An Examination of Students’ Experiences with Race and Diversity in the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Science

 

Urban and Environmental Policy - Field Projects

Spring 2000

 

 

Erika Argersinger, Child Development, Urban and Environmental Policy

Tamara Bates, Child Development, Urban and Environmental Policy

Bindi Gandhi, Child Development, Urban and Environmental Policy

Marty Martinez, Urban and Environmental Policy

Tim Palazzolo, Economics, Urban and Environmental Policy


 

Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary

  2. Introduction

  3. Methods

  4. Results

  5. Recommendations & Conclusion

  6. Appendix


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

An Examination of Students’ Experiences with Race and Diversity in the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

 

            This student-initiated project dealing with race and diversity at Tufts was a result of classroom discussions and student dialogue.   Focus groups were the main method of collecting data.  Midway through the process of conducting these focus groups, we decided to use an additional method in order to gather more information.  In total, we collected data from forty participants representing different races/ethnicities and departments on campus.

 

                We categorized our student responses into four main result categories.  They are: Faculty and Classroom Experiences, Student Life, Administration, and Campus Organizations and Resources. The recommendations that follow are concrete, practical, and ongoing and will help to address the problems and concerns of graduate students.

 

1.      We recommend that the University initiate active recruitment by diligently pursuing administration, faculty, staff and students of color via means of personal contacts.

2.       We recommend that all curricula at Tufts be more inclusive of diversity through the incorporation of varied course materials, course offerings, and guest speakers.    

3.      We recommend that the diversity training and resources available to full-time faculty be extended to all non-tenure track faculty members, including graduate students who teach.

4.       We recommend that the cultural centers (the Latino Center, the African American Center, the Asian American Center, the Women’s Center and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center) be made more available as resources to graduate students.

5.      We recommend that more funding be made available to all graduate students of color in the forms of fellowships, resources for traveling, and projects related to diversity.

6.      We recommend that the Office of Diversity add a full-time staff member and a paid graduate student assistant whose primary focus would be working on diversity issues on the graduate school level. 

7.      We recommend that a formal confidential grievance process be created specifically for graduate students.

8.      We recommend that a public record be made of all past, current and future efforts and events related to diversity at Tufts. 

9.      We recommend that orientation be made a vehicle to create more of a student to student and student to school connection. 

10.  We recommend that the GSC be used as a mechanism to generate discussions, programs and activities on diversity issues.

 

“Here it doesn’t matter what color you are…race is a dead issue at this school.”

 

“….I don’t think anything here is explicit (racism), but there’s definitely implicit things going on.”

 

Ideas similar to these were the impetus for us to examine the issues of race and diversity on the graduate level at Tufts University. This student-initiated project dealing with race and diversity at Tufts was a result of classroom discussions and student dialogue.  The Field Project course in the Urban and Environmental Policy department provided us with the opportunity to explore these issues.  This core course provides students with the opportunity to work with a client on a specific project or initiative.  Tufts University, specifically the Oversight Panel of the Task Force on Race became that client.

Tufts University created this task force in reaction to racial tensions exploding on the campus a couple of years ago.   The task force examined issues of race and diversity among undergraduates by organizing focus groups to collect student views and make recommendations.  An Oversight Panel was formed to evaluate the progress on these recommendations.  This panel saw our project as a means to implement one of the recommendations made regarding graduate students. 

Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has a student population of 1,300 students, of which 1,100 are full time students.  According to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, there is an equal distribution of ethnic minority American students (13%) and international students (13%).  These statistics are in stark contrast with the minority percentages of the Tufts University undergraduate population, which are considerably higher.  These inconsistencies drive us to understand the issues of graduate students of color and the lack of greater representation within the graduate student body.  Schools such as Harvard, MIT and Boston College have all done similar projects and studies that have addressed these same issues.   

The aim of this project was to create the beginnings of a body of knowledge that includes graduate student experiences. We will provide concrete recommendations for the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as a blueprint for further explorations.     

