Photo of Sather Gate at UC Berkeley
Students cross Sather Gate on UC Berkeley’s Campus.

In July of 2020, the Graduate Division established the Graduate Diversity Pilot Program (GDPP), awarding a total of $1.5 million in grants to nine departments across campus. This substantial commitment — one of the largest single financial investments toward diversity efforts made by any graduate division in the nation — specifically seeks to support and improve departmental climate for graduate and undergraduate students, staff, faculty (including lecturers), and postdocs; faculty graduate student mentorship; and diversity in graduate outreach and admissions.

Four-year grants of up to $175,000 were awarded to departments based on the feasibility, sustainability and impact of the proposals in alignment with the overall goals of the program.

With the first round of funding, the awardee departments — Architecture, Chemistry (including Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), Comparative Literature, Geography, History, Integrative Biology, Linguistics, the School of Information (I School), and Sociology — have begun making progress.

“I appreciate the creativity and energy our participating departments have put into this effort, especially given how challenging the circumstances have been,” said vice provost for graduate studies and Graduate Division dean, Lisa García Bedolla. “We look forward to extending their work across campus and have been working hard to raise the funds necessary to make that possible and to sustain Berkeley’s leadership in this area.”

Denzil Streete, Graduate Division chief of staff and assistant dean for diversity added, “The conceptualization of this initiative by Dean García Bedolla has indeed been prescient. With this year’s yield of URM graduate students showing significant improvement, it will be even more critical that we provide the departmental climates that will allow these and our current students to thrive at Cal. I look forward to building the momentum that has already started in this initial year and diffusing the successes well beyond this inaugural cohort to have an impact on students across campus.”

Architecture

In its proposal, the Department of Architecture outlined four key goals: increasing diversity, building student support, engaging in social justice, and re-visioning how we teach. In the fall, an equity committee made up of ladder rank faculty, lecturers, students (undergraduate and graduate), and staff began meeting to plan and organize activities in all four areas.

The first engagement was a two-day departmental event held in January titled “How it Happens: New Directions in Architectural Education,” focused on critical frameworks and practical strategies toward anti-racist models of architectural education. Discussing the event, Renee Chow, Chair and Professor of Architecture explained, “Diversity in voices and experiences are key to developing new forms of architectural translation, design and pedagogy toward serving broader, often overlooked, constituencies.”

The department has also held two anti-bias workshops and plans to make these trainings a requirement for all instructors, including GSIs, at the beginning of each semester. Additionally, a pedagogical assessment has been launched, bringing together cohorts of faculty and graduate students to engage in discussions around racism and power dynamics in course structures, develop frameworks for discussing race in the classroom and across the student experience toward re-imagining how architecture is taught.

Chemistry

The College of Chemistry, including Chemistry and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is funneling their grant funding toward student support — recognizing and rewarding graduate students in Chemistry and CBE to become full partners with the faculty in improving climate and expanding the pipeline into the college. Two programs have been created: the College of Chemistry Graduate Diversity Program (CCGDP) for cohorts of graduate students interested in contributing significantly to improving DEI within the college and, beginning in year two, the Graduate Student DE&I Scholar — a 1-year fellowship, awarded to a graduate student wishing to gain significant expertise in DE&I program development and assessment.

Interest in the CCGDP program has been overwhelming. Eleven proposals were submitted by a total of 29 students. While the grant initially budgeted for 16 graduate student participants the first year, the college decided to fund all 29 students who each receive a stipend of $1000 to support their work.

Zoom callEach group comprises a varied number of students, some working in multiple groups. Their plans represent a wide range of endeavors including a transformative pedagogy course on racial justice, a reworked CBE orientation structure, a math boot camp for incoming physical chemistry graduate students and a mentoring program for transfer students, a collaborative symposium for groups across campus, and a monthly program to help chemistry faculty become better mentors. All these projects are in the early planning stages, with Associate Dean Anne Baranger and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Brice Yates meeting regularly with the groups to ensure progress. The groups also benefit from additional advisor support.

Anne Baranger emphasized the broader value of the program beyond the halls of campus. “In terms of practical professional development, there’s a large push to hire people who are trained, knowledgeable and cognizant, who are leaders in diversity. This program allows our graduate students the opportunity to not only advance diversity in their field but also to have agency and value outside of their science or engineering.”

Members of the College of Chemistry Graduate Diversity Program (CCGDP) cohort. 

