Last month, the University aimed to further prompt conversation on campus diversity with the launch of a weeklong Diversity Summit led by University President Mark Schlissel. Tuesday night, more than 100 graduate students gathered in Rackham Auditorium to extend the conversation by discussing minority representation among graduate students.

According to the University’s Office of the Registrar, 13 percent of newly enrolled domestic master’s students and 19 percent of newly enrolled domestic doctoral students at Rackham in 2015 identify as underrepresented minorities. There are about 8,358 students in Rackham, comprising approximately half of the total graduate and professional students on campus.

Rackham Communications Director Aileen Kim said the University is among the top schools in terms of minority enrollment among graduate students — it is in the top 12 schools in the nation for the most doctorates awarded African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Students sat at approximately 15 different tables, each with a designated facilitator. After discussing questions in smaller groups, attendees shared their ideas with the room.

The two questions: “What are the issues or challenges around diversity, equity and inclusion that affect you as a graduate student?” and “What are your short-term and long-term ideas for change?”

Rackham student Kimberly Reyes emphasized that change does not depend on representation and numbers alone. She said change in classroom culture and conversation are also essential to combating such issues.

“When you say you’re celebrating diversity, it’s much more about bodies in a room versus how do faculty create places where folks can have honest conversations and how does curriculum adequately represent issues of oppression, even in sciences,” Reyes said. “It’s not getting at the kind of academic culture and the academic norms that I think affect us as graduate students much more because our departments are our worlds.”

Many students in attendance agreed with Reyes, saying they have noticed a general lack of diversity training among Rackham faculty and mentors. Rackham student Channing Mathews, president of Students of Color of Rackham, said much of the advocacy and reform surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion falls on students when it shouldn’t.

“We should not be the ones doing it by ourselves,” she said. “We should see the faculty coming in and working with us … deans allocating resources to address the issues that students are coming up with. It’s the institution’s responsibility to make us know that we belong here.”

Mathews expressed the need for the University to incentivize departments’ implementation of effective plans for training faculty in this respect and penalize departments that are not doing this work. Schlissel’s current diversity strategy calls on individual University departments and units to develop their own plans for approaching diversity on campus, with the hope that those plans would then inform a broader campus strategy.

“Right now, it feels like the University is relying on the goodwill of the department,” Mathews said.

Rackham Dean Carol Fierke explained that because Rackham is an umbrella program to many different departments, it is difficult to change individual programs’ policies. Rackham currently provides funding and opportunities for workshops and training to support inter-program diversity efforts. However, none are mandatory.

“Those are two areas where we have programs,” Fierke said. “It’s a matter of figuring out how to use them better.”

Mathews said she hoped the dialogue from the event would result in action.

“I think there’s something to be said about having the conversation and then moving to action steps,” she said. “Hopefully Rackham takes the dialogue and turns it into tangible action steps that came from the voices of the students.”

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