Methods

                Focus groups were the main method of collecting data.  This methodological approach was used for several reasons.  First, our methods mirrored those used in the study of race and diversity at the undergraduate level conducted by the Task Force on Race in 1996-1997.  Second, focus groups were deemed the best way to record and generate graduate students’ ideas and give them a sense of involvement in the process of understanding these experiences. Third, and most important, race and diversity involve a dynamic of interaction between people.  Focus groups allowed us to capture that dynamic and record this interaction.

                It was our intention to include all of the graduate students on the Medford campus in the study (i.e. Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, School of Nutrition, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy).  However, we were unable to include the students at the School of Nutrition due to time constraints or the Fletcher School due to a lack of cooperation.

A list of all the students enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was obtained from the Office of the Dean. Students were selected by simple random sample based upon the number of focus groups scheduled, the number of students desired per focus group, and the anticipated response rate. Students were invited to attend one of the focus groups via an email from an established Yahoo account (Appendix A).

 We held five focus groups in a two-week time span. Three focus groups were open to both white students and students of color.  Two focus groups were directed at students of color, understanding that these groups would involve a different dynamic. Eighteen graduate students participated in the focus groups, beginning March 2 and ending March 15.  Five males and thirteen females participated. Six departments were represented: Child Development, Drama, English, Math, Psychology, and Urban and Environmental Policy.  Of the students who participated, 5 were Caucasian; 4 were Asian American; 3 were African American; 2 were Latino, and 4 were International students (self-identified).  These groups were held at campus locations easily accessible for graduate students.  Days and times of the focus groups were varied to accommodate the different schedules of graduate students.  

All groups followed the same protocol: beginning with an introduction; followed by explanation of discussion rules (Appendix B); and leading into the discussion questions (Appendix C). Broad, general questions were created to allow room for reflection, explanation, discussion, and progression.  A facilitator who helped direct the discussion led the group; a scribe recorded the main ideas generated by the group on a visible note pad; and two or three scribes kept detailed notes on separate note pads.         

Midway through the process of conducting these focus groups, we decided to use an additional method in order to gather more information.  An electronic survey based on the focus group questions was emailed to all students within the Graduate School of Arts and Science after the focus groups were completed (Appendix D).  We included an incentive of $25 awarded to the winner of a random drawing of all who returned the survey.  Twenty-two people responded to the survey via electronic mail.  Several departments were represented as well as various academic programs.

Despite working with a small number of graduate students, we feel they constituted a representative sample of students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  First, a variety of departments and programs were represented among the 40 students who participated.  Second, there was an even distribution of all racial/ethnic groups, both American minorities and international students.  Finally, many students articulated the same concerns throughout the process.  Therefore, we feel that this data enables us to gauge the sentiments of the graduate student body. 

Results

 

Participants expressed their thoughts on diversity and its importance within an educational setting—viewing diversity as a fundamental aspect of their education.  Students stated that interacting with people who come from different backgrounds and experiences helped broaden their views.  For example, one student shared that she had grown up in a community that was “primarily Hispanic.” She said, “I had my own prejudices and stereotypes.  It wasn’t until I entered college that I was able to eliminate those stereotypes and prejudices.”  Other students felt that people’s diverse individual experiences added to the overall pool of knowledge that exists in an educational setting.  Simply reading or talking about different perspectives isn’t enough: “Without someone in front of you, it’s abstract.”

Beyond the importance of diversity, students’ ideas ranged from areas of needed improvement at Tufts to positive aspects both on the University and student level.   Several themes emerged from students’ responses.  These themes are grouped into the categories that follow.

Faculty and Classroom Experiences

The experience with one professor and in one class can set the tone of a student’s entire academic experience at Tufts.  Taking that into account, the lack of diverse faculty was a critical concern for many students; “the faculty at Tufts definitely needs to be more diversified and serious intentions to hire more diverse faculty are needed.”  For graduate students, a strong mentor relationship with their professors is necessary for successful graduate study and for their future careers.  This mentorship is key for all students, especially for students of color.  Therefore, a more diverse faculty would provide students of color the opportunity to build such a relationship.

 A student noted that Tufts seems to be just as incapable of hiring diverse faculty as it is in keeping them at Tufts. This seems to call into question Tufts’ track record on faculty consistency and stability.  Questions were also raised about the amount of financial commitment to hiring more faculty and the investment that is made in attaining true diversity. In addition, a diverse faculty can contribute different perspectives in the classroom and in curriculum development.  Professors from a broader range of ethnic backgrounds can offer a wider variety courses. 