Comparative Literature

A three-prong approach defines the diversity goals in the Department of Comparative Literature: 1) graduate student climate, collaboration, intellectual development, and mentoring; 2) admissions and recruitment, focusing particularly on the enhancement of admissions pool’s diversity; and 3) the creation of a new course where students from different cohorts come together to create community.

Already, a proactive and targeted outreach push has resulted in a more culturally diverse group of incoming graduate students this semester.

The new community building course — launched this past fall, and still in the experimental stage — brings together incoming, second-year, third-year, fourth-year, and fifth-year students on a weekly basis in a forum setting to facilitate communication among the cohorts, develop writing skills and exchange work and ideas.

Comparative Literature Chair and Sidney and Margaret Ancker Professor Niklaus Largier acknowledged the deep need for the course. “It has always been very challenging for graduate students, and particularly students who come from underrepresented minorities, to find the community here.”

The grant supports a one-year fellowship for an advanced graduate student to lead the course. Matt Gonzales led the forum this last semester. In addition to discussion among students, faculty are also invited to join and discuss their current research.

Geography

The Department of Geography aims to use institutional resources to strengthen and expand prior work through Berkeley Black Geographies and other ongoing efforts of graduate students and faculty. The Working Group leading this effort currently includes graduate students Will Carter, Sol Kim, Juleon Robinson, Xiaowei Wang and Leonora Zoninsein; UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow Sarah White; and faculty Desiree Fields, John Chiang, and Sharad Chari.

Adjusting to the pandemic, the group reallocated Year 1 funds to augment Graduate Student Research fellowships to all five graduate students, to enable them to develop engaging projects aimed at transforming departmental culture and practice.

“The most unexpected and positive thing to emerge from the process has been to forge an intentionally collaborative approach in our group of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty,” remarked Chari. “We also decided to rename our group the Antiracist Working Group, to clarify our aim of approaching antiracism in an intersectional way, focusing on race, gender, sexuality, ableism and other aspects of social justice in tandem.”

Juleon Robinson has designed a survey of graduate students and faculty to determine interests in various kinds of community engagement and activism that might mutually inform academic research. This project has great value in expanding the scope of engaged or public geography across Human and Physical Geography.

Sol Kim is working on a ‘Geography Undergraduate Mentoring Program’ which will be linked to the Berkeley Discovery Program with a component on community engagement that will allow a connection to Juleon Robinson’s project above.

Will Carter is working on faculty and graduate student workshops on ‘Universal Design Learning’ led by graduate student in Education, Lakshmi Balasubramanian. Will and Lakshmi curated panels to promote literacy on widening access without stigmatizing disability.

Xiowei Wang has been working on opening graduate student access to grants and fellowships, as part of circumventing the informal channels through which information about support often flows. Leonora Zoninzein is looking into a variety of ways in which we might include Indigenous acknowledgment as key to our work in the Geography Department.

History

Funded through the GDPP grant, the Berkeley History Ph.D. Pipeline Program seeks to support talented college students and recent graduates from historically underrepresented groups who are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in History. The program features a series of Saturday Zoom seminars led by History faculty, graduate students, staff and alumni designed to help prospective Ph.D. applicants 1) demystify the application process, 2) understand the work of research, teaching and service carried out by professional historians, and 3) develop strategies for success and wellness in academia and beyond.

The department received 73 applications for the Pipeline Program this spring and an ad-hoc admissions committee staffed by History faculty and graduate students has selected an inaugural class of 15 fellows. In the summer, the program will match participants with faculty and graduate student mentors from Berkeley who can provide them with assistance crafting successful applications to the History Ph.D. programs of their choice.

Given the large number of excellent candidates the program funding could not accommodate, the department is considering extending mentorship opportunities to promising applicants who were left out of this year’s fellows group.

“The Pipeline Project is unlike anything we’ve ever done,” commented Department of History Chair, Peter Zinoman. “Designing and producing it was a big lift. We were thrilled with the number of really strong, diverse applications from all over the country, knowing that we designed something that does intersect with the demand out there.”

Integrative Biology

An integral component of Integrative Biology’s (IB) proposal is an 8–10-week summer research program for advanced undergraduates and/or master’s degree URM students who are highly motivated to enter the Integrative Biology Ph.D. program. The summer research program aims to build a sense of community for each cohort through peer-to-peer and mentee-to-mentor meetings at one of UCB field stations, while engaging with original research on campus and taking advantage of mentorship to guide their Ph.D. application process.

