Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy 

Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy text with image with silhouettes of different people in various shades

About this Academy

The Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy is a yearlong effort designed to help staff and faculty in graduate programs focus on the domains of admissions, belonging, climate, and data for equity. The academy’s content aligns with the lifecycle of graduate education during the academic year.

If your department would like to participate we ask for a minimum of (3) three staff or faculty members for this yearlong program. These meetings will be virtual.

Dates for the next Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy are coming soon. 


In recognition of the importance of graduate education in not just the creation of knowledge and the training of future faculty/leaders, but also in the sustenance of undergraduate education, we believe that a focus on addressing the issues of diversity in graduate education is especially critical. Inequalities often manifest themselves through problems of practice and graduate education is an area where meaningful change can be instituted by academic departments through policy and practice reform. We posit that graduate education is a fulcrum for institutional change, given its critical role in undergraduate education, sustaining the research enterprise, and training future leaders across all avenues of the workforce. Challenging graduate departments to interrogate the ways systemic structures replicate bias and discrimination requires a clear roadmap, nuanced discussion, well defined benchmarks, and sustained focus over time. 

 A nexus is needed between recruiting, admissions, departmental climate and career outcomes. Cohorts from each graduate department will be represented in the Academy. To engender competency and interest in sustainable change in these areas, participating departments/programs will need to have a minimum of 3 individuals agreeing to participate in the program

As issues of diversity and equity in the University are examined, greater attention is needed on graduate admission as it is where policy and practice directly influence the diversity of departments and the graduate student body. There is a need for a holistic approach to reframe departmental admissions practices, particularly in terms of how “excellence” in prospective students is defined and subsequently assessed. Also important, is the need to recruit diverse students interested in utilizing their degrees for careers beyond the traditional academy (R1 institutions). Within this domain of admissions, the focus will be placed on engaging stakeholders (faculty, staff and graduate students) interested in aligning their selection processes with their overall educational mission through implementation of a holistic review of applications. Holistic review is grounded in a process that is “systematic, contextualized, comprehensive and equity-minded”[1] The systematic holistic review of applications should entail a process that is developed through a collective agreement of all members of the community on their shared values and goals for their graduate student body. 

This holistic process should situate the student’s past performance within the particular institutional and societal context they experienced; such a framing is key to appropriately judge past academic performance and a student’s aptitude and ability to thrive in their graduate program. Underlying this contextualized approach is the realization that to understand a student’s true potential, there must be an intentionally designed structure that utilizes multiple points of reference to understand the whole candidate. With an understanding of the antecedents to and the social structures that have led to marginalization of some populations, equity-mindedness in the approach to graduate education implores departments to design systems that will disrupt the creation of inequalities and instead promote equity through intentional, equity-based approaches. 

A graduate student’s sense of belonging has been shown to have a strong effect on success in their graduate program including time to degree, rates of completion as well as decision making around research and faculty careers [2]. A student’s sense of belonging refers to the “perceived social support on campus, a feeling or sensation of connectedness, and the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the campus community or others on campus such as faculty, staff, and peers” [3]. A graduate student’s sense of belonging is reliant on that student’s ability to navigate not just their academic program, but also the professional networks and career landscape ahead of them[4]. The faculty mentorship the student receives is thus critical to success and sense of belonging. This is especially the case when taking into consideration the unique needs of minoritized graduate students. BIPOC graduate students face challenges in finding faculty mentors who can provide the tools necessary for scholarly development and navigating the “alienating aspects” of their respective departments (Slay et al. 2019). With this in mind,Particular attention must be paid to the mentorship practices of faculty in the academic department and the varied needs that may in fact require what Cassuto & Weisbuch (2021) refer to as a “plurality of advisers” [5]. Within departments, belonging relies on the quality of communication and relationships between faculty and students (Barthelemy, Henderson, & Grunert, 2013), which has implications for student satisfaction, persistence, and success. Through practices that encourage responsive mentoring, departments can build the scaffolding necessary to support the diverse needs of all graduate students while providing the necessary training and skills necessary to succeed in careers inside and outside of the academy.

In contemporary graduate education, far too much of the work of diversifying graduate departments is left to a centralized graduate diversity office. At UC Berkeley, this work has been split between a central office in the Graduate Division and individual departmental diversity officers (which vary between faculty and/or staff members) often working on parallel tracks without communication. The work of graduate diversity is situated in the wider campus and departmental climates and takes shape within the departmental contexts that define graduate student training; the classroom, the laboratory, and in the relationships with faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. The actions necessary to shift structural principles are reliant on both resources and the existing structures within the university. Hurtado et al’s (1999) Campus Racial Climate framework outlines the dimensions of structural diversity; an institution’s historical legacy of inclusion or exclusion; psychological climate, and behavioral climate[6]. Having faculty, staff and students working on matters of graduate diversity acknowledge and understand the systems and structures within which they are working is pivotal to creating change within their academic units. Cultural shifts in the approaches to diversity and inclusion must extend beyond implicit bias training and require both incentives for and reinforcement of collaborations within and outside of academic departments. The goal should be creating sustainable environments in which students from all backgrounds can thrive, and are attractive to prospective students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. It is only when these shifts are made that one will see a concomitant improvement in “compositional diversity (the numbers)” [7] at levels that would substantially impact representation in graduate education and transform the academy. 

Data for Equity

As academic departments engage in the work of dismantling systemic barriers to access and success, the work of transformation is complete only upon deep self-reflection and the transparent examination of impact across many dimensions. Understanding that mere quantitative analyses of data places an overreliance on numeric representations of diversity, equity and inclusion, departments participating in the Diversity 2.0 framework will be given the tools to appropriately assess progress. Such progress would be measured through the ongoing utilization of evaluative mechanisms that explore the lived experiences of graduate students,

and the impact of interventions on the quality of their scholarship and teaching. . This focus on evaluation and self-reflection is key to the success of the Diversity 2.0 effort. Only through sustained data collection and analysis, including triangulation of different types of data — statistics, focus groups, interviews, etc. — will departments be able to know how they are doing and how to continue moving forward with these efforts. 

In May, participants will present a small project/proposal developed for implementation in their program based on an idea/initiative that germinated as a result of participation in the Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy. Top 3 presentations will receive some seed funding/support from the Graduate Division to implement the project. 

[1] Julie R. Posselt and Casey W. Miller. “The Introduction to Equity-based Holistic Review Facilitator Guide” (2021). 

[2] Ostrove, Joan M., Abigail J. Stewart, and Nicola L. Curtin. “Social class and belonging: Implications for graduate students’ career aspirations.” The Journal of Higher Education 82, no. 6 (2011): 748-774. 

[3] Strayhorn, Terrell L. College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge, 2018. 

[4] O’Meara, KerryAnn, Kimberly A. Griffin, Alexandra Kuvaeva, Gudrun Nyunt, and Tykeia N. Robinson. “Sense of belonging and its contributing factors in graduate education.” International Journal of Doctoral Studies 12 (2017): 251-279. 

[5] Cassuto, Leonard, and Robert Weisbuch. The New PhD: How to Build a Better Graduate Education. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021. 

[6] Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pederson, A., & Allen, W. . “Enacting diverse learning environments: Improving the climate for racial/ethnic diversity in higher education.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 26(8). The George Washington University, 1999

[7] Griffin, Kimberly A., Marcela M. Muñiz, and Lorelle Espinosa. “The influence of campus racial climate on diversity in graduate education.” The Review of Higher Education 35, no. 4 (2012): 535-566.

This academy is co-sponsored by the Office for Faculty Equity and Welfare, and Faculty and Departmental Diversity Initiatives, Division of Equity and Inclusion.