The Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective has recently made the Graduate Division aware of concerns that we have regarding the recruitment and retention of Chican@/Latin@ graduate students and other graduate students of color as well as the recruitment of Faculty of color and we would now like to make these concerns public. The following are only a few of our concerns. The full letter is accessible below.
The Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective asks that you please read and widely distribute this letter.
Alfredo Carlos M.A. Adriana Sanchez Alexander
March 7, 2011
Dr. Frances. M. Leslie
Dean of Graduate Division
University of California, Irvine
155 C Aldrich Hall
Irvine CA, 92697
Dear Dr. Frances Leslie,
On behalf of the Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective, we are writing to bring to your attention some pressing issues and concerns regarding graduate students of color experiences in the Schools of Social Sciences, Social Ecology, Humanities, and Education. This letter outlines several aspects of problems experienced by fellow Chicano/Latino Graduate students, and while we can only speak with confidence to our particular experiences, we acknowledge that other students of color may share similar experiences. We therefore hope that the issues raised and suggestions offered here can be a step along the path to creating a stronger and more supportive culture of diversity within the graduate programs at UCI.
In the last three academic years, four Chicano/Latino Ph.D. students have left the School of Education, one has left the School of Social Ecology, and two the School of Social Sciences. Also in the past two years, there have not been any new Chicano/Latino students enrolled into the Department of Political Science. There have also only been two Chicano/Latino students in the Visual Studies program in the past five years. While these numbers may seem small, they represent only what we are personally aware of, as we do not have access to the actual institutional data. More to the point, however, the situation is alarming since it represents a major setback to the already underrepresented Chicano/Latino graduate student enrollment at UC Irvine and within the UC system as a whole – estimated at just 8%. While you are certainly familiar with the statistics, we believe they bear repeating in this context. Clearly, whether in Education, the Social Sciences, or Humanities, there is a problem with the recruitment and the retention of students of color (an issue returned to later), as well as an academic climate that is hostile to Chicano/Latino scholars, both graduate students and faculty.
The issue has become one of deep concern for our group and, as we have come together to discuss and reflect on the situation, we have identified certain commonalities in our own experiences – certain themes that we found have negatively affected our own integration into our respective doctoral programs – which perhaps point to some of the larger issues.
Advising and Mentoring
One prominent theme that has emerged is how faculty approach and interact with Chicano/Latino students. Across departments, members in our collective have encountered the assumption on the part of some faculty members that, as graduate students of color, we are academically deficient. As such, some members have been singled out from their peers to take remedial courses, and this after they had already been admitted and enrolled and in addition to their regular degree requirements. Although these kinds of blind assumptions about our qualifications are disappointing, this is not so much the principal concern – and to be clear we most certainly welcome constructive suggestions to improve our skills as researchers and scholars. We do find it problematic, however, that the process for referring students for remediation is not clearly outlined or transparent and it appears that these suggestions for improvement are not conducted systematically.
It may be partly on account of these perceived deficiencies that some faculty steer clear of advising Chicano/Latino graduate students, even when our research interests align. We find that in the best-case scenario, there are only one or two faculty members in a department that provide guidance to Chicano/Latino graduate students. In some cases, students have had to find outside, affiliated or part-time faculty for support. It is less than ideal to have advisors outside of, or on the margins of our respective departments when the goal is to contribute broadly within our fields. We also find it important to note that often times those faculty members advise students of color because they themselves are the only faculty of color in their department, and they advise us even when their research does not align with our own. That these particular scholars bear the burden of advising most of the Chicano/Latino graduate students, while also carrying the load of advising others within the general graduate student body of their respective departments, is simply not an equitable situation.
We have also found that many of us have encountered problems with our specific research interests. It is fair to say that outside of the S.T.E.M. schools many Chicano/Latino students have scholarly interests in the social, economic, and political problems that affect our communities. Often these interests originate from our lived experiences and are the motivation behind our initial choice to engage in research. Many of us feel that we were direct about our research interests and methodological approaches as early as our statement of purpose. However, once we were admitted and enrolled, our academic departments failed to provide us with the support to pursue our research and methodological interests. Often our departments expect us to change our research topics and/or methods. While this expectation is rarely stated explicitly, it is communicated quite clearly. Faculty show a lack of enthusiasm for our research interests, departments fail to require rigorous training in both quantitative and qualitative methods, and community-based research is vastly undervalued. We need our departments to be accountable for providing us with the training and support to develop as scholars, recognizing the importance of our research and its potential contribution to the academy and more importantly to creating equity amongst all ethnic groups in our society.
