Peer Support of Graduate Students of Color Through a Formal Graduate Student Association

Peer Support of Graduate Students of Color Through a Formal Graduate Student Association

Kya Rose Roumimper (Keene State College, USA) and Audrey Faye Falk (Merrimack College, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9108-5.ch006
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This chapter explores the experiences of graduate students of color and examines the support systems in place to promote their success in the academy. The authors provide an overview of the relevant literature and pertinent theoretical frameworks, including critical race theory and self-determination theory, as they relate to the experiences of graduate students of color. Furthermore, the chapter describes the initiation and early development of a Graduate Students of Color Association at Merrimack College, a private, Catholic college in New England. The chapter include both benefits and challenges of participating in and sustaining the group, while offering recommendations for future practice and research. It may be of particular interest to graduate students of color; faculty, staff, and administration in graduate education; and researchers focused on graduate degree attainment among individuals of color.
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Across the United States, enrollment of students of color in graduate programs is on the rise (Okahana & Zhou, 2017). Oklahana and Zhou (2017) reported increases of 11% and 7.8% between Fall 2015 and 2016 in graduate enrollment among LatinX students and Asian and Pacific Islanders, respectively.

Despite the growth in graduate program enrollment, students of color experience high attrition rates (Granados & Lopez, 1999). The United States maintains a fifty percent attrition rate for all graduate students and a seventy percent attrition rate for minority students (Brunsma, Embrick, & Shin, 2017). Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of African American/Black doctoral candidates do not complete their degrees (Joseph, 2012).

Graduate education presents numerous challenges, especially for students of color. Granados and Lopez (1999) explained that students of color “confront different issues and challenges because of who they are and what they represent” (p. 136). The systematic oppression of people of color, in the context of graduate school, hinders the socialization process of graduate students of color, resulting in an often exhausting and unpleasant graduate school experience (Twale, Weidman, & Bethea, 2016).

Literature asserts that there are a multitude of variables that differentiates the graduate experience for students of color such as the persistence of racism and microaggressions, increased isolation, and unsupportive faculty and environments (Brunsma, Embrick, & Shin, 2017; Granados & Lopez, 1999). These obstacles are detrimental to the engagement, well-being, and performance of graduate students of color (Granados & Lopez, 1999).

Racism and Microaggressions

Experiences of racism are common among graduate students of color. Overt or direct racism are words, actions, policies, or processes that explicitly oppress nonwhite people, such as use of derogatory racial slurs directed at people of color. According to Truong, Museum, and McGuire (2015), graduate students of color are susceptible to vicarious racism as well as direct racism. They explained that vicarious racism involves racist actions directed at family and friends, or even observed racism directed at strangers, which may impact an individual’s sense of safety and well-being.

A common example of racial harm is exemplified by microaggressions; which are both vexatious and debilitating. Clark, Mercer, Zeigler-Hill, and Dufrene (2012) argue that microaggressions are one of the most harmful forms of racism students experience. Racial microaggressions are defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 271). The effects of microaggressions are considered as damaging as incidences of overt racism. Covert racism results in students of color feeling ignored, undervalued, and disrespected because of their race (Sue & Constantine, 2007; Clark, Mercer, Zeigler-Hill & Dufrene, 2012).

For example, in a study of the effects of microaggressions on African-American college students, researchers found that microaggressions resulted in feelings of intimidation, discouragement, frustration, and exhaustion (Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000). Some students even considered leaving the academy as a result of the trauma inflicted by microaggressions. The compounding effects of racism and microaggressions influence how a graduate student of color experiences the people and environment of the academy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Microaggressions: An act of discrimination perpetrated by someone from a non-dominant group toward racial or ethnic minorities, that can be intentional or unintentional, and relay hostile or derogatory sentiments. Microaggressions are often subtle and offensive in nature.

Racism: A complex system of biased behaviors, actions, and institutions that allocate, reinforce, and maintain power and privilege of dominant racial groups (i.e., white people) over non-dominant racial groups (i.e., people of color).

Counterspaces: Spaces that defy normative nature and offer space to heal and nurture one’s authentic self and spirit.

Intersectionality: The nature of interconnected social identities such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, and gender as they form interdependent systems of oppression.

Cultural Humility: An approach to engagement which reflects the complex attitudes and sensitive skills required to meet the needs people whose culture differs from one’s own. The approach empowers people to participate in a two-way, reciprocal relationship, where both people are understood to have something to contribute.

Ally: People of a dominant social identity that seek to learn from and support people with marginalized social identities.

Institutional Racism: The systematic distribution of resources, power, and opportunity by institutions to the benefit of people who are white and at the exclusion of people of color. It can be identified in the written or unwritten policies and processes of an institution that include attitudes and behavior which discriminate through prejudice, ignorance, and stereotyping which disadvantage racial minorities.

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