Creating Equitable and Inclusive Graduate Programs: From Recruitment to Admission to Retention
Thank you for joining us for the second webinar in the 2023 NIMH ODWD Webinar Series. Today’s topic is Creating Equitable and Inclusive Graduate Programs: From Recruitment to Admission to Retention. Before I begin, I’m going to go ahead and review some housekeeping notes. Participants have entered on mute and listen only mode with cameras disabled. Participants may submit questions via the Q&A box at any time during the webinar. Please address your question to the intended speaker. Questions will be answered towards the end of the webinar, during the Q&A session.
If you have technical difficulties hearing or viewing the webinar, please note these in the Q&A box and our technicians will work to fix the problem. You can also send an email to email@example.com. All webinars in this series are being recorded and will be made available in the coming weeks. CEUs and certificates for attendance are not being offered for this webinar. It is now my pleasure to turn this over to Dr. Brittany Haynes. Please go ahead.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Thank you so much. Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to the 2023 National Institute of Mental Health Workforce Diversity and Equity Webinar entitled, Creating Equitable and Inclusive Graduate Programs: From Recruitment to Admissions to Retention. My name is Dr. Brittany Haynes and I’m the Program Director of the Workforce Diversity and Equity Program in the Office of Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity here at NIMH.
As many of us know, biomedical research workforce diversity is essential for solving complex human health challenges and is part of a comprehensive strategy to address inequities in health and healthcare. In fact, data shows that bringing together people with ethnic diversity and from different backgrounds to work cooperatively produces new ideas and perspectives, ultimately improving innovation and productivity and generating high quality science and academic papers.
This webinar will provide an overview of research focused on building equitable STEMM graduate programs that promote the admission, recruitment, and retention of diverse populations. Given the vital importance of STEMM graduate training and generating and maintaining a vibrant, diverse, and well-prepared biomedical research workforce, and the recent SCOTUS ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, this webinar is especially timely and valuable.
To speak about building equitable STEMM graduate programs, we will be hearing from two experts. First, we will hear from Dr. Julie Posselt. Dr. Posselt is Associate Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Southern California, Associate Professor in the USC Rossier School of Education, and President of the Sociology of Education Association. Her research examines institutionalized inequities in higher education and organizational efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion with a focus on graduate education.
She is an expert in the dynamics of judgment and decision-making that determine access to and advancement in academia. Internationally recognized for her scholarship on admissions and systemic change, she is the author of more than 65 articles and three books. Most recently, Equity in Science: Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education. She directs two research-practice partnerships, The Equity in Graduate Education Consortium, and the NSF INCLUDES Inclusive Graduate Education Network Research Hub. Dr. Posselt received the American Educational Research Association’s Early Career Award, as well as the Association for the Study of Higher Education’s Promising Scholar Early Career Award. She is a member of the NSF Directorate for STEMM Education Advisory Board, among other national and international organizations.
She is a past Associate Editor of the Journal of Higher Education and has been a member of three National Academy consensus studies, most recently on anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEMM organizations. Dr. Posselt held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Academy of Education Spencer Foundation and earned her PhD from the University of Michigan.
Following Dr. Posselt, we will hear from Dr. Kimberly Griffin. Dr. Griffin was appointed Dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland in 2022. She has been a member of the University of Maryland faculty since 2012. She joined the college as an associate professor in the Higher Education Student Affairs and International Education Policy Program and later served on the Dean’s Leadership Team, as the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Faculty Affairs. In this role, she led efforts to revise the college’s tenure and promotion policy, as well as support and guide faculty hiring and graduate student recruitment.
Prior to joining the University of Maryland, she was a faculty member at Pennsylvania State University and Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies at Stanford University School of Medicine and an Admissions Officer at Stanford University. Dr. Griffin’s work aims to promote access, equity, and justice in higher education. Much of her current research and writing focuses on mentorship, career development, and faculty and graduate student diversity. Her research has been funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the National Institutes of Health, and National Science Foundation. She has served as the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education since 2018.
Her work has been highly recognized for its relevance and effectiveness in addressing persistent problems in higher and science education. She received the Promising Scholar Early Career Award by the Association for the Study of Higher Education in 2013 and was named an Emerging Scholar in 2010 and Diamond Honoree in 2020 by ACPA. In 2022, she was named one of the 200 Most Influential Education Scholars by Education Week. Dr. Griffin received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, her Master’s Degree in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Maryland, and her Doctorate Degree in Higher Education and Organizational Change from the University of California Los Angeles.
I am so pleased to have these experts with us here today. Now, Dr. Posselt.
JULIE POSSELT: Good afternoon, everyone. I am so happy to be able to join you today for this important conversation. With so much to say about so many important issues, I’m going to jump right in. I’m a scholar of higher education organizations, sociology, and culture, as Brittany mentioned. My research for the last 15 years has been focused on two core questions. Number one, why do we evaluate and select applicants in ways that undermine diversity and equal opportunity? Second, what can we do about it? I’m really curious about what it is that we can do about the ability to better align the values that we say we hold with the practices and policies that make reality.
My first book, which is portrayed here, looked really deeply at the first question. I wanted to understand the mindsets that have upheld our typical approaches to admission, which one of my research participants nicely summed up as metrics first, diversity later. For two years of field work, in 10 top ranked PhD programs across the disciplines, I found several patterns that help explain why we carry out admissions in ways that undermine diversity. The first is that the common metrics that we typically use are convenient. They carry some really deeply rooted meanings for faculty, especially those who are in elite organizations.
The second, it was more than a clear set of preferences for criteria. Faculty were definitely looking for a certain sort of process. Number one, that would be efficient and second, that would be collegial. Often what this required was that they evade important, if uncomfortable, conversations. I also found a very clear preference that faculty have for people who are like themselves. I know this will be difficult for you to believe. We all know about the tendencies to want to hire mini-mes and reproduce the professorate through admissions.
In addition to this, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I found very clear patterns of ambivalence about change, especially changes that are related to race and racism and gender and sexism. Any of these, especially if they weren’t typically having these types of discussions, discussing these types of issues, became salient in a moment like admissions, when so much was on the line.
Following this research, I wanted to get inside the mindsets, this time, of professors who were doing things differently. My second book reports results of another project where I focused on trying to learn from outliers in STEMM, specifically STEMM PhD programs that were significantly more diverse than their fields, even though they were in states that had bans on race conscious admissions. What I found is that every single one of them had revisited their admissions processes. Maybe that’s not a surprise. I also found some cultural qualities in these programs that made them able to sustain diverse representation over time.