            Faculty of color help to facilitate a more comfortable environment for discussing racial issues.  Whether positive or negative, the dealings within a class can have a great impact on all levels.  For instance, it was noted that some faculty have experienced discrimination to such an extent that it infiltrates every aspect of their classroom. In another example, several students reported an incident of an adjunct professor making an extremely inappropriate comment regarding Asian Americans.  As a result of this type of situation, the sentiment was voiced that graduate students need an anonymous means of filing complaints about their professors. Relationships with graduate professors often continue well into the student’s career.  Therefore, damage to this relationship can have lasting implications well after the student leaves Tufts.  A confidential means of such reporting is necessary. In addition, it was expressed that dialogue and communication about issues of race and racism should be presented and supported in all classroom experiences.  Students feel that faculty are not actively presenting diverse materials and sources to enhance these classroom experiences.  It was noted that some departments have incorporated such materials, but the effort has been limited.  As a positive, students expressed an appreciation for Tufts’ ability to attract speakers from diverse backgrounds and origins to enrich the classroom with their experiences.   This seems to add to the overall experience of diversifying Tufts as a whole. 

The ability to create an atmosphere where that diversification can prosper is a critical tool for building a quality education.  This means classrooms where respectful dialogue and sensitive exchanges can take place. Along these lines, the availability and usefulness of having African American, Asian and Latino teaching assistants was voiced as a way to do this.  Some students expressed a frustration in dealing with the narrow-mindedness and ignorance of students and professors within their academic programs as obstacles for building this quality education.  One student related her experience of a conversation with a professor.  This professor had viewed a movie that was filled with stereotypes of her culture and asked her if “that’s how she lived”.  While she felt this was a benign comment, it is this type of situation that diversity and sensitivity training can prevent.

The academic realm of a students’ lives at Tufts provides them with opportunities to explore and enrich their education.   A diverse faculty, along with a culturally inclusive curriculum, and the accessibility of training to faculty and staff can enhance that education.   Beyond this, students’ personal experiences on campus also affect their lives while at Tufts.

Student Life

Much of the information that emerged from the focus groups related to the distinct issues that face graduate students.  In general, graduate students reported feeling disconnected from the graduate school because they are here for a short amount of time, may have work or family obligations, and overall feel they have little spare time to be “involved” in campus activities.   Some students did not miss having a connection to graduate school because for them “school is just a job.”  However, other students missed the sense of involvement and connection they experienced at their undergraduate institutions.  They offered reasons for why this lack of connection exists.  One reason mentioned was the lack of information students received from the graduate school upon entering Tufts.  Specifically, students cited a lack of orientation to the graduate school, including information on the history of Tufts, history of the graduate school, and some sort of ritual or tradition upon entering the school. 

The perception that Tufts is not focused on the graduate school was also mentioned in several groups.  Students felt that Tufts does not view the graduate school as being financially beneficial (in comparison to undergraduate departments) and therefore does not spend time or effort addressing graduate school issues. This sentiment was echoed by a member of the administration who stated that graduate students do not bring in as much money as undergraduates because they are often financed by teaching and research assistantships, and scholarships.

              Although there are a few students who have connections with students in other departments, most graduate students interact within the confines of their own department.  A common remark was that individuals feel “isolated from the graduate student community.” Within each department, we began to hear different stories of these experiences.  Some students related positive experience at Tufts, while others tended to speak of race and diversity in terms of population.  An Engineering student wrote, “Students are very diverse.  In fact, Americans are in the minority, and the majority are international students.”  Only one student talked about race as a personal obligation.  “As a white woman, my main concern is continuing to grow toward a sense of personal authority . . . increasing my ability to participate in racial discourse with a sense of how racial difference works and how I can contribute to ending destructive racism in the world and in myself.”  Two graduate students questioned the importance of these issues.  One student went so far as to say that this project was a waste of time.  

Comments were made regarding the absolute lack of racial diversity within departments.  One department was singled out as having only “two or three students of color in the class.”  In departments where this was true, almost all of the students who responded said that they would definitely appreciate greater diversity.  All of these student life issues add to the faculty and classroom experiences to build a quality education.  The role of the administration is equally important.  

