College and School Representation
|School of Business||5|
|School of Engineering||4|
|College of Liberal Arts and Sciences||41|
|Neag School of Education||8|
|School of Nursing||2|
|School of Medicine||1|
The survey was distributed via the Graduate Faculty Council listserv and The Graduate School’s listservs for department heads, directors of graduate studies (DGSs), program coordinators, and departmental administrators. In total, 98 Graduate Faculty Council members, 95 department heads, 232 DGSs, and 280 departmental administrators received the survey. (These lists do have individuals who overlap.) Some survey recipients distributed the survey to other faculty and staff. We included all responses in our summary of results. The survey was intended to gather opinions from a subset of faculty and staff whom we expected to be knowledgeable about graduate students, not to be a representative sample of graduate faculty and staff.
A total of 62 responses were collected. Of the 62 responses, 6 were from graduate staff, 8 were from faculty who were not major advisors to graduate students, and 48 were faculty and major advisors to graduate students. Over half of the respondents (32 respondents) wanted a follow up conversation on BIPOC graduate student support with The Graduate School staff and were willing to give their contact information.
Knowledge of Resources Related to Racism
Based on our question about what supports they would refer their students to if they were experiencing racism, we assessed our respondents’ knowledge of resources available to students at UConn. Responses that gave more than 3 supports were considered adequate knowledge of resources; responses that gave 3 or less supports and did not give further explanation of their response were considered improvable knowledge of resources; responses that gave incorrect information, did not respond, or expressed that they did not know were considered concerning knowledge of resources; finally, responses that expressed a lack of faith in UConn to support students experiencing racism were placed into their own category.
Over 50% of the respondents displayed improvable knowledge of resources. 25% of our respondents were in the concerning category. Additionally 2 respondents (about 3%) did not have faith in UConn to address racism students were experiencing. This data was especially concerning, and exposed a clear need for improvements in advisor training and in anti-racist and inclusive practice.
Please rate your agreement with the following statements: “___________ negatively impacts BIPOC graduate students at UConn.”
|1-Highly Disagree||2-Disagree||3-Neither Agree Nor Disagree||4-Agree||5-Highly Agree||Unsure||Average|
|Advisor power in advisor-advisee relationships||5||11||13||10||9||13||3.15|
|Minimal accountability when discrimination is reported||2||3||6||13||23||14||4.11|
|Lack of mentoring||1||6||9||21||17||7||3.87|
|Lack of community or feelings of isolation||2||0||6||12||36||5||4.43|
|Lack of financial resources||2||2||10||14||28||5||4.14|
|Lack of support or acknowledgement following national/local incidents of racial injustice||2||9||5||21||16||8||3.75|
|Racial Battle Fatigue||1||2||2||16||34||6||4.45|
Looking at our Likert data, the faculty and staff tended to agree that the areas listed in the table above negatively affected our BIPOC graduate students at UConn. However it is clear that faculty were less likely to agree when it came to advising and mentoring. Specifically the lowest levels of agreement included “Advisor power in advisor-advisee relationships,” “Lack of mentoring,” and “lack of support or acknowledgement following national/local incidents of racial injustice.”
These responses conflict with areas emphasized by our campus partners we spoke with during Summer 2020. Multiple cultural center staff members emphasized the lack of support and acknowledgement following racial injustice. The Ombuds Office and the Office of Institutional Equity both identified the power dynamics of the advisor and advisee were most frequently involved in issues that rose to their offices. Furthermore lack of mentoring receiving lower agreement was out of line with the level of agreement for lack of community and comments about the lack of BIPOC faculty, staff, and leadership. While perhaps the level of disagreement is not surprising as these areas are most suggestive of faculty and department culpability, it is disappointing given the research available that emphasizes the importance of advising, mentoring, and support in students’ overall graduate experience and the trends identified by our campus partners. Additionally this lack of agreement did not align with the thematic analysis we completed on our other questions.
Thematic Analysis Process
In order to analyze the remaining questions, Shalyn Hopley, Student Support Specialist, ran through each qualitative question doing an initial theming and count of themes that emerged. Once the initial analysis was created, the themes were categorized and regrouped. A narrative was created based on the themes for each question we asked. Additionally, we separated our data by college or school to identify trends and themes that emerged.
Survey and Analysis Considerations
When embarking upon assessment and research, every choice affects the results and what conclusions we can draw from our results. When reviewing our results, we want our graduate community to be aware of the following considerations.
First and foremost, our team is heavily white-identifying. Our white identities are a limitation to building rapport and trust with BIPOC students. Our whiteness carries privileges, bias, and power which can (and does) harm people of color. Survey respondents aware of the identities held by our staff may have been hesitant to share their feelings authentically. Additionally our white identities mean we could not bring lived experience as a lens through which to analyze racism in graduate education. Our whiteness also meant we had the privilege to not analyze our white identities if we chose not to previously; we needed to do further self education work than BIPOC staff likely would have had to do by the very nature of their racial identity.
Our survey’s construction also has limitations, many of which were highlighted by graduate students who graciously gave feedback during the 2020-2021 Winter Break. Firstly, we did not ask for the racial identity of our respondents, so we could not determine whether BIPOC faculty and staff identified issues different from those that non-BIPOC faculty and staff identified. Our questions were also based in individual perception. Not only is individual perception highly susceptible to flaws in our worldviews and to bias, individualization is a tool of white supremacy. By boiling down the issue of racism to an issue of racist individuals or individual racist acts, we avoid the systemic and structural nature of racism.