One, they viewed change as systemic. They recognized that it plays out at multiple levels. Second, they recognize the importance of culture and making sure they weren’t turning away from the discomforts that come with discussing race and racism. The ability to talk about politics, the ability to engage things at an emotional level, enabled a cultural change that some places that were really just focused on admissions and recruitment never quite got to. Finally, part of this was developing racial literacy and valuing the work of those boundary-spanners within our organizations who help facilitate understanding across the lines of difference that typically separate us.
With that background and recognizing that admissions is top of mind for many of us right now with the Supreme Court rulings, I want to spend the rest of my time speaking directly to possibilities for diversity in selection in these departments that are in states with bans on affirmative action and nevertheless, are more diverse than their peers.
If you remember anything from this talk, I hope that you remember that increasing diversity through selection requires alignment among, number one, what criteria we use, but secondly, how they are used and interpreted, and third, what the foundations are for why we want to see those qualities as indicators of merit in the first place. I’ll spend a few minutes talking about assessing merit in our new legal landscape, and then I’ll share with you the model of admissions that my colleagues and I have developed through research practice partnerships. Hopefully we’ll have a few minutes to close with the lessons we’ve learned about implementing that model and navigating resistance to it.
First, the legal landscape. We’re all thinking about it. We’re aware now that with a six-person majority, the Supreme Court has ruled that race cannot be used on its own as a factor in admissions decisions. The opinions are the first time, however, that we’ve heard from most of these justices on race conscious policy. It’s noteworthy, I think, that several of the justices who opposed it, such as Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas were all coming of age as lawyers and were directly impacted by the implementation and the first challenges to race conscious admissions.
As I found in faculty making PhD admissions decisions, our professional views on these matters can never be fully separated from our personal journeys with race and racism in America. Sure, what we find is that Chief Justice Roberts questioned race conscious government policies throughout his career, including the Voting Rights Act. His view is that the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. This has been widely cited. Sonia Sotomayor has responded to Justice Roberts’ claim by saying that the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race and apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.
Indeed, where Roberts’ ruling effectively calls for a colorblind approach to admissions, Sotomayor’s dissent argued that we will actually be undermining Constitutional guarantees of equal protection by doing this because it will lead to more racial inequality in education. You may have heard or read parts of a second dissenting opinion by Ketanji Brown Jackson, which relies on Sotomayor’s analysis and explains why race conscious admissions benefit everyone. She also took the position that UNC’s process provided for individualized review that Robert’s called for. She presents a long view of the history of persistent racial inequalities in America. She writes that the majority may have pulled the ripcord and announced colorblindness for all by legal fiat, but deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.
What do these rulings on Harvard’s and UNC’s undergraduate admissions policy mean for graduate admissions policies across the United States? I’m going to offer a few words on this, but I want to highlight here that the information that I’m offering isn’t intended to constitute legal advice. The views expressed are my own and I also want to thank EdCounsel for a really helpful range of ways to understand this that will be roughly portrayed here.
First, what’s really clear is what cannot be done under the new precedent is to assign rewards or penalties to applicants on the basis of their race alone. The majority opinion ruled that this effectively presents a risk of stereotyping. However, there remains a lot that we can do that is tied to race and other identities. Roberts’ opinion made clear that universities can use information that students are supplying that connect their race to their lived experiences in ways that cultivate characteristics that universities want, like their aspirations, their leadership, their persistence, and their distance traveled.
Universities still have a variety of identity neutral options available in which applicants are valued for having skills, knowledge, or experience with race as a subject that’s relevant to our educational mission. We know that skills and knowledge around race are not just relevant in fields like sociology and Black studies, but like Brittany said at the beginning, that we all need these as part of contributing to healthy work environments and being an effective professional in diverse societies, managing the disparities in our respective fields.
Finally, there is a lot of unfinished work for universities in making the whole system of admissions and enrollment management more equitable. They can eliminate criteria that have disparate impact, as many have already begun to do in eliminating standardized test requirements. They can go beyond admissions to address structural inequities in other processes, like recruitment, like mentorship, like hiring, that all determine equal opportunity in our society.
Going forward, I would suggest that in assessing merit, that universities consider multiple standards when they think about the different criteria they’re using for admissions and other forms of selection. They need to be attentive, not only to the utility of information, but also how it’s being used and misused sometimes in practice. They need to consider the extent to which it’s relevant and valid in predicting applicant success and other institutional goals. As I’ve already mentioned, they should consider the presence or absence of disparate impact and how it is that relying on a criterion can perpetuate other types of inequalities.
Finally, and this is definitely a situation of last but not least, I would argue that we need to start paying more attention to the systemic impacts of the criteria that we propose. Number one, we find that there are studies that find that the imposition of new requirements can reduce the likelihood that minoritized applicants will apply. Similarly, that eliminating historic barriers is the sort of thing that can increase applications from students of color. What we require sends a strong message about what and who we want, in ways that are shaping students’ aspirations, ambitions, and application behavior.
I want to talk about a model of holistic review as a framework for selection that has been appropriately used within the state of California that does not have ability to use race conscious admissions and never the less is increasing diversity in those programs. Holistic review entered the public discourse in association with the 2003 Supreme Court Grutter Case. It has some advantages relative to traditional models of selection, such as reducing the impact of metrics that have known disparities, making it clearer how our standards of selection are aligned with our values, opening up space to consider socio-emotional qualities that are important to professional success, and shifting the opportunity structure so that we have a more level playing field.
What research over the years about admissions shows is that we can’t just look at more and different criteria and expect to get different outcomes. Many criteria on their own have inequities and can perpetuate inequities. Instead, what we’re finding is that we also have to pay attention to how criteria are made sense of and used by decision makers and why it is that we want those criteria in the first place. These mindsets matter. The model that my colleagues and I have been developing for equity-minded holistic review has four main components. We suggest that it should be comprehensive, contextualized, systemic, and equity minded. I’ll go through each of these briefly and then talk a little bit about what implementation has been like.
First, comprehensiveness means taking into account numerous and diverse criteria to consider the whole person and the sum of their potential. On the right are some standard areas of interest that many graduate programs have. We’re all interested in academic preparation, obviously, as we should be. We’re many times thinking also about professional potential, about alignment or fit with the program. We also can be looking at skills that are helping to support our organizations as we’re trying to become more diverse and inclusive and we can be thinking about socio-emotional competencies like leadership and creativity.
Second, to be contextualized means thinking about the metrics that we do use in the context of the fact that they have statistical error, like all statistics do. Also in the context of societal patterns. We know that one achievement historically, that people like to see is a high grade point average from an elite university. But guess what? This is an opportunity that is not necessarily available to everybody. What’s more, that kind of an achievement doesn’t reliably signal whether somebody’s going to do well in graduate school. We need to learn to think about the achievements that we’re typically dazzled by in the context of the opportunities people have had and in the context of what people are actually being trained to do.
