Grad School diversity improving, report says

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A year after introducing a University-wide diversity action plan, the Office of Institutional Diversity released its first update this fall. Some of the notable accomplishments in the Diversity Initiative Status Report included improving the recruitment and retention of graduate students, medical students and staff from underrepresented backgrounds.

The action plan, though relatively new, is part of the University’s long-standing commitment to being invested in difference and diversity, said Sheila Bonde, dean of the Graduate School.

“You look at all the ways that you can infuse diversity into a context – diversity of curriculum, diversity of ideas, recruitment of a diverse group of people,” said Brenda Allen, associate provost and director of institutional diversity. “We looked at the numbers of graduate students and felt we could do better.”

Since the implementation of the plan, the University has worked to revamp the recruitment process for prospective grad students and build a sense of community amongst current students.

Approximately one-third of grad students are of international representation, meeting expectations, according to Associate Dean of the Graduate School Valerie Wilson. As of 2007, about 2.5 percent of grad students are black, 4 percent are Asian, 3 percent are Hispanic and 0.5 percent are Native American.

“In terms of minority representation … there is always room for improvement, especially for recruiting students who wouldn’t normally think of Brown,” Bonde said.

In 2006 the statistics for minority grad students were similar, with about 3 percent black students, 4.5 percent Asian students, 3 percent Hispanic students and 0.4 percent Native American students. “The percentage of incoming students from different ethnic groups in the Graduate School has been up and down,” Allen said. “Dean Bonde and Dean Wilson are trying to find strategies to lend to a more steady progress.”

Wilson said the new recruiting methods involve seeking out grad students who would normally not consider Brown for continuing their education. “In terms of minority students, that means reaching out to schools and students that have not traditionally been reached out to,” she said.

The University has also requested that faculty members take active roles in recruiting students to their departments during campus visits, matriculation week and Super Monday, Allen said. Super Monday – similar to the College’s A Day on College Hill – is an event that brings admitted grad students of color to campus for panels and a chance to meet future classmates.

“We’ve certainly tried to engage departments more explicitly in defining their goals for diversity,” Bonde said. “This past year Dean Wilson and I asked departments as part of the admissions process to identify their goals and what steps they will take to reach these goals.” Later this year, Bonde and Wilson plan to meet with department to discuss their progress.

Many grad students said they were unaware of the new recruiting programs and the recent update on institutional diversity, but they said they believe the University is doing a good job incorporating diversity into the school and the community-building programs. “I think (the Grad School is) doing a considerable amount,” said Sohini Kar GS, a first-year student in the anthropology department. “It’s hard with the Graduate School because there are people from all different age groups – it’s a mix of people that you are trying to get together.”

“I think maybe getting a little bit more of an international mix, that could probably be improved,” said Elizabeth Normand GS, a first-year grad student who is working toward her Ph.D. in neuroscience. “Maybe even more of a racial mix – again I’m thinking just about my program. While there is a decent amount of mix racially, there probably could be more. That’s something that could be improved upon.”

The Alpert Medical School is also looking to increase diversity among its students, especially in light of the expansion of the school. “The Medical School is growing, and as it grows and as avenues of recruiting grows, how do we build in that these applicant pools reflect diversity?” Allen said. “We looked at what we did and the ways we would be able to do things differently.”

The University is looking to develop its Early Identification Program, which provides a place at the Med School for selected Rhode Island residents and students of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups at Brown, Providence College, Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island and Tougaloo University. The University had identified additional schools it would like to involve in the program. “In the past we’ve had a very good relationship with Tougaloo,” Allen said. “But the idea of expanding it beyond Tougaloo means we will try to develop a more comprehensive relationship with other schools.” One possibility might be to expand on the relationships Brown had with the other Rhode Island schools in the program.

The University’s plans to increase diversity on campus reminds some students, however, of the conflicts of affirmative action. Lulu Tsai GS, a doctoral candidate in the molecular biology and cell Ph.D. program said, “I don’t think we should recruit based on diversity. It’s good (the University is) trying to acknowledge it. … I’m against affirmative action, on principle.”

Another aspect of the action plan is increasing the diversity of University staff. As of October, the University employed 177 entry level employees in Dining Services, 57.1 percent of whom are minority workers. Similarly, among 173 entry level Facilities Management workers, 32.9 percent are minority workers, according to Henry Johnson, director of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

Of the 10 managers and assistant directors of Dining Services and the 26 managers, coordinators and directors in the University library system, none are minorities, Johnson said. “If we have underutilization of a minority of the particular position … if the best-qualified person is not a person of color, we are not going to hire (a person of color). We are always going to hire the best qualified person,” Johnson said. “We have a solid and active affirmative action plan. One of the very first things that is done (when hiring) is the University determines whether that particular job category is underutilized by minorities or women.”

Johnson has recently drafted a diversity recruitment plan for the library. In his proposal, he suggests the University should increase its advertising for available library positions and become more active reaching out to universities such as Rutgers University and the University of Rhode Island as well as historically black colleges in the South. Johnson also said he recommends that the University increase its interaction with middle and high school students by participating in career day and developing outreach programs. “Before middle and high school students can consider a career in library services, they need to be exposed to libraries,” he said.

The University has not yet drafted any proposals for increasing diversity in Dining Services or Facilities Management, but Johnson said he hopes to do so in the future. “We thought about the areas that had the largest underutilization (of minorities and women) and wanted to start there,” Johnson said.

The University has also developed a diversity workshop called “Valuing Differences” to discuss the barriers that often separate different social groups. “There had to be some kind of diversity training plan in place,” Allen said. “From the staff’s point of view, the basic premise of the diversity development plan, is in order to really engage diversity. It’s an ongoing, continuous effort to engage ideas and subject matter that help you to broaden your repertoire.”

Most staff members seem unaware of the new workshops but are still satisfied with the diversity of their workplaces. “It seems to be balanced. We have a lot of different people from different ethnicities. I’ve never seen any issues at all,” said Katherine Harrop, a supervisor at the Ratty.

The University is in the process of creating a diversity cabinet, which will allow the leaders of the different diversity efforts to meet, discuss and evaluate the progress of their changes. “We haven’t had the structure that allows us to talk on a consistent basis on the specific plans going forward and so on,” Allen said. “This diversity cabinet will allow us to have updates on what is going on in the different schools.”

With the action plan only a year old, it will take time to see the results of the revised recruiting programs, Wilson said. “Changes and programs like this do take a while to get rolling and get ahead on,” she said. “If we never come up with an approach we will never come up with the result that we want.”