 33-year veteran of academic life, I have taught at seven different institutions of higher education - one in Michigan, three in Connecticut, one in Massachusetts, one in New York, and for the past eight years, CSUMB. It is here I feel most meaningfully engaged, and most hopeful about the potential for creating a more inclusive campus community. For starters, I regard the university’s founding vision statement as a compelling blueprint for our better, possible, future selves (Markus & Nurius, 1984). The more clearly we are able to see our possible selves, the more likely we are to become them.

Our vision of the goals of California State University, Monterey Bay includes a model pluralistic academic community where all learn and teach one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and pursuit of excellence; a faculty and staff motivated to excel in their respective fields as well as to contribute to the broadly defined university environment.  

Second, while we have a very long way to go to meet the expectations of our founding faculty, we have at least struggled authentically with where we are, and where we need to go. Authenticity, it seems to me, is in the water here. I find myself sharing more honestly with CSUMB colleagues than anywhere I’ve ever taught. For example, for most of career, I hid the fact that I was of the first generation in my family to go to college from both peers and students. Here, it is an identity I celebrate.

Mostly, though, I am hopeful about our potential to foster an inclusive environment because of our students. Everything they bring to the classroom, but especially their lived experience and amazing intellectual curiosity, rivals that of any student in any institution I have ever served, many of which would be considered more prestigious. They fuel my desire to teach, to learn, and to do better. And I believe it is largely through our own personal transformation that we can best contribute to the welcoming environment we want. 

Have you been to one of the Saturday discussions that Whites for Racial Equity holds monthly here in Monterey County? Have you attended TLA’s Building Community Through Dialogue Learning Co-Op? Perhaps you’ve participated in a National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) workshop right here at the PGCC? Or become a member of the new White Employee Anti-Racism and Equity Collective (WEAREC) on campus? I have actively engaged in each of these terrific opportunities in my quest to be a better person and a better community member.

I love being a part of the CSUMB community. As I continue my growth toward being a better human being while helping to create a climate of equity and inclusivity, I ask you to consider your own trajectory of career and community decisions. Research suggests that, while we tend to focus in the short term on things we wish we hadn’t done, our longer-term regrets are about the things we didn’t do (Davidai & Gilovich, 2018).  What steps will you take to lead in creating a welcoming place for diversity, equity, and inclusion to flourish here? 

Particularly for we overrepresented white, tenured, faculty, for whom there is little to lose by rocking our inequitable boat, I ask: What is one thing you will do to take the lead in building our community? Don’t waste the gift of power that tenure gives.

Julie Cooper Altman, L.C.S.W., Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Social Work


Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2018). The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets. Emotion, 18(3), 439–452.  

Markus, H., & Nurius, P. Possible selves. (1986). American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969.