Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Graduate School

Graduate School
Five-Year Equity-in-Action Plan
INTRODUCTION

MESSAGE FROM DEAN and DIVERSITY LIAISON

The Graduate School encompasses pipeline programs of McNair and Louis Stokes Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation, recruitment, admissions, enrollment, persistence and degree verification operations. The Graduate School also maintains the responsibility for developing and implementing policies and programming that support the success of graduate students. In addition, we are the emerging central administrative home and resource for postdoctoral fellows. The office is composed of administrative faculty and professional staff who serve graduate students across all graduate programs on the UM campus.

The Graduate School serves as the academic home of all graduate students. The school does not have its own faculty. Rather, we work with other academic units across the university to implement quality programs, and we aim to ensure that our university is a place where graduate students can thrive. A critical part of this role is our commitment to continuous improvement and engaging campus stakeholders, including and especially graduate students, to provide guidance and input with regard to priorities and policies.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are central values of the University of Mississippi Graduate School, and we seek to support access to excellent graduate education opportunities. The acronym GradSHARKS, which summarizes our values as a graduate school, begins with the recognition that graduate education at the University of Mississippi requires inclusiveness to be excellent. Specifically, in the Graduate School at the University of Mississippi, we

Shape leaders through inclusive excellence

Hone research, creative & professional abilities

Advance professional skills & goals

Recruit & retain qualified & motivated students

Kindle passion for lifelong learning, and

Sustain a place for growth and connection

Our Equity-in-Action plan is consistent with this statement of our values, responds to available data and best practice guidelines, and is part of our larger efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion. Based on consideration of available data related to enrollment and climate, our plan focuses on recruitment and retention.

With regard to recruitment, we seek to recruit diverse students through supporting admissions practices that are equitable and follow best practices; gaining financial support to increase access to graduate education for graduates of our minority-serving institutions within the state of Mississippi; and providing opportunities for rising seniors at historically Black colleges and universities to visit our campus and meet our faculty as they prepare to apply for graduate study.

With regard to retention, we seek to create and enhance opportunities for connection so that we can increase a sense of belonging and decrease feelings of isolation and imposter phenomena. We will do this through informal programming, training and interventions that start before the first day of courses for new graduate students and attend to important phases and transitions in the graduate career. We will also support student leadership and connection through facilitating graduate student involvement in nonacademic campus organizations that provide networking, mentoring, professional development and engagement for graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds.

As a unit that must work collaboratively with other units to support the students and postdoctoral fellows that we serve, our success requires a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion across the campus. For the students and postdoctoral fellows served by the Graduate School and our Equity-in-Action plan, the greatest impact will come from the climate in the environments where they spend the most time such as their classes, research labs, clinical placements and the community. Addressing climate concerns in these spaces is critical and must be led by those units.

GUIDING STATEMENT

The Graduate School holds the values of diversity, equity and inclusion as core to our purpose and role on the University of Mississippi campus. In addition to the articulation of those values in our acronym GradSHARKS, the values manifest in existing and emerging programs and practices within the Graduate School. Specifically, we award and recognize individuals and units on our campus that demonstrate excellence in inclusivity in graduate education; provide financial support to increase access to graduate education for underrepresented students in the form of scholarships and fellowships; offer programming that supports the success of underrepresented graduate students and supports all graduate students to develop cultural competency skills needed to successfully contribute to a diverse society; facilitate engagement in best practices by graduate programs across campus; and practice a commitment to learning and growth so that we might better support the success of underrepresented graduate students whose valuable contributions to our university are critical to the success of our university.

PATHWAYS TO EQUITY: University of Mississippi Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan

The University of Mississippi continues its commitment to excellence and making a positive difference in society through higher education. Pathways to Equity stands as our institutional guidepost for addressing and advancing our institutional mission through centering on diversity, equity and inclusion. Our complex institutional history coupled with our rich culture of students, faculty and staff striving for inclusive change has led us to the solidification of this institutional plan. Pathways to Equity works in concert with the university’s strategic plan to leverage university-wide, college/school-level and departmental transformative initiatives that cultivate a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.

With Pathways to Equity, the University of Mississippi aspires to achieve the following statements by the conclusion of this plan.