Finally, and this is really important in the new legal environment, we need to be thinking about students in the context of our graduate programs themselves. Students are huge players in the lives and the fabric of our organizations. The ability to select students who will help our programs become what we want them to be is a really great strategic move, one that can be linked to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
A third element of our model is being systematic. Here what we’re talking about is the importance of basing review on shared and predefined criteria, ideally using structured protocols. This helps build in efficiency and consistency, which are two big hallmarks of equity, but also it’s a more fair system. What we know is that when people are attuned to what they should be looking for, it’s less likely that implicit bias is going to creep in. Along the way, we also suggest that being systematic means carefully selecting and training our gatekeepers in some basics of how to do selection and to more thoughtfully evaluate how we are coordinating admissions with recruitment and yield efforts.
Finally, the underlying mindset of equity-mindedness, I think, can’t be overstated in its importance. The kind of mindsets we bring to the information and process of admissions definitely affect how we make sense of the same kind of information. We may not be able to be race conscious in the ways that we were before, while upholding the law, but there’s no reason that we cannot be racism conscious about the ways that our evaluations and society have produced inequities that need to be taken into account.
We can be systemically aware by taking into account how applicant files reflect the opportunities that students have had, not necessarily just their ambitions. We can be asset-based, where the typical norm is to look for things that are wrong about an applicant as a way to let those red flags be deterrents from our decision to admit them. Being institutionally responsible means asking questions about our processes and taking responsibility and accountability for their outcomes.
Finally, being data driven means using data to make the decisions and then evaluating our processes to see why, or not, we’re making some progress in inequities and diversity. I want to highlight that this model was developed by Estela Bensimon and her colleagues at the Center for Urban Education at my institution, USC. Although they didn’t develop it originally for admissions, it’s also relevant to a wide variety of other processes, including a model of mentorship that Dr. Griffin, pardon me, Dean Griffin, has developed.
With the last five minutes or so that I have, I’d like to talk about some lessons of implementing this approach to admissions and how those who have done so have navigated resistance. Over the last seven years, my team has been developing structures that help the decentralized system of graduate education move together toward more equitable systems, whatever the state legal context that they’re in has been. The Equity in Graduate Education Consortium is a partnership of currently 12, soon to be 23 institutions that enables capacity building and systemic change for diversity and equity and inclusion by providing training and evidence-based and equity-minded practices, coaching for leaders in institutional change, and helping graduate schools build their infrastructure for faculty development.
What we found is that in the first three years of our project, that the numbers and percentages of racially minoritized applicants, admitted students, and enrollees all significantly increased and that they’re now sustaining these changes into the future. We’re really proud of these outcomes, but we’re equally interested in understanding what the experience of those who are doing the work looks like. Along the way, we’ve been conducting research about the policy implementation process, specifically with respect to holistic admissions. At its core, what we’ve been trying to understand is what movement toward holistic admissions looks like in practice, specifically, in STEM PhD programs that have been really rooted in a model that is about quantification and metrics.
What we’ve found is that the transition to holistic admissions involves delegitimizing some of the previously unquestioned evaluation routines and protecting the possibility of new routines by managing the dialogue around change. The most common changes that we saw in our partner programs were, number one, eliminating GRE scores. Second, adopting and institutionalizing rubrics, and third, doing more contextualized review of applicant information. By contextualized review, I mean not just looking at information on its surface, but looking underneath to see why it is that we might see the patterns that we do.
In the paper that we’ve recently finished and have in press right now about this, we suggest that these represent dimensions of policy, cultural, and cognitive change and that together, it helps disrupt some of the institutionalized practices and norms that I discussed at the beginning of this talk. This was not easy work for those that were making changes. Those of you who have been involved in trying to push for DEI within your organizations have probably encountered some similar challenges as they have. We did try to capture some of the lessons that they have learned as they were moving from holistic admissions as an experiment to a new sort of standard of normal and how along the way they were navigating resistance.
First, they used data to make the case. Both local statistics, as well as success stories that challenged the narratives that people already had in their heads. Second, I found that they were working with political realities. They didn’t deny that racism is a political issue. They built coalitions, they held power accountable, and they did everything that they could to help draw out a majority that often is overly passive. Third, they managed the emotional responses of their colleagues by acknowledging that often change of any sort comes with cognitive dissonance and by respecting the fact that change often comes with identity threats.
Finally, they weren’t afraid to defer to authorities, whether it was recommendations from the National Academy, the recommendations of their Dean, or what research currently says in this area. Together, all of this made a measurable difference in diversity and creating a new normal. I hope you, too, can take some inspiration from these strategies as you’re striving to continue centering equity in your programs, despite the new legal context.
I will leave it there and thank you again for having me here today. I look forward to the discussion and I invite you to stay connected, whether it’s on social media, whether it’s through the resources available on my team’s website, or whether you’d like to connect via email. With that I’ll pass it over to Dean Kimberly Griffin.
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: Good morning, good afternoon, everybody. It’s such a pleasure to be here with all of you today. My name is indeed Kimberly Griffin. I’m the Dean of the College of Education here at the University of Maryland and also a Professor in the Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education Policy Program. It is an honor and a pleasure to be following the work of Dr. Julie Posselt, whose work I’ve admired for so long and has inspired so much of my own.
My comments today will certainly speak to graduate education, but I’m also going to speak more broadly about diversifying the professoriate and the field of academic research. There’s so many overlapping principles, overlapping frameworks that can guide our thinking in this space, so I’m going to keep my comments a little bit more broad today. It’s my hope that my comments will very much build on and reflect many of the strategies that Dr. Posselt has already described in graduate admissions and equity work thus far.
I want to start my comments today with a bit of grounding on what informs my thinking. Like Dr. Posselt, I’m a researcher who studied diversity and equity in graduate education. I’ve done some admissions work, but my work has focused more on the experiences, the career aspirations, and the outcomes of trainees, with a particular interest in understanding how their identities and how their identity-based experiences inform the decisions that they make and their sense of belonging in the Academy. Much of my work in that space informs my thinking today that I’ll share with you today.
In addition, I had this opportunity to write a chapter in the Handbook of Higher Education Theory and Research a few years ago. You see the table of contents for that chapter on the left-hand side of the screen, as well as the title. In this chapter, I really wanted to focus on capturing what we knew about the barriers and the challenges that have really gotten in our way as institutions, in terms of increasing representation of women and men of color in the Academy. This task required me to synthesize and read over 200 peer reviewed works. It really gave me a pretty good sense of these institutional barriers and how we actually turn our attention away from the gifts, the talents, and the skills of our colleagues of color and really get in our own way in terms of increasing diversity across the Academy.
