Graduate Programs at UMD start the conversation to create diversity

By Tomi Adeboyejo

Gabriella Estevez felt empowered as she left Stamp Student Union on Thursday.

On Feb. 9, Estevez was one of several students who attended the “Purpose, Pipelines, and Presence Intentionality in Graduate Education Diversity,” presented by the Office of Graduate Diversity and Inclusion.

The event is apart of a semester-long series that focuses on the lack of diversity in Gradate Programs at UMD within faculty and students.

“I went to Rutgers University, a very diverse and large school. When I came here, I thought the university itself was diverse but I knew that my field was less diverse. The program itself was a mostly white women. As much as I enjoyed being around other women, I felt that my identity as a Latina did not have space to be explored and valued,” said Estevez, a Ph.D candidate.

The series was created to build a sense of community for minority graduate students. Though many of the students are from different backgrounds, the series allows them to network with other students from marginalized communities at the school, says Christopher Perez, the associate director of Graduate Diversity and Inclusion.

“I developed the series with a primary objective to build community and address issues in higher education diversity as well create opportunity for retention within our diverse graduate students,” said Perez.

Perez realized that the graduate school promoted academic resources for students but neglected to create communities for underrepresented students. Through this event, The Office of Graduate Diversity and Inclusion created a platform where students from marginalized backgrounds could voice their concerns and work together to encourage diversity in their programs.

Guest speaker, Dr. Felecia Commodore, professor at Old Dominion University and UMD alum, emphasized the importance of students holding the faculty accountable for diversity in graduate programs.

“Know your voice but don’t burn your voice out. Don’t carry the burden of lack of diversity in your program” said Commodore.

Commodore conveyed how it was the faculty’s responsibility to ensure that there are various instructors that can identify with students in their program. For schools where the faculty is not diverse, Commodore believes that they should take the initiative to meet the needs of students of color. Those schools should create spaces where minority students can discuss their challenges.

“Students of color really need a place that values and affirms that they sometime need their own spaces. Sometime they need to talk about their issues and I think when we don’t affirm those spaces it can lead students to color to believe they have nowhere to turn to talk about their issues.” she said.

Commodore encouraged students to play a role in creating diversity in their programs. She advised them to get a seat at the table by joining search committees and other organizations that implement diversity on campus.

Students such as Estevez left the event with a renewed mindset towards the challenges she face.

“I just feel that being here was very helpful. As Dr. Commodore was talking about her experience, I think that her being able to talk about it in a open space really helped me identify with the issues I’ve been having recently and feel validated that they are important.” said Estevez.