Classroom and Professional Experiences
As noted, many of us come also from first-generation college-going and working-class backgrounds, and, as such, have intellectual and community commitments to these experiences which drive our research. We take the motto of the School of Social Science – “Where I make a difference” – and its suggestion that our scholarship and research should have a public impact quite seriously. For instance, some of our students are committed to helping the on-campus maintenance workers become in-sourced. This issue itself exemplifies the hostile environment towards people of color in general within the institution as a whole. Within our respective departments, having a public impact is explicitly de-prioritized and often outright degraded and not treated as a scholarly pursuit.
At times we have been recruited by some faculty who wish for us to help them in their research rather than seeking to help us or guide us in ours. In these instances we have felt we have been recruited because of our ability to help faculty access information from Chicano/Latino communities rather than to help us build our skill sets. Also, there have been specific instances when we have been advised by faculty members to access these communities, use them for our research and leave without making any kind of impact, which most of us feel is contradictory to our personal and ethical standards. Moreover, working with some faculty members never moves beyond assisting with faculty research, and this is to the detriment of our own scholarly development. It impacts our ability to carve out our own unique voice and to begin to make a contribution in our fields.
These kinds of issues often force us to make the choice to separate our intellectual pursuits and our community commitments. We would like for this choice to not be necessary and for there to be some recognition of the academic value of research pursuits that do, in fact, “make a difference.”
Recruitment has become a difficult issue for many of us. We often encounter situations where our departments and faculty are more than happy to laud us as their token “diversity” students at awards ceremonies, special dinners, and during recruitment to show institutional proof that they are, in fact, a diverse department. As a matter of fact, our departments call on us to help them attract prospective students of color to the school during recruitment. However, this seems to be the only time our departments are actually concerned with diversity and the well being of these “diversity” graduate students. We would love nothing more than lend our help in increasing the numbers of graduate students of color in our departments and at UCI as a whole, but we feel we are asked to falsely portray the climate for graduate students of color at UCI.
We are eager to get to a point to where we can recruit more students of color with confidence to UCI knowing full well that they will have the institutional, departmental and faculty support they need to be successful here. We have some suggestions to further avoid any unnecessary attrition from the ranks of the Chicano/Latino graduate student population.
1. The Graduate Division should facilitate the creation of a network of graduate students of color. A positive first step in this direction would be to welcome students of color to the university at a formal event annually, which we would be more than happy to collaborate in.
2. The establishment of professional development and networking workshops tailored to non-S.T.E.M graduate students of color. While we are aware of D.E.C.A.D.E. we feel that not enough has been done to outreach or to cater these workshops to non-S.T.E.M. graduate students of color.
3. The Cota Robles Program lacks transparency in the way the program works and how funding is distributed. We have been led to question the actual purpose of the program, considering that it is awarded despite the absence of diversity candidates, as in the case of Political Science in the previous two years. Furthermore, those few of us who have been awarded the fellowship feel that it has not helped integrate us to the campus environment nor met our advising and mentoring needs. While those of us who are recipients are very appreciative of the funding, which without we would not be able to continue our studies, we feel this program has room for improvement.
4. It may be helpful to have a staff person coordinate program outreach to and networking of graduate students of color who are enrolled in our respective schools.
5. As future professors who understand the demands on current faculty, we call for a method to be found to compensate or give credit to faculty who are asked to and decide to mentor larger than normal amount of grad students, who tend to be students of color.
These suggestions are merely a starting point, a way to launch the discussion on how we can begin to remedy an institutional culture that can be hostile to Chicano/Latino and other graduate students of color. We want to be clear in that we do not seek to be coddled; what we seek is to address with clarity and purpose the current situation that undermines our scholarly pursuits and our academic integrity. We are hopeful that we can begin a dialogue in order for these things to change and are willing to work to make the suggested changes. It is disheartening to us that we have lost as many Chicano/Latino students as we have in the recent past, but we hope to change the climate to make UCI a more welcoming environment for graduate students of color. As such, we are requesting to meet and discuss these issues, as well as share with more detail our thoughts on how we can implement positive changes to achieve this shared goal. We look forward to meeting with you soon. Please email us at our addresses below to notify us when you would be amenable to meet. Thank you very much for your time.
On behalf of the members of the Chican@/Latin@ Graduate Student Collective
Alfredo Carlos, M.A. Adriana Sanchez Alexander