What you see on the right side of the screen is the resulting framework from that work that really points to all of these different institutional levers that we have to turn when we think about increasing the diversity of the faculty. I’m happy to answer any questions that you have about this framework later on today. Some of you may have heard me speak about this framework before. Today I’d like to have a slightly broader conversation than this framework.
I want to really push us to think about the fact that we’ve been engaging in this work for quite some time now. I don’t know a time when we haven’t been talking about the need to increase diversity at every stage of the Academy, but particularly in the professoriate. I’d argue that our progress has been slow, and that we haven’t made the gains that we should. Not for a lack of interest or effort, but really because we’ve thought about these problems in ways that kind of minimize the complexity. That we’re not really focusing in the right areas. Dr. Posselt’s work and the work of others is really a reflection of the shift that we really need to make to be able to move the needle.
To move the needle, to see sustained increases, to see sustained change in terms of the representation of women and men of color in the Academy, I suggest we have to do three things. First, that we broadly have to embrace an equity-minded perspective. Second, that we really have to understand and unpack the link between individual and structural, both racism and change. Finally, that we have to take a critical approach to our engagement in mentoring. I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about each of these principles today, before we move into a larger discussion.
First, what do I mean by embracing an equity-minded perspective? Dr. Posselt already introduced you to some of these principles, but I’ve spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about the interventions that we’ve tried in the past to increase diversity. They’re often very trainee focused. How can we give trainees, particularly trainees of color, the skills that they need to be successful in our current structures and systems as they are? How can we fix them, for lack of a better term, to be successful in systems? How can we fix them to be successful in a faculty hiring process? How do we encourage them to prepare in different ways so that they can be successful in an admissions process?
I see this desire to focus on trainees, to ensure that trainees of color, in particular, are prepared or have the bona fide to have the CV that we would expect to be successful in the Academy as a diversity framing. That we want to shift the number of people that we see in graduate programs or in the faculty by providing more support and more training to individual people navigating the structure and system.
While I would argue that this is not wrong, that it’s really important to ensure that everyone has the support that they need to thrive, I would argue that this is incomplete. It’s an incomplete way of thinking about the problem. Scholars and colleagues, like Dr. Posselt, Dr. Estela Bensimon, Dr. DL Stewart, would really push us to engage in an equity-based perspective. Focusing on equity shifts our attention from an external view focusing on trainees to an internal view, to look at structures, to look at policies. Again, how we get in our own way in terms of promoting the success of individuals of color in the Academy.
In other words, any problems, any gaps that might be present, in terms of representation, whether we’re talking about graduate programs, the professoriate, postdoctoral scholars, any gaps we see are not due to the trainees. They’re due to how we’ve set up structures and systems and training environments. We have created context that do not recognize trainees’ unique gifts, and we have not created conditions that allow everyone to thrive. This change in framing really requires us to think about changing structures and changing cultures, rather than trying to change individuals. So, fundamental change in thinking.
If we take this change, or this shift in perspective, we would think about the problems we face in terms of representation across the Academy differently. What you see at the top of the screen here are three of the most common reasons that I often hear for underrepresentation of women and men of color in the Academy. You may have heard these reasons before, as well. When we look at the small numbers of women and men of color, that might be in faculty positions or in academic research positions. We may hear that it’s a pipeline problem.
Folks might say the numbers are too small. There are no good candidates. That’s why we don’t have the diversity that we might want to see in faculty positions or in academic research positions. That’s a diversity perspective. Instead, we could take a more equity-minded perspective and think about the lack of inclusion in graduate programs that push out high potential scholars and lead them to not want to continue to be in academic research.
When we hear that it’s a hiring problem, there are problems with the hiring process, and that’s why we don’t have the representation that we might want to see in faculty positions, we could say, from a diversity perspective, that candidates of color are too expensive, or they don’t choose us. Or instead, we could think about how implicit bias and structural racism are embedded in the hiring process in ways that are very similar to the ways that Dr. Posselt just described being embedded in the graduate admissions process.
Finally, and least often, we talk about the retention issues that get in our way in terms of increasing diversity in science and increasing diversity in the Academy. We don’t think about the fact that we lose so many folks who are talented and gifted because they just decide that they don’t want to be in these environments anymore. We often blame this retention problem, from a diversity perspective, on the fact that scholars of color are less likely to be successful. They’re less likely to be productive in the ways that we recognize in the Academy.
Instead, if we take an equity-based perspective, we would say that scholars of color are more likely to leave their institutions or the professoriate or just academic research more generally because of the barriers that they face that we need to remove. Again, fundamentally shifting how we think about, how we explain the challenges that folks face.
The second fundamental shift that I want to talk about is that we need to understand and intentionally link both individual level change and racism, and structural level change and racism to make progress. This really starts with an understanding of both individual racism and structural racism and how they manifest in graduate education in the professoriate across the Academy. I’m not going to spend a lot of time recounting what’s on the slide here. These are points of data. These are things that are really well documented in existing research. It’s well documented in the chapter that I mentioned earlier.
What I do want to highlight is that we have a lot of evidence, we have a lot of research now that suggests that it’s not only individual experiences of marginalization and oppression that we have to worry about. We may be more familiar with those things. We may be more familiar with the idea that there are stereotypes about the abilities of scholars of color as teachers, as researchers, that they may feel excluded or a lack of sense of belonging from formal and informal networks. We might have more of a sense of those things.
What we really have to think about in conjunction with any individual level work that we’re doing is the structural racism that’s embedded in how we define merit, how we provide opportunities across the Academy, if we’re really going to see change. It’s what Dr. Posselt’s work shows us about how we don’t recognize the potential and the gifts of candidates of color in the admissions process. We also don’t recognize their gifts in the tenure and promotion process, or the hiring process, or the merit process. We may privilege more traditional, exclusionary metrics like where someone went to school or who mentored them.
We may choose not to see the gifts that they might bring, in terms of implementing critical pedagogies or very inclusive pedagogies in the classroom, their investment in mentorship as really key, wonderful gifts that they’re bringing to our campus that we don’t really reward in terms of hiring or merit or tenure and promotion. We really have to think about how that continues to be exclusionary and gets in our ways in terms of promoting diversity across the Academy.
I also want to highlight that it’s really important to note that when individual acts of racism do take place, a structural limitation that we often have is that there’s nowhere to report that. It’s often really difficult to hold folks accountable within our current structures and systems. That’s also an important structural barrier that we need to address.
Because we have racism taking place at an individual level and a structural level, we have to think about both individual and structural level interventions to see change. More and more campuses are introducing implicit bias trainings and workshops around inclusive hiring or creating a more inclusive work environment. Those things are important. Those things are certainly things that we want to see implemented.