Our survey was not designed to be a representative sample of opinions from faculty and staff who interact with graduate students. Rather, it was specifically designed to solicit feedback from those individuals who are likely to be most knowledgeable about graduate student issues. Nonetheless, because they are faculty and staff, not graduate students, their perceptions may not reflect the experience of graduate students in their programs. Furthermore, the respondents may or may not be BIPOC, meaning their perceptions might not be reflective of BIPOC students in their programs.
One person conducted the theming, which is often a subjective process which could be strengthened by additional analysts’ view points. Once themed, the content then could not be easily member checked as surveys were able to be completed anonymously.
Survey and Analysis Strengths
The greatest strength of our survey and analysis is that it is part of a multi-faceted, long-term process of understanding how systemic racism impacts BIPOC graduate students at UConn. Surveying graduate faculty and staff alone would be a poor representation of the many experiences and challenges BIPOC graduate students experience in higher education. Our survey has been paired with conversations with multiple campus partners and stakeholders, research and self-education on racism in academia undertaken by our Graduate School staff members, The Graduate School’s strategic planning process, and small student feedback sessions. Our survey’s analysis and impact on our work will also evolve as we continue this work. These results are preliminary results which have yet to reflect the engagement of our larger community. When we complete our process of public comment, this analysis will be adjusted and will shape our future equity work as we learn more.
Our survey, and the process leading up to the survey, also worked to minimize uncompensated labor for our participants and partners. When we spoke with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, they challenged us to think about how we could gather information from faculty and staff who the university employs or from students who expressly volunteer their time in student organizations that support graduate students. While we did move forward with getting student feedback which did require uncompensated labor, we are continuing to consider how BIPOC students, faculty, and staff can be supported in material ways when they engage in equity work.
What could The Graduate School provide departments so they could best support BIPOC graduate students?
|Resources, resource compilation||13|
|training (both of community and of faculty)||10|
|recruitment of faculty||6|
|affinity groups, peer support||5|
|recruitment of students||5|
|research and share findings||4|
|space (physical and metaphorical)||4|
|consistency between departments||2|
|clear support structure||2|
|supports for students network||1|
The main departmental supports respondents sought were funding, resources, trainings, and programming. Following these requests were requests for supports that aligned with the themes from our meetings with campus partners: supports that address a lack of mentoring, a lack of community, and a lack of faculty and staff who are either BIPOC themselves or dedicated to the improvement of the BIPOC student experience at UConn.
In all of our qualitative data, there is also a counternarrative running through it of individuals who do not believe that racism exists at UConn and that their responses promote a colorblind approach to supporting BIPOC students. While neither our research nor our training support this approach, it is worth noting as a counternarrative as it shows that our graduate faculty and staff, just like our students, are coming to their work from a wide variety of backgrounds and understandings.
What practices, policies, and processes do you feel most negatively impact BIPOC graduate students at UConn?
When answering this question, a number of primary themes emerged: a lack of BIPOC community, a lack of BIPOC faculty and staff, inequitable expectations, inequitable resources and opportunities, and a hostile environment. The most common themes, a lack of BIPOC community and a lack of BIPOC faculty and staff, were united by the idea that UConn lacked a presence of BIPOC people in general as a predominantly white institution (PWI). Aside from lacking a community of BIPOC people, BIPOC graduate students faced inequity in expectations, resources, and opportunities. Some of the expectations that were highlighted were the use of the GRE, the use of rigid milestones for program progress, and other cultural biases towards equality rather than equity. Funding opportunities were also highlighted. Finally a hostile environment emerged in the responses, exposing a pattern of faculty and student ignorance when it comes to racism and the experiences of BIPOC people, a lack of BIPOC representation and cultural competency in graduate curriculum, poor response to racism, tokenism, performative allyship, and more.
Scope of The Graduate School
What practices, policies, and processes do you feel would be best addressed by The Graduate School (as opposed to other departments or offices within UConn)?
Admissions & Orientation
|remove GRE requirement||4|
|remove application fee||1|
|orientation for BIPOC students, faculty, and staff||1|
|BIPOC cohorts or affinity groups established early||2|
|outreach to BIPOC students||3|
|fellowships and funding||10|
|transparency in funding||1|
|promote depts using equitable practice in admissions||1|
|SET policies and training||2|
|recruiting more BIPOC students||8|
|recruiting at HBCUs||1|
|retaining BIPOC students||2|
|hiring BIPOC faculty||4|
|creating BIPOC staff/liaison positions||4|
Supports & Initiatives
|support student-led initiatives||1|
|set expectations of departments||2|
|support student voice||2|
|clarify reporting of incidents||4|
|compile incident data||2|
Respondents felt that The Graduate School should address a variety of issues that fell into the categories of recruitment and retention, admissions and orientation, supports and initiatives, and policies. The two most common issues that respondents felt were within the scope of The Graduate School were recruitment of BIPOC students and fellowships and funding of BIPOC students, which in many ways go hand in hand. Having fellowships and funding for BIPOC students is a great incentive for graduate students to attend UConn.
Respondents did not ignore that these students need to feel supported and valued once they arrive at UConn. Respondents suggested a wide-variety of ways to improve BIPOC graduate students’ experiences at UConn including better orientation, more support for student initiatives, social and professional development events, and adjustments to training for both students and faculty.
One particularly compelling suggestion from the survey was to utilize and share examples. The Graduate School could identify and share equitable practices departments are already employing, utilizing their work as an exemplar for other departments. The Graduate School is uniquely positioned to see how many departments and programs operate. By offering examples of equitable admissions processes or inclusive orientations, The Graduate School could promote better practice across campus. Another suggestion from students involved in our process was to reconsider how we conceive of this question of scope. Some students recommended we push the boundaries of what The Graduate School’s scope is meant to be if we are truly looking to disrupt systems of power. Another student suggested we look at what we already do and find the systemic racism within rather than ask where racism is happening at UConn and what our role is in it.