Since providing an in-person bonding experience is central to the program’s success, it won’t be offered until next summer. In the meantime, Professor Rauri Bowie, co-chair of IB’s DEI committee, and Assistant Professor José Pablo Vázquez-Medina ran an online information forum for prospective students from around the country, facilitated by Monica Albe.

“We are a very diverse department with people who do incredibly different things, so we need to continually work toward building community and inclusivity,” said Bowie. To this end, the DEI committee produced two online events. The first, moderated by equity advisors and attended by over 150 participants, focused on DEI and IB’s priorities with considerable discussion around the Black Lives Matter movement. The second event, an online workshop, responded to graduate students’ desire to understand the details of how faculty searches work in terms of expanding faculty diversity.

Integrative Biology is also currently working with an outside consulting group to design a survey to help identify specific climate-improvement needs in the department. The survey results will be used to design an in-person fall workshop, also incorporating ideas from the campus Restorative Justice Center.

“We’ve always had discussions about the importance of DEI, but now with this Pilot Program grant, we have a vehicle to push this forward,” added Bowie. “There’s a great deal of excitement to see where this could go; we’ve now had faculty bridge to our program by writing additional students into NSF grants. I feel like we’re going to be able to reach even further than we thought.”

Linguistics

Promoting the value and possibilities in Linguistics for URM students is a challenge the department hopes the GDPP grant will address. “Historically, there is a disconnect between academic linguistics and concerns over, for example, discrimination based on language,” explained Professor Susanne Gahl. “Someone who feels strongly about these kinds of issues is unlikely to apply to a linguistics program if they don’t see it as a place where people will say, yes, you’re right, that is a problem.”

In support of admissions, grant funds are giving incoming URM graduate students the means to be optimally prepared for their studies by providing a Skills and Housing stipend. The stipend will allow students to move to Berkeley before the start of their first-semester funding package and enroll in any summer school course at Berkeley or elsewhere that they feel will help them succeed as graduate students.

The department has also recently put out a call for proposals from current department graduate students for “mini-grants” to gain additional mentoring support outside of Berkeley, and/or to pursue activities during the summer supporting their professional goals.

Although the department is making progress, like other departments many initiatives are still mostly in the planning stage. “I keep reminding myself that, as an esteemed colleague said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Gahl.

The School of Information

The I School is using their GDPP grant to support a new program — the I School Graduate Scholars (ISGS). The program provides fellowship support for Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) or Ph.D. students who have overcome challenges in pursuing higher education, shown leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion, and/or plan to do research on inequality. Fellows have the opportunity to suggest and influence the topics and structure of community events, providing a school-wide and student-driven platform for discussion and examination of key issues of their choosing in academia and the tech industry. This semester, the first cohort of five ISGS scholars suggested two events: a talk from a venture capitalist from a firm with a mission to support founders from underrepresented backgrounds, and a writing workshop and retreat.

While the inaugural ISGS cohort was selected from current students, applications from incoming students for the next cohort have been overwhelming both in number and content. “Their personal statements are heartwarming,” noted Catherine Cronquist Browning, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs, Equity & Inclusion. “They really put themselves forward expressing their desire to have these conversations, support others and change academia.”

Browning also expressed the frustration felt by many departments. “There’s only so much money available to us with this grant. It’s painful to have to limit a program designed to advance inclusion, to not have everyone get that funding.”

Sociology

Written by Sociologists of Color and Allies with support from Sociology faculty, the four-year grant in the Department of Sociology will support the DEI work of ten graduate student fellows (SEID Fellows) each year. Fellows will work in teams focusing on four different areas — leadership, community building, curriculum, and evaluation — to improve the experience for graduate students of color and make the department a more equitable and inclusive environment in which to learn and work.

The two 2021 SEID fellows in the leadership team — Merzela Casimir and
Allen Michael Wright — began their work in the fall. Together with Department of Sociology chair Cybelle Fox and the director of graduate studies, Mara Loveman, they sketched out a vision and goals for the year. The other 2021 SEID Fellows were hired at the beginning of the spring semester.

Curriculum support fellows will focus on developing instructor resources to more deeply integrate the work of black scholars and other scholars of color into courses, and a toolkit to help instructors create inclusive curricula and evaluate the equity and inclusiveness of their syllabi and course design.

Fellows on the evaluation team will research and report on departmental climate and equity. Other fellows will devote their efforts to community building within the department, with a special focus on the experiences of black students.

“We are thrilled for this opportunity to work together with our graduate students on making the department into a place where all graduate students thrive,” concluded Professor Fox.


Categories: May 2021