GPEA 2016 Recap
Students, faculty & staff engage in dialogue on equity, access and diversity issues in graduate and professional education
Over 100 graduate students, faculty and University administrators convened at Coffman Memorial Union on April 5 to explore issues related to diversity and inclusion in graduate and professional education at the annual Graduate and Professional Education Assembly: Achieving Excellence through Diversity: Access, Equity, and Diversity Issues in Graduate and Professional Education.
- Attendees heard leading diversity advocates, scholars and practitioners from other universities talk about new research, national initiatives and best practices.
- Local leaders, graduate students, and professional staff described approaches, organizations and opportunities that are working at the University of Minnesota.
- Concurrent discussion sessions produced recommendations and action steps to help form an agenda for moving forward in 2016-17 and beyond.
Highlights and key take-aways from the Q&A with the panelists included:
- The suggestion that we know a lot about how to move forward, but the challenge is doing it
- We need to understand “coded” language and read beyond what we see and hear
- We need to recognize our implicit biases and learn to mitigate against these. One good way to start is for faculty to engage in conversation before every recruitment season to make sure they have a heightened awareness of their biases before the review process commences
- Collective responsibility is key and graduate program staff play an important role
- Administrative and professional staff alike can benefit from professional development opportunities related to diversity
Julie Posselt (Assistant Professor, School of Education, University of Michigan) set the stage for the morning panel with research from her new book, “Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping,” published in January 2016. Beginning with a 1963 quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. about the “fierce urgency” of acting vigorously and positively now, Professor Posselt spoke about why diversity in graduate and professional education is so important and the need to attend to considerations around recruitment, admissions and retention, if programs are to succeed in increasing diversity in their student populations.
She emphasized holistic admissions review—assessing applicant data in the broader context of the student’s background and opportunities—as a best practice for encouraging diversity, and she elaborated on the challenges of a contextual review. Using as an example the process of one admissions committee in a highly ranked doctoral program, she also demonstrated the importance of other critical considerations, including sensitivity to the implications of admissions criteria and their use, the composition of review committees, and the need to disrupt unconscious bias in the review and decision-making process.
Barbara Wilcots (Associate Provost of Graduate Studies, Office of Graduate Studies; Dean, DU-Iliff Joint Doctoral Program in the Study of Religion; and Associate Professor in the Department of English, Divisions of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; University of Denver) described two initiatives of the national Council of Graduate Schools (CGS): the Doctoral Initiative on Minority Attrition and Completion and the Ph.D. Completion Project, and spoke to findings from these studies. Results from both studies provide useful information about the factors that contribute to graduate student success (e.g., financial support, mentoring, program environment) and interventions that help students finish their degrees (e.g., pre-enrollment activities, enhanced academic support such as study groups, and the creation of a “culture of inclusion”).
She also described a report just released by CGS, Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions, and encouraged all Assembly attendees to review the recommendations contained in this report. In addition, Vice Provost Wilcots described initiatives at the University of Denver that reflect DU’s commitment to “inclusive excellence”—the notion of diversity and inclusion in service to excellence and embedded in the institutional culture—including the Roger Salters Doctoral Summer Institute (Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of [In]Equality) and a “diversity dashboard” (in process).
Cally Waite (Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Program in History and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Program Director, Mellon Mays Graduate Initiative Program, Social Science Research Council) concluded the morning panel presentation by encouraging those in attendance to act in ways that have the potential to diversify the professoriate, and thereby change the future. Examples:
- Faculty are urged to talk with their colleagues at other schools about top students who might be good recruitment prospects and to paint a realistic picture of what it’s like to live in the Twin Cities
- Know your external community; how open and ethnically diverse is the Twin Cities?
- Look for support for minority graduate students and faculty; the Mellon, Ford and Carnegie Foundations all provide such support
- Protect young faculty of color, who are frequently approached about serving on committees; don’t let them be “bogged down” with committee assignments
- Change is incremental and slow, but we can “infiltrate” the academy with new ideas and make small changes every day
- The core of the nation is changed when we produce people who think differently. Find your allies and be brave about change; keep at it and look for new ways to do it
Victor Barocas (Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering) led off the afternoon panel by sharing his approach of treating every student as a unique individual. Treat every student in your graduate program in this way and diversity will naturally follow. All graduate students have different needs and different definitions of success, and programs must recognize this.
Nue Lor, a master’s student in the Multicultural College Teaching and Learning graduate program and President of the Graduate Students of Color Alliance, described her experience as a first-generation, Hmong graduate student in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning. The department’s guiding statement, “you belong here,” and its strong support system have helped her to succeed. Ms. Lor also talked about her efforts to create a new graduate student organization, the Graduate Students of Color Alliance (GSOCA), which provides a supportive community for minority graduate and professional students.
Greg Cuomo (Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs; College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) set his remarks in the context of the University’s land-grant mission and fundamental principle of providing access to education. He described initiatives his college has launched to create a diversity continuum, from undergraduate students through postdocs and faculty, including a new recruiting fellowship (Graduate Opportunity Fellowships); a “conversations with the deans” luncheon discussion series focused on a wide array of diversity topics; and workshops on specific issues. All college faculty are also expected to consider how they can incorporate cultural perspectives in their courses.
Snider Desir, a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Biology and Physiology graduate program and President of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGAPSA), encouraged audience members to engage currently enrolled graduate students of color in recruiting students to their programs. Speaking from his own experience, he related his excitement about the University of Minnesota as he saw more graduate students of color in the BGAPSA student organization. The group’s members, who number about 100 students, are happy to speak with prospective students.
Noro Andriamanalina (Director of Academic and Professional Development, Office for Diversity in Graduate Education, Office of Equity and Diversity) described her work with the Community of Scholars Program and other diversity initiatives within ODGE. She urged graduate programs to accept and respect students’ diversity, and allow them to bring all of who they are into the program. Students “come through the door with everything they are,” Dr. Andriamanalina noted.
Concurrent Discussion Sessions
Following the panel discussions were concurrent discussions on:
- The meaning of diversity
- Recruiting for diversity
- Avoiding implicit bias in graduate and professional student admissions
- Creating a climate conducive to student success
Each of the four discussion groups was asked to contribute two key recommendations and action steps in the plenary discussion that concluded the day’s activities. These recommendations and action steps will help form an agenda for moving forward in 2016-17 and beyond.
 Posselt, Julie R. Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping. Boston MA: Harvard University Press. 2016. Available at the UofM Bookstore.