  1. The University of Mississippi consistently and comprehensively articulates diversity, equity and inclusion as essential in fulfilling the mission, vision and values of the institution.
  2. The University of Mississippi is organizationally and culturally equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to continue advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.
  3. A campus climate is fostered that ensures all individuals are valued, supported and feel a sense of belonging at the University of Mississippi.
  4. The University of Mississippi has decreases in disparities across underrepresented groups in the enrollment, retention and graduation rate at undergraduate and graduate levels.
  5. The number of underrepresented groups employed at the University of Mississippi is increased to reflect a talented and diverse workforce at all organizational levels, especially tenure-track faculty, managerial positions and executive leadership positions.

Guiding Principles

The development of this plan requires us to address individual, social, organizational and systemic factors that create and sustain inequities that prevent all members of our community from fully participating and thriving. We view this as central to the mission of the University of Mississippi. As we embark on this journey together, we must commit to the following shared principles:

  1. Equity-mindedness[1] – We embrace the institutional responsibility and agency to actively address the challenges and disparate outcomes at all levels of our community. This requires us to be data informed and connect best and promising practices to generate high-impact change for underserved groups in our community.
  2. Institutional Accountability – We must ensure efforts outlined throughout Pathways to Equity are acknowledged in the established systems of recognition, performance and accountability. It is vital that we work to account for the advancement of these goals in our ideas of success, merit and reward. Further, we must account for, honor and recognize faculty, staff, administrators and students in their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  3. Transparency – In our execution of Pathways to Equity, our success is predicated on a highly accessible and collaborative process that actively involves university stakeholders to work as virtuous partners. To that end, we will consistently, publicly and broadly share our intended actions, goals and measurable impacts of this plan.
  4. Innovation – Actualizing diversity, equity and inclusion will require us to deeply examine and rethink our policies, practices and procedures at the University of Mississippi. Each unit and individual across campus is invited to offer new thoughts, ideas and perspectives as we thoughtfully consider ways to make our institution more equitable and inclusive through an intersectional lens. This disposition will create a community of learning, growth and development as we collectively engage in this complex work.
  5. Alignment of Critical Resources – During this planning process, we have navigated a global health pandemic that has shown the vulnerabilities in our systems that disparately affect underserved and under-resourced communities. As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, we must not falter in our commitment to creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community. Instead, we must recognize that our commitment to equity is even more important today than ever.

OVERARCHING GOALS

The following goals represent the University of Mississippi’s commitment to the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These overarching goals represent interconnected priorities that are applicable to UM broadly, from our comprehensive divisions, down to individual teams. We aim to have all units see meaningful alignment of these goals with their work. We will ensure UM embraces the transformative nature of diversity, equity and inclusion across all levels of the institution, addressing challenges to DEI at every corner of our institution by combining contextual understanding with internal and external expertise.

  1. Advance Institutional Capacity for Equity
    Infrastructure, Information, Systems, Education and Processes
  2. Cultivate a Diverse and Equitable Community
    Recruiting, Retaining, Advancing and Succeeding
  3. Foster an Inclusive Campus Climate
    Support, Value and Belonging

GRADUATE SCHOOL’S FIVE-YEAR EQUITY-IN-ACTION PLAN

OVERVIEW

The Graduate School is a centralized unit that serves prospective and current graduate students across the university through providing direct support, facilitating faculty mentoring and advising institutional policies. The Graduate School, despite having students, does not have faculty. Rather, we work closely with faculty across campus. Within this structure, we seek to facilitate increased diversity of graduate students, support inclusion and belonging, and ensure equity. Our plan reflects key roles for prospective (i.e., recruitment) and current students. Importantly, although not part of the plan itself, the Graduate School has several ongoing efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Mississippi. This plan, which will require financial support from the institution, will assist us in supporting the Pathways to Equity strategic plan for the university.

DIVERSITY PLANNING COMMITTEE

  • Annette S. Kluck, Ph.D., dean, Graduate School; diversity liaison, Equity-in-Action Planning Committee chair
  • Robert Doerksen, Ph.D., associate dean, Graduate School
  • Murrell Godfrey, Ph.D., assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, Graduate School
  • Robin Bourgeois, assistant to the dean, Graduate School
  • Brenteria Travis, director of enrollment management, Graduate School
  • Paige Duke, senior project administrator

STRATEGIC ACTIVITIES

STRATEGIC ACTIVITY 1: Develop the Mississippi EDGE Program

The Graduate School, via the Mississippi Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (Mississippi EDGE) program, will enhance the overall educational experience of graduate students by increasing enrollment and graduation rates with targeted programs and incentives for graduate students who are from historically underrepresented minority universities in the state of Mississippi. Mississippi EDGE will provide funding for 20 housing stipends and 10 supplemental stipends for new graduate/professional students each year for three years. The program will provide up to 60 housing scholarships and 30 supplemental stipends per year. Initially, and with central funding support, we will begin with a small pilot of one-to-three students for each aspect of Mississippi EDGE in our first year with committed funding. The students must make adequate progress, and students receiving a stipend supplement must receive stipends from their departments that meet the Graduate School minimum stipend levels for a 0.50 time appointment. All Mississippi EDGE participants will be required to participate in Graduate School professional development programming in accordance with recent commitments of the Graduate School to ensure professional development for all students with funding from the Graduate School.

Recent graduate student enrollment of Mississippi residents who identify as members of underrepresented minority groups (as defined by IPEDS) has remained relatively flat, fluctuating between 242 and 286 over the past 10 years. Graduation and retention rate data for graduate students are not currently available. The Mississippi EDGE program seeks to reduce the financial barriers to entry and success in graduate and professional enrollment. Our mechanisms for evaluation will focus on graduate student admissions and retention data and graduation outcomes for students who identify as underrepresented minority graduate students from Mississippi.

Area(s) Responsible: Graduate School (and IREP for data); Annette S. Kluck, Ph.D., and Robin Bourgeois

Resources Statement: Will require additional funds to expand program beyond pilot

Diverse and Equitable Community

We will track

  • Enrollment of underrepresented minority graduate students from Mississippi (baseline is approximately 280)
  • Enrollment of individuals from underrepresented minority universities in Mississippi in graduate programs (baseline unexamined though data are available)
  • Yield ratio to admissions offers for underrepresented minority graduate students (baseline is approximately 60%)
  • Year-to-year retention (percent who re-enroll the next year or who graduate) of underrepresented minority graduate students from Mississippi (baseline is unknown)
  • Seven-year graduation rate of underrepresented minority graduate students from the state of Mississippi (baseline unknown)

Inclusive Campus Climate

We will survey graduates for perception of value and evaluate by demographics (current perceptions are unknown). We will compare Mississippi EDGE students to peers not in the program. 

STRATEGIC ACTIVITY 2: Implement Admissions Redesign

The Graduate School will implement training and evaluation of equitable admissions processes through admissions redesign implemented across the campus with the goal to reduce disparities in percentage of applicants who receive offers of admission as a function of race/ethnicity (using IPEDS definitions). All faculty members involved in admissions processes will participate in admissions redesign training within their discipline. Program faculty will be trained on best practices for graduate admission including assistance in identifying common practices that seem race neutral but that actually perpetuate inequities. Program faculty members will then redesign, with supervision, their admissions practices to incorporate what they learn from the training and develop more holistic admissions processes. Metrics will be based on admission data.

Area(s) Responsible: Graduate School (and IREP for data); Annette S. Kluck, Ph.D., and Murrell Godfrey, Ph.D.

Resources Statement: The Graduate School would like funds to train champions, compensate them for their time, and incentivize graduate program coordinators to complete such training (with their program faculty) and implement changes. We aim to engage 15-20 programs in the process each year.

Institutional Capacity for Equity

We will examine annually, and report to programs, the applicant-to-offer ratio for their applicants as a function of race/ethnicity using a five-year average. We have the capacity to gather this information, but we require easy, systematic ways to report the results to the programs.

Diverse and Equitable Community

We aim to reduce the discrepancy in the ratio of offers made to white and underrepresented minority applicants.

STRATEGIC ACTIVITY 3: Expand Graduate Student Affinity Groups

The Graduate School aims to increase student engagement and sense of community through facilitating the development and success of affinity groups for graduate students on campus. This goal will have different benchmarks for different years as we start with identifying affinity groups to create on our campus and support student leaders as they develop the groups. Once groups are established, the Graduate School will assist the organizations with ensuring that graduate students can access information about and meet with affinity groups. In particular, encouragement of new graduate students to engage with student organizations early in their tenure on campus will be a priority.

Area(s) Responsible: