CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Since arriving at Dartmouth College in 2014, Melissa Padilla would chat with her friends about the lack of diversity among the faculty and wonder why there weren't more instructors who looked like them.
But it wasn't until May when one of her favorite teachers, an assistant professor of English who is Asian-American, was denied tenure that the 26-year-old senior went public with her concerns.
Angry over the denial, Padilla joined dozens of students and faculty at the Ivy League school who launched a campaign demanding that Aimee Bahng's case be reconsidered. They pressed the administration for answers over the tenure process and launched a petition in support of Bahng that has gathered more than 3,600 signatures.
Protesters took to social media using the hashtags #fight4facultyofcolor and #dontdodartmouth on Bahng's behalf. They also held a campus rally in May that included a casket representing the "death of our education" and carried roses for each of the minority faculty they say have left the college since 2002.
"Once we sort of got past the anger, we were kind of shocked," said Padilla, who is Mexican and lives in the United States with her family on a green card. "We didn't understand why the college would not take this opportunity to keep a professor of color on campus that is not only providing the academic prestige they want but is also mentoring students of color."
Dartmouth is the latest university to find itself in the crosshairs of students angry about the makeup of its faculty and, in some cases, its student body. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the first protests kicked off at the University of Missouri over harassment of students and dearth of African-American faculty. They have spread to campuses across the country, where demonstrations and sit-ins have forced administrators to consider bolstering diversity training, expanding African-American programs and hiring more minority faculty to improve the racial climate.
"Dartmouth is not singular," said Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, president of the Association for Asian American Studies, who signed the petition and sent a letter in support of Bahng. "When one looks at the last year and the number of protests that have occurred on college campuses around this issue of diversity, tenure denial is part and parcel of the larger trend among higher ed institutions."
Students are targeting faculty diversity because they have seen so little progress on the issue — despite universities repeated promises to recruit and retain faculty of color. In 2013, 21 percent of full-time faculty was nonwhite, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most Ivy League schools fared even worse, with Dartmouth acknowledging only 16 percent of its faculty were minorities — compared with 35 percent of its student body.
Craig Wilder, who is African-American, spent six years at Dartmouth teaching history before leaving in 2008 for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He recalled how the college would promote diversity and brought in several talented scholars of color during his tenure. But he said the scholars often left after not getting tenure or being promoted.
"I was not alone in questioning the morality of continuing to recruit promising scholars to an institution that had a questionable commitment to their success," said Wilder, who had tenure at Dartmouth. "That doubt fully informed my decision to leave."
While Dartmouth wouldn't comment on Bahng's tenure case due to privacy concerns, the college insists that it is taking the issue of diversity seriously. In November 2014, it announced a goal of increasing minority tenure-track faculty from 16 percent to 25 percent by 2020, which requires an extra $100 million over the next 10 years. It also is doubling the amount in its diversity recruitment fund to $2 million a year.
Similar campaigns have been launched by Brown University, which is spending $165 million on efforts to address diversity and racism, including $100 million to diversify faculty. Yale University has committed $50 million to diversify its faculty.
Bahng arrived at Dartmouth in 2009. Along with her teaching and writing on Asian-American literature, feminist science and technology studies, and queer theory, the 40-year-old mentored undergraduate and graduate minority students and helped create and teach a popular course dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bahng said she didn't make a stink about her tenure denial, even though she thinks Dartmouth got it wrong.
At the same time, "I recognize we are in a certain moment when students and faculty and staff of color across many institutions of higher education feel as though we at a sort of breaking point," she said.