Administration

            Many of the students commented that they believed that Tufts cared about increasing diversity and that the university was “trying,” but they also saw a lack of action in recruitment efforts at all levels (from student to upper administration). Some wondered if Tufts merely gave “lip service” to increasing diversity.  Other students saw a cycle of how Tufts has dealt with diversity in the past: dealing with it sporadically and only in the face of a major problem (i.e. when students marched on Ballou Hall).    

Students recognized the important role that administration plays in their experiences with race and diversity at Tufts.  As a way of building a quality education, proactive recruitment of more diverse faculty is needed.  The administration’s role in this process was noted.  Students commented that the university as a whole must be more aggressive in its recruitment of diverse faculty and its efforts to retain those faculty members.  Some students expressed that the recruitment of and the ability to retain diverse faculty should become more of a financial priority for the university.

Related to this issue, the university’s use of financial resources was also called into question. A predominant theme students stressed was that the university needs to be more aggressive in recruiting students of diverse backgrounds—listing race, ethnicity and class as indicators of diversity. Students recommended that more funding be created for stipends, scholarships, and travel in order to make Tufts more competitive in attracting students of diverse background.  Students perceived that other universities have invested more human and financial resources in attracting and retaining students of color.  Overall, the administration is responsible for creating a positive atmosphere in how Tufts deals with race and diversity.  Campus organizations and resources also contribute to this atmosphere.

Campus Organizations and Resources

The role of cultural student groups and cultural centers were of particular concern to graduate students of color.  Many students cited the feeling that these groups and centers are only there for undergraduates and solely run by undergraduates.  While students acknowledged the existence of graduate student assistants in the cultural centers, comparable graduate organizations or centers do not exist.  Graduate students understand that they are welcome to participate in these undergraduate groups; however, they do not feel a sense of ownership.  One participant commented that graduate student fees do not go to cultural centers, further inhibiting the use of those resources.  Another limiting factor was the time graduate students spend at Tufts.  “It’s hard to keep an infrastructure when graduate students are so transitory,” one student said.     

             Graduate students recognize the necessity of campus cultural centers as a means of promoting cultural interactions and awareness.  The lack of access to these cultural centers creates a void in graduate student life.  For example, one graduate student stated, “I do not feel that, at the graduate level, there are many programs, events, and activities . . . towards addressing racial attitudes.”  Many graduate students feel that Tufts does not provoke thought and discussion on campus.  Perhaps campus organizations and cultural centers can become the vehicle for graduate students’ exchange of ideas.

Useful campus resources students mentioned were the Lincoln Filene Center, the Office of Diversity and the International Center.   Students felt that the Lincoln Filene Center and the Office of Diversity were supportive environments for students of color.  The International Center was commended as being useful and informative in helping students make the transition to living in the States.  As a whole, campus cultural centers and organizations were seen as an area of potential graduate student use, involvement, and support.

Recommendations

            Students expressed a frustration with a cyclical pattern of action and inaction by the University on racial issues.  The recommendations that follow are concrete, practical, and ongoing and will help to address the problems and concerns of graduate students. 

I. Recruitment

We recommend that the University initiate active recruitment by diligently pursuing administration, faculty, staff and students of color via means of personal contacts.  To do this, candidates of color should be recruited with personal contacts such as phone calls, emails, and letters.  Once these candidates have been recruited and placed in the applicant pool, a concerted effort must be made to place them on the interview list.  While we are aware that some steps have been taken and strategies are in place on an administrative and departmental level, the outcomes of these efforts have been limited as evidenced by the lack of ethnic minorities represented in the faculty and administration. In addition, students expressed that the university needs to offer more money and resources to retain these faculty members.  As one student noted, “Tufts needs to convince faculty of color that the University is a good place and that they are welcomed because the track record with faculty of color has not been good.”  Likewise, these same steps should be taken during administrative and staff searches.

            Additionally, most students felt that their departments do not actively recruit students of color.  To address this problem, students of color within departments can act as a bridge between the university and prospective students of color.  Specifically, students can call, host and interact with these students to inform them about their respective programs. Overall Tufts needs to make these efforts more of a priority by investing time, money and resources.

