Nzingha Dugas
“Diversity has always been a priority here,” said Dugas, who has been working for the AASD for over eight years.

With the goal of facilitating the retention and graduation of minority students on campus, African American Student Development (AASD) provides several programs and activities dedicated to UC Berkeley’s multicultural community. These include the Annual Student Orientation, the Peer Mentoring Program, and the Black History Month.

Under the direction of S. Nzingha Dugas, a 21-year staff member of UC Berkeley in the area of academic student support and multicultural student development, the AASD is considered by some as one of the most important resources on campus.

“Diversity has always been a priority here,” said Dugas, who has been working for the AASD for more than eight years. “Our main goal is to get students comfortable with who they are.”

Dugas’s work at the AASD includes advising, researching and identifying resource opportunities, as well as promoting workshops, presentations and conferences to support students. Since graduate students often experience high pressure during their studies, these resources become fundamental avenues of support, especially to students from groups underrepresented in the academy.

“Graduate students tend to feel isolated,” Dugas said. “If you take, say, Native American and African American graduate students, which are a very small population, it is possible you [the student] may go an entire day without seeing anybody you can relate to at all.”

Dugas explained that this phenomenon happens “because graduate students are more likely to experience greater isolation since they are typically immersed in their own department, developing their Master’s or dissertation projects.” This feeling of isolation can have a negative impact on their graduate school experience, she said.

“You have to have ‘down time’ to get to know other people,” Dugas advised. “Academic and cultural retention, both are equally important.”

The good news is that students experiencing the kind of isolation described by Dugas can find support in activities organized by the AASD. For example, AASD organizes an annual Black Community Retreat, where students spend a weekend together, enjoying workshops, presentations and engaging in vital discussions about life on campus. Last year’s Retreat, held in Walnut Creek, gathered over 90 students.

“When you build a community, students are more inclined to stay,” Dugas said. “When students feel as though their identity and culture are being respected, they also feel that they are part of the institution.”

To get involved with the AASD, call 643-0442 or visit the office at 247 Cesar Chavez Student Center.