At the same time, we have to think about engaging in structural change. Dr. Posselt introduced you to really powerful transformational structural change in how folks do admissions work. We need to see that same type of work taking place around faculty search and hiring processes. How do we slow those processes down and really rethink what criteria are, how we define excellence, how we define success in tenure and promotion policy? We really need to slow that down and think about how we reform those processes.
We also have to be very intentional about how we evaluate the cultures and climates in which we’re working. We have to institute equity audits and climate assessments and really review the feedback that comes from those data and understand how can we engage in change, not only at that individual level, interrupting harm that takes place between two people, or one person and a group of people, but how do we build policy that really celebrates and rewards individuals for coming together and creating a close and inclusive community in which everyone can thrive?
The final point that I want to talk about today is that it’s important for us to think about a critical engagement of mentorship when working with early career scholars, if we’re really going to move the needle in terms of increasing diversity in science across the Academy. I’ll say that mentoring is one of the most commonly recommended interventions in promoting diversity in graduate education and in the professoriate. It is near and dear to my own heart. I consider myself a mentoring researcher. But I would also saw that our efforts are limited by a superficial understanding of how mentoring works or how mentorship works.
First, I would say that we have this assumption that access to mentoring alone, or if we just give someone more mentoring, that that’s going to translate to the personal and professional outcomes that we want to see. That the more mentoring, the better and that what’s really getting in our way is that women, men of color don’t have access to mentorship. The research tells us, actually though, that experiences within mentoring relationships are very uneven. Some would even argue that there aren’t actually really big differences in access to mentorship. What’s different between our more well represented colleagues and colleagues of color is that they don’t have access to high quality mentoring relationships.
A high-quality mentoring relationship is marked by a high degree of congruence between the mentor’s strengths and the mentee’s needs, expectations in the relationship are well aligned and well understood, and that there’s an emphasis on amplifying care within that relationship and minimizing dysfunction. If we understand relationships in this way, that it’s not just increasing access to mentorship that’s going to translate to positive personal and professional outcomes, I would argue for both mentors and for mentees, that it’s really relationship quality that’s the vehicle that’s going to really promote those good outcomes we would focus more attention on how we promote relationship quality more generally, instead of just making sure that everyone’s matched up with a mentor.
This is just good practice generally, but I propose an equity-minded mentoring model where we’re even more intentional about thinking about some of the individual and structural dynamics that I mentioned a few moments ago and how they have an impact on, particularly, relationship quality. As we think about promoting access to mentorship and what good practice looks like, we have to consider, we must consider, the identities of our mentees in meaningful ways.
We can’t leave identity out of the room when we’re engaging in mentorship. We can’t just focus on the brain and the skills and the science. We have to consider how someone’s identity shapes their expectations, shapes their exposure to harm, both inside and outside of the relationship, and how it shapes their expectations of what care looks like in the context of a mentoring relationship.
We also have to think about how we change and reform structures so that they encourage thoughtful engagement in mentorship, with an emphasis on identity. How do we think about merit, tenure and promotion, disciplinary and departmental cultures in ways that celebrate the time and energy that’s required for high quality mentoring relationship, particularly across difference? Rather than viewing this work as a distraction or a nice extra thing to do or something that someone should do if they have time to do it, but it’s not really as critical to the development of their science.
It’s not what we use to define whether or not they’re a good scientist. It’s really important for us to really think about not just adding more mentorship to our models. Saying, oh, we just need people to have a mentor or a group of mentors. That we’re engaging in critical practice that honors identity and that also leverages structural dynamics to encourage and incentivize engagement in those promising relationships.
I want to close where I began. While I think that there are a few lists of practices that will guarantee success, that sometimes are circulating around, I think that rather than thinking about particular practices or particular things that we can do, that these larger shifts in our thinking should inform whatever strategies that we develop for our specific context. These strategies can guide our implementation of individual and structural level interventions across the Academy.
I’ll touch for a moment on Dr. Posselt’s comments and her reference to the recent decision of the Supreme Court. The work that I’m suggesting that we do focuses on transforming the environments we work in and shifting how we think and how we identify success. I really think that these strategies are well within the scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling and actually will lend for opportunities for all to thrive, from all backgrounds.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all today. I look forward to the conversation that follows.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Fantastic. Those were wonderful talks. Thank you so much. At this time, I invite Dr. Griffin and Dr. Posselt to turn on their cameras and we will go into the Q&A section of our webinar. We have some questions that have come in through the Q&A and I’m sure we will get a few more as our discussion flows. To go ahead and get us started, the first question was for Dr. Posselt. The question is, do you have any experience operating in states that have laws forbidding the discussion of diverse topics, essentially making it illegal for higher education professionals to discuss systemic racism?
JULIE POSSELT: I think the development of law that actually rules out the discussion of something that someone considers to be divisive is a really difficult situation for speech and action in general. I definitely have worked in those states and definitely have worked in that environment, but not so much with the transformation of admissions to be equity-minded within that environment.
One of the typical things that keeps coming through in research on various topics is that the ability to talk about social identities is a fundamental basis for both being effective in environments that have diverse social identities, as well as navigating the inequities that are being created over time. I think there is a lot that we can do by managing the conversation in ways that it will not be perceived as divisive.
This is actually one of the ways that people having cultural humility, cultural competency, racial literacy allows you to have interactions that can be more authentic, in which race and other social identities come up but are not necessarily coming up in a manner that will be received as divisive, contentious and/or falling within the bounds of that law. Certainly there are going to be need to address divisive issues and I will welcome other’s perspectives on this as well.
The irony is, I think, the more that we select people into our professional and academic environments, you have facility and literacy in these issues, the less we’re going to be reading them as divisive and more just a factor of our lives. In the long-term, I’m not sure exactly what that looks like if we’re prohibited from considering that, but thankfully, at least within the context of the current Supreme Court decision, it’s not prohibiting us from thinking about identity or talking about identity. I would encourage anybody who feels like they’re in an environment where they can’t do that to really, really inquire with whether it’s the simple discussion of race or rather certain kinds of discussion about race and racism.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Thank you. Dr. Griffin, was there anything you wanted to add to that?
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: I don’t know that I have anything nearly as powerful to add. I’m thinking recently of a podcast that I listened to, a colleague, Jonathan Cox who was trained as, I believe a sociologist, was teaching in Florida and was talking about his reluctance to teach a class on race and racism in Florida during this season. What he was telling his students about how to engage in conversations that might be contentious, where people disagree- Not to take what he had to say at face value, but that if we’re going to have a real meaningful conversation where we’re going to disagree, you have to bring data.