II. Curriculum

              We recommend that all curricula at Tufts be more inclusive of diversity through the incorporation of varied course materials, course offerings, and guest speakers.  In addition to improving diversity within the classroom by increasing faculty of color, students would like to see cultural diversity in the curriculum.  For example, a Physical Chemistry course in the Chemistry department could require graduate students to do an in-depth research analysis of a chemist of color.  As an example of a course offering, the Urban and Environmental Policy Department could add a core course titled, “Working in Communities of Color” incorporating environmental, social, and urban policies as well as a broad base of subject matters.  As a means for the university to play an active role in implementing this diversification, a faculty member’s tenure process could be weighted by their efforts to make their curriculum more encompassing.

III.    Academic Resource and Training

            We recommend that the diversity training and resources available to full-time faculty be extended to all non-tenure track faculty members, including graduate students who teach.  Students noted that leading a classroom discussion on race and diversity is difficult considering the lack of training that they have received coupled with the lack of minority students within the classroom.  Such training would allow these students to be better prepared to deal with these issues.  Students mentioned the need for part-time faculty to have this same assistance given certain instances of inappropriate comments by part-time faculty.

IV. Cultural Centers

             We recommend that the cultural centers (the Latino Center, the African American Center, the Asian American Center, the Women’s Center and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center) be made more available as resources to graduate students.  As an overriding theme of the project, the cultural centers were viewed as undergraduate resource centers that do very little to attract and connect graduate students. The overall suggestion made was that these centers need to be more active in their outreach and inclusion to graduate students.  Building from these comments, we believe that funds should be given to the cultural centers to provide programming and activities specifically aimed at graduate students.  Perhaps part of this funding can come from the student activity fees that graduate students pay—this will give graduate students a sense of ownership in the cultural centers.

V. Funding

            We recommend that more funding be made available to all graduate students of color in the forms of fellowships, resources for traveling, and projects related to diversity.  Students expressed a frustration with the lack of resources available for travel to conferences, funding their education, and in general enriching their educational experience while at Tufts.  Specifically, students feel that this is needed for Tufts to be more competitive with other schools in attracting more diverse students—culturally, racially, and economically.  This funding would demonstrate to prospective and current students that the university is committed to increasing diversity on campus.

VI. Office of Diversity

            We recommend that the Office of Diversity add a full-time staff member and a paid graduate student assistant whose primary focus would be working on diversity issues on the graduate school level.  The issues of graduate students are not being addressed due to limited staff and the low priority placed on their concerns.  A full-time staff member would be able to address and track these issues and propose concrete solutions to these problems.  This work would enable this staff member and the graduate assistant to advocate on behalf of the under-served graduate student population. 

VII. Filing of Grievances    

            We recommend that a formal confidential grievance process be created specifically for graduate students.  Although there is a process already in place for the entire university system, we believe that the nature of graduate study necessitates a unique procedure.  This process would allow a student to confidentially report a complaint without detriment to his or her education at Tufts.  In reference to this idea, a student shared an experience where a fellow graduate student initiated a complaint against a professor and was consequently alienated by both faculty and students because of her actions. Perhaps a graduate student judiciary board could be implemented to carry out such investigations. Clearly, this goes beyond a one-semester project.  This process needs to be researched and examined by faculty and students due to the sensitivity and delicate relationship between graduate students and their departments.

 

VIII. Public Record

We recommend that a public record be made of all past, current and future efforts and events related to diversity at Tufts.  This public record should be actively updated and communicated to the student body via means of emails, newsletters, and articles in the Tufts Daily, the Grad Rag, Tufts Journal and any other university wide publications. Keeping students informed and aware of the ongoing efforts that are happening can help to alleviate students’ lack of awareness of university efforts and build momentum for the movement.  Specifically the creation of a weekly column dealing with diversity in the Tufts Daily could lead to this solution.