This isn’t just what I think or what someone else thinks. It’s how are we engaging in academic discourse about this? Sometimes taking it out of, this is what I believe, or this is what I think, or this is how I was raised to- the way that we engage in discourse across the Academy. People can have very different views on science and what’s the right way to do something or which theory is correct. But you don’t just approach that conversation like, well, this is just what I think because of who I was trained by. You have to come with data.
You have to come with information to support your argument. I think the same can be very true and often provides a more in-depth learning opportunity when we take this away from saying, it’s a divisive conversation to no, this can be an academic, intellectual conversation where everybody has the opportunity to learn and grow in that context.
JULIE POSSELT: I really appreciate that framing. I think it’s increasingly important for us to recognize that there are- anything can be made divisive with the attitude that you bring to a conversation. The ability to bring data to any conversation almost always softens it. Bringing humor can bring the temperature down a little bit. We might need to rethink what it means to be divisive and how to have conversations in this moment. I super appreciate your ability to say, this is a season. This is not the new fundamental and permanent reality. We know how this pendulum goes.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Thank you so much. We have another question. Do you have any data or guidance on the interview process of applying? Is it wise for programs to eliminate the interview in an effort to eliminate the effects of bias?
JULIE POSSELT: Yes. I really appreciate this question. I think it’s a very important one in the current legal environment. There’s lots to say about interviewing. In fact, somebody actually, Kahneman and Tversky won a Noble Prize for their research in behavioral economics that included a set of studies about interviewing and the role of bias within it. Yes, it is true that certainly interviews are a place where bias of multiple types can creep in. Whether it’s bias for certain physical characteristics, bias for certain interactional types, this can negatively affect people who have Autism or otherwise neurodivergent. There’s lots of room for bias to creep in, in terms of taking conversations to places that are irrelevant to the hiring or the selection.
However, what Kahneman and Tversky found is that well-structured interviews are one of the best forms of in-depth knowledge gathering that allows you to both get to know a person and get to know their competencies. Yes, I would definitely say this is not a throw the baby out with the bath water kind of situation. Interviews can and, in many times and ways, should be carried out. As with all things, the kind of mindset that you bring to it- is the interview a test or is the interview a chance to also give them an opportunity to inquire about you as a graduate program or an employer?
As you can imagine, much of the guidance that’s out there would be applicable across different kinds of interviewing systems. I can speak to some recent research around selection and interviewing for postdoctoral fellowships. Establishing the questions in advance and perhaps even sharing the questions in advance with interviewees gives them a chance to prepare instead of feeling like they’re being caught off guard. Aligning the questions that you’re asking specifically to the evaluation rubric that you’re using or the criteria that you want, as opposed to things that you might just be curious about. Then trying to ensure that there’s an opportunity for the person who’s being interviewed to effectively interview you as well.
It can go a long way to allow them a chance to have a more balanced approach and to recognize that interviews are also a recruitment opportunity. A really great study by Sam Bersola and some colleagues in 2014 found that faculty at a prominent university often had misunderstandings about what prospective students were looking for, specifically prospective minoritized students. One of the most important things that students were seeking that faculty didn’t realize, was an opportunity to build a relationship from early on, as opposed to feeling like they were just being objectified for their racial identity or just being treated like a number.
The absence of interviewing definitely impedes that ability to get to know each other in ways that might facilitate their ultimate recruitment to your program. It is a potential source of bias, so like all things in evaluation, it does need to be handled with care.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Perfect. Thank you so much. This next question is really focused on mentoring. Mentors have to do their research and hardly have time for their students. Additionally, if there are no people of color, it is usually challenging to have a good match. How can a student of color navigate this?
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: The million-dollar question. If we’re speaking at the individual level, one student, and the student has some degree of agency, how can they navigate this context? I think the first thing would be to understand that the research tells us, experience tells us, that no one person can meet all your needs, even in the best of conditions. One of the things that you can do is really sit down and start to make a list of what are your needs and start thinking about what people, not one person, but what people can help meet those needs.
It might be, I have a need to have a role model who looks like me. That’s one individual need and that may not be met by someone at your institution. That might be at some other institution. That might be by a senior graduate student, not necessarily even a faculty member. The other needs that you might have may be very well met by the individuals that are in your context. There may be other dimensions of your identity, or other degrees of fit in a doctoral mentoring relationship that you really should be thinking about in identifying folks that you can be in that mentorship partnership with.
There may be folks who have unique understanding of the content area that you want to go in. There might be folks who work in ways that are very similar to you. There are lots of different ways to match with somebody, as opposed to just your identity as a person of color, while that’s extremely important. So really breaking down your needs and identifying multiple people that could ultimately fit those needs is less stress on the folks that you’re asking. You’re not asking one person to be your one and only mentor that’s going to have to spend their time and energy on you. You’re asking something very specific from each individual person and that’s often easier to say ‘yes’ to.
On the other end of things, I think there’s a lot of things that institutions can do to better incentivize and encourage folks to engage in mentoring in more critical ways. We can build mentoring, which is not necessarily advising, not necessarily the person that you’re supervising for their dissertation, but mentoring more generally into tenure and promotion, in terms of how we evaluate someone’s quality as a teacher, into their research and their research productivity. There are lots of ways that we can really think about incentivizing folks to engage in mentoring in real ways, beyond certificates and small financial awards.
We can really put more emphasis on that space. I think also encouraging, while I understand the desire to connect with someone who shares your racial and ethnic identity, that’s incredibly important, we can’t remove that responsibility for mentoring students of color from White faculty. They have to be engaged in this work, too. They can be engaged in this work in very meaningful ways. Some of my best mentors are White male faculty who have committed to engaging in equity-based mentorship where they honor my identity in the context of that relationship.
BRITTANY HAYNES: I really appreciate that and I am always a proponent of the mentoring team, multiple people. Many hands make light work. Our next question. How do we address graduate environments that become hostile, despite more diverse cohorts? Is it related to a scarcity mindset? Inclusivity and comradery is demoted and competition for time and resources is promoted.
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: I’ll start by saying that I remember being in graduate school. I had the wonderful privilege of studying with Sylvia Hurtado, who is one of the leading researchers on diversity and learning research. She proposed to us, okay, so as you increase diversity in an environment, what do you think happens to the climate? The first thing that happens? I’m like, it gets better. We assumed that you put diverse people together, like all of the learning just happens. She’s like, no. It gets worse first. Folks start talking about more tension first because there’s more people to disagree with. There’s more happening. There's more of those ideas that are bubbling up. Just like when we were discussing earlier about ideas being divisive, folks haven’t even learned the tools yet, in terms of how to engage across difference.