IX. Orientation

            We recommend that orientation be made a vehicle to create more of a student to student and student to school connection.  This can be accomplished by incorporating general information about the background and history of Tufts and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  Included in the orientation should be a culturally appropriate resource guide providing information about the community and services available.  As an African American student said, “I couldn’t find a church, or where to get my hair done or anything related to my culture when I got here”.  Orientation can also offer the opportunity for students of color to interact and build community through events that promote interaction and dialogue, which would otherwise be unattainable.  Finally, this time of the year affords the ability for incoming students to participate in diversity training that will help them throughout their experiences at Tufts and for their future careers. 

 

X. Graduate Student Council

            We recommend that the GSC be used as a mechanism to generate discussions, programs and activities on diversity issues.  We realize that GSC has done some programming around these issues and has even resurrected the Diversity Forum, however a continual and concrete effort should be made to address these issues.  This can be done by way of fund allocations, activity programming and scholarships for students of color.  The GSC can also connect all students to the graduate school by linking students from different departments via interdepartmental mixers.  GSC is an untapped resource that can greatly enhance student connections.

Conclusion

                This project generated a rich body of knowledge that represented the ideas and concerns of graduate students as a whole.  These graduate students appreciated the work that we have done and now have high expectations for change.  The recommendations stated above demand the University’s attention and action.  To ensure the implementation of these recommendations, a structured process should be created. A formal body should be responsible for monitoring and measuring progress on these recommendations.  The needs and concerns raised affect all graduate students at Tufts University however as one student pointed out, “It’s difficult being a graduate student in general, but being a grad student of color is even tougher.”


APPENDIX A

 

Focus Group Invitation

You have been selected to participate in a focus group to share your experiences with race and diversity at Tufts University. The F.A.C.T. Group (Faces and Colors at Tufts) is a student-initiated project to examine and record the experiences of graduate students.  Below are listed two dates of focus groups you are being invited to attend.  Please respond back to this email address regarding which date you prefer.  All focus groups will be held at the Campus Center and refreshments will be served.  It is of enormous importance that you participate in this process. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences needs to hear from its students on this important issue. Please make every effort to attend. Thank you for advance for you time.

 

 

APPENDIX B

 

Focus Group Introduction and Rules

            First, we would like to thank all of you for coming to this focus group, giving us your time and cooperation. The F.A.C.T Group (Faces and Colors at Tufts) is a graduate student project initiated to study the experiences of graduate students on campus.  We organized this focus group for three purposes: 1) to examine and record students experiences with race and diversity; 2) to analyze the ways in which Tufts University has or has not addressed these issues to date, and 3) to establish a link between student experiences and the actions of Tufts in order to develop positive recommendations for change.  Our recommendations will be made to the Oversight Panel of the Task Force on Race and other important administrators within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Everything discussed in and outside this focus group will remain confidential. We will not disclose any names in our final report.

            On your chair, you will find a flier with our email address.  Please use it to give us feedback on the focus group, communicate any experiences not shared within the group, and/or to request an executive summary of our results at the end of the semester.  Any comments you make will be greatly appreciated.

            Finally, it is important that we observe the rules of the focus group in order to make this run as smoothly as possible:

1.      One person speaks at a time, please do not interrupt anyone.

2.      Make “I” not “We” statements.

3.      Be respectful of each other’s opinion.

4.      Help us retain the confidentiality of everyone in this group, please do not name names if you are to discuss anything outside of this group.

 

My name is ____, I will be the facilitator of this focus group.  ____ will be the main scribe for this focus group.  S/he will be in charge of writing down the main ideas expressed in the group on the tablet for everyone to see. Three students will also be taking notes (introduce by name) during the focus group.  That being said, I think we can begin…

 

 

APPENDIX C

 

Discussion Questions

1.      Is racial diversity important to you? Why or why not?

2.      What has Tufts done or not done to support and or promote racial diversity?

3.      Do you have any personal experiences with these issues?

4.      What do you think Tufts can do to address these issues?

 

 

 

APPENDIX D

 

Electronic Survey

          We are a group of graduate students researching race and diversity in the graduate school at Tufts. Please take a minute to answer the following questions: 1) Describe your experiences with race and diversity at Tufts (positive and negative), 2) What changes would you like to see surrounding these issues?

            Please email your responses to ____.  By replying to this email, you will be entered into a raffle to win $25.00.  Winner will be notified via email. Thank you for your time. Signed, F.A.C.T. Group.