When I think about creating more diverse and inclusive environments, it’s not just add diversity and learning happens. We have to be very intentional about how we build those communities, that we’re thoughtful about how we’re creating conditions where people learn how to engage each other and how to navigate conflict. That we don’t set up high-stakes situations where there are winners and losers and zero sum games.
The culture of the department hasn’t changed. You just added diverse people. Of course there’s going to be more conflict. We have to really be intentional about what do these folks need to thrive? How do we create an environment where it doesn’t have to be some win, most lose? So that, folks can relate to each other in more productive ways.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Dr. Posselt, anything that you would want to add?
JULIE POSSELT: I think I support 100 percent Dr. Griffin’s comments. I think, especially recognizing that although what people want is something that feels linear and feels comforting, that actually the discomfort and the learning through the period of contention produces much deeper and better outcomes in the long-term. I think the secret in all of that is to do everything that’s possible to buffer students of color in that process. Within those organizations that are going through a period of growth, if you were to look at the data from them five years out, you’d say, wow, this is a really positive space.
People are moving through that in different times. Depending on when a student is moving through an organization, they may be subject to a better or worse climate at that moment. Especially those who are coming from privileged identities, providing leadership, recognizing and listening to how people from different identities are experiencing that process, is extremely important.
I’m thinking about a chapter in Equity and Science that was led by Kelly Slay called Bait and Switch. In it we studied this really well-respected life sciences department that was quite diverse compared to its field at that time. However, the early years of their getting to that, they took a bad strategy and they were really just focused on recruitment. They didn’t pay any attention to the quality of student experiences in labs, the kind of microclimates that shape everyday life.
They had, for a period, something that looked like a blip, a spike because so many students left, so many students were there to tell the next year’s recruits, don’t come here because the climate is terrible. Then the response that the department saw to that pattern led them to take a step back, to look inside a little bit, to engage in some introspection, and to begin to really do the work that results in a longer-term process. I think recognizing that it can be difficult, for a time, and that faculty responsibility, especially tenured faculty, is to buffer students and take up that responsibility.
BRITTANY HAYNES: I really appreciate you talking about wanting to make sure that the climate itself is in a good place before you start thinking about some of those recruitment efforts and making sure that when you’re recruiting people, you’re not just recruiting numbers, but you actually have infrastructure in place to make sure that there is retention. With that being said, the next question does focus on recruitment. Could either of you elaborate on recruitment, specifically as distinct from applicant evaluation or other aspects of DEI? How might diverse recruitment be best advanced and how best should you deal with resistance around diverse recruitment?
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: The way that we thought about this- I largely think about recruitment in the graduate education- or not the graduate education context, well both, faculty and graduate education context- as having three components. There’s outreach, which happens far before the application is submitted. Then there’s the application process and navigating that, and then there’s the yielding process, getting someone to actually choose you and come.
That outreach work often doesn’t get as much time and investment as it should. We don’t think about it in ways that are as intentional as we should. I was on a webinar recently in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that Shaun Harper, Dr. Posselt’s colleague, was leading. He was talking about the ways that football coaches and basketball coaches engage in recruitment. They go out to communities. They watch tape, they identify talent, they’re very intentional about reaching out to folks who may not be thinking about them at all. Saying, no, no. This is why you want to be at school here.
If we took that same mindset in terms of recruitment and outreach- where are we reaching out to, what sources of untapped talent are we thinking about reaching out to in more intentional ways far before the application comes? We would be really well-served by that. For example, some schools have summer research programs. That’s a great way to start thinking about graduate student recruitment as an intentional pathway, by thinking about what schools are you encouraging students to apply to the summer research program from. Are you only focusing on peer institutions? Are you reaching out to institutions like minority-serving institutions, HBCUs, where students might have tons of potential, but they haven’t had the same exposure to some of the research laboratories that you might have at your institution.
Have you taken those steps to think about outreach? What communities are you reaching into and how long are you sustaining relationships? You certainly could start a relationship with someone though a graduate research program and then keep in touch with them and see how they’re doing. Then a few years later, when you have a faculty position available, reach out to them then. It’s not just one touch and then they go. You haven’t lost if they haven’t chosen you for graduate training. That’s just the beginning of the relationship.
JULIE POSSELT: I’ll take it into the weeds a little bit. One of the workshops that our resource center hosts is called Aligning Recruitment and Admissions. One of the things we’ve found over the years is that faculty recognize and appreciate their responsibility for admissions, but they often downplay or even evade their responsibility to have much to do with recruitment. They would like that to be program staff. They would like current students to take care of recruitment. They’re much more interested in the selection work than the relationship building.
With that being said, there’s a lot that faculty can do and there’s a lot that organizations can do. I’ll offer some of the Foundations of Equity-Minded Recruitment Practice that we typically suggest. One being to de-mystify the terms of access to your program, as well as what your program is actually about by making sure that your website is clear and isn’t necessarily just written for people who already know the system of higher education.
Second, you can provide a clear sense of welcome through small cues in your communication. Are you curt in your emails? Does it take a long time for you to respond? There is evidence of implicit bias in responses of faculty to student outreach and it’s important to be aware of what sort of systems you have in place to mitigate that.
Thinking about your materials and any sort of events that are held by the program. Are students of color represented in those spaces or not? Partnerships. Kimberly spoke to this already, but the ability to establish meaningful and real relationships with minority-serving institutions, predominately undergraduate institutions, and other schools where we don’t typically recruit from, but where minoritized students are more likely to enroll than the elite institutions that we typically are excited to see applicants from.
Finally, as I mentioned before, what we require in the application process definitely has a recruitment influence as well. If people are seeing that the standards that are being described on the website suggest that this is not for everyone, that this is for people who have met some sort of a vague, but very clearly intimidating bar, it might be read as something about what the environment’s going to be like once they’re there.
I would encourage anybody that’s thinking about the improvement of recruitment practices in their program to involve current students in it and to make sure that in involving current students, you get a really clear picture of the kind of multiple touchpoints that occur and whether there are consistent messages of inclusion, welcome, and belonging, or whether prospective students might be getting mixed messages along the way.
BRITTANY HAYES: Great points. Thank you so much. Our next question is going back to mentoring. How can we start to train the next generation of scientists to be excellent mentors?
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: I did some work early in my career on how folks learned to engage in good mentoring practice. Largely it was that they had a good mentor and they were just replicating the behaviors that were shared with them. There is no shortage now of trainings, books, support. There’s lots of guidance that’s available. The National Academies has a brilliant guide around engaging in inclusive mentorship. I don’t think it’s a lack of information.
I think it’s really incentivizing, building it into training programs. This is an important skill that’s going to make you more effective as a principal investigator. It’s going to make you more effective as a teacher. Just a scholar, to have these skill sets, that we should view it as part of the science toolbox that we need to have. That mentorship skill is something that we need to have.
Also, talking about it as a skill also is really important. I think that for a long time we’ve assumed that there are some people who are good mentors and some people who are not. It’s just something that’s a talent and a gift that some people have and other people don’t. There’s actually a set of skills that makes you a good mentor. Some of it, of course, is based on motivation and personal investment, but there are certain things that good mentors do that are skills that can be built and developed and that we need to think about encouraging folks to be intentional about cultivating those skills sets.
They’re going to make your trainees more successful, which in turn makes you more successful. There’s also research that suggests that mentors that are engaged in strong, robust relationships also have better outcomes. We have to be mindful of just shifting the way in which we engage in this whole conversation. There is support and guidance on how to do this work. It is a skillset to be developed and it is part of being a good scientist to have good mentoring skills.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Perfect. This next question is for Dr. Posselt. Last session, the Texas Legislature introduced a bill that would have required public graduate schools to consider standardized test scores in admissions. Are there other state-level battles you foresee coming in the recent years that would affect graduate admissions?
JULIE POSSELT: I remember hearing about that and Florida actually has such a policy already in place for their public universities. When you look now at the list of universities that require standardized tests, it’s a very small list that is mostly universities in Florida and military academies. It’s an interesting situation. It is very likely that the current discourse around diversity, equity, and inclusion, around critical race theory, is going to have ripple effects that extend to other areas of policy that could include admissions.
For a long time, there were state-level citizen valid initiatives that were being rolled out year to year, in which the public was voting on their willingness to have race conscious admissions be a part of the landscape of tools for institutions. Some of them passed, some of them did not. I don’t think that we’re going to see those as likely in the near future because of the SFFA rulings. That being said, I think there is a possibility, there’s always a possibility, that how we do the assessment is going to become part of the set of questions that state governments take up.
There’s also a case that is currently before the Supreme Court for consideration that they haven’t decided whether they’re going to take it, about whether even race neutral policies that produce racial diversity may be viewed as somehow in contradiction of the 14th Amendment. That’s on the next year’s docket potentially. If that goes forward, it’s going to be a much more difficult situation than even the current states that have bans on race conscious admissions.
Those are the areas where I would anticipate state-level discourse going. I’m more concerned about the environment for teachers. I’m more concerned about the environment for professors and their syllabi. Just the straight up environment for free speech that’s potentially occurring. Kimberly and I are fortunate to be colleagues and friends with a great scholar named Liliana Garces who led a study with some colleagues at the University of Texas. They defined a phenomenon called Repressive Legalism.
Repressive Legalism is the way that higher education professionals often overreact or create a chilling effect around the environment that’s created by legally restrictive policies around diversity and inclusion. I don’t know about you, Dean Griffin, but I certainly see the threat of Repressive Legalism in the current moment that we’re in. States where there is this difficult political climate, institutional actors are acting with even greater caution than the law demands right now. That’s a bigger concern to me than what happens in admissions at the policy level.
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: Nothing to add there other than we now have a national landscape of that with institutions very, very focused on what does the Supreme Court decision say we can do? What does the Supreme Court say we can’t do? Anticipating what the next case might be that might be more restrictive instead of- I always encourage folks to focus more on what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t. Where are there gaps, where is there space in which we can navigate? What has the Supreme Court not spoken to at all?
It’s sending messages to individuals, whether intended or unintended. I was recently involved in a conversation where Black students and Black families were starting to ask, what does mean for me? How should I engage in the admissions process differently given that this decision has come out? It really does, we really do have to be mindful about what these decisions say beyond the specifics of the decision, if that makes sense.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Absolutely. I am so glad that you brought that up because there is a feeling of, what do I do? How do we continue to navigate? Can we continue to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion and this lesson around do what you can, even as things are coming down the pike saying, stop doing this, stop doing that. It’s not a blanket you can’t do anything. Focusing on what you can do and moving in that direction while keeping the vision of DEI in the frame, I think is really important.
One last question for Dr. Griffin before we start wrapping up. I understand the idea of wanting to think bigger and to adjust our mindset when considering approaches to diversifying graduate-level programs or other programs in academia. That barrier could be perceived as both strong and high. Do you have suggestions of smaller actions that could be taken that would or might begin to shift the conversation or alter entrenched approaches piecemeal, rather than trying to shift the course of the river overnight?
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: Sure. I mentioned equity audits and climate assessments earlier. I think sometimes starting with the voices of the individuals that we’re focused on can be really helpful. If we took the example of a chemistry class. Say we saw that students of color are not performing as well in this chemistry class as White students are, or Asian students are. Our first questions might be to the instructor about why that might be happening. Or we might look at some data, instead of just sitting down and talking to the students about their experience in the course.
Thinking about, what are the things about the course that might be causing some of these disparities, as opposed to the students presenting as being less able or not understanding that material. We found in my own College of Education, in doing an equity audit and trying to understand what do the experiences of students of color look like in our college, instead of looking at data around, are students completing in the same amount of time, are they as likely to be retained, what do new faculty members have to say about the performance of our students? Listening to the narratives of our students points us to very specific, concrete things that we should be doing differently. Ways that we are actually having a negative impact on them.
I think sometimes starting with just the voices of the students, collected in a really thoughtful, rigorous way, so it’s not cast aside as being an anecdote or just what one student had to say, but doing that equity-focused work that starts with the voices of the individuals that are marginalized or that are at the center of the disparity that we’re trying to fix. Letting them guide our practice is a good first step forward.
We might be doing something wrong. It’s not necessarily the student presenting as broken. The best strategy is not to not change the system and just help the student navigate it. How can we be different so that not only this student, but other students can thrive in the context that we’ve created, if that makes sense.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Absolutely. I am being cognizant of time. I do want to acknowledge that there are a number of questions that we will not be able to get to before this session wraps. My first wrap-up question for you both is, is it okay for individuals to reach out to you should they have further questions or if we were unable to get to their question today? Is that okay with you both if people reach out?
KIMBERLY GRIFFIN: Certainly.
JULIE POSSELT: Yes. I’ll put my email address, best email address for that, in the chat.
BRITTANY HAYNES: Perfect. Thank you so much. I want to again just thank everyone for being here with us today. Thank you so much to Dr. Posselt and Dr. Griffin for this wonderful talk and this time that we’ve spent together. I have seen in some of the comments that this was a deep conversation. Thank you both for handling it so well, with grace. It was a pleasure to be here with you both.
As we wrap up this webinar, I do want to let everyone on the call know that our next webinar is scheduled for August 2, Wednesday, August 2. It will be focusing on advancing mental health disparities research, focused on bi-plus people through an intersectional lens. I hope to see all of you there for that webinar as well.
Again, thank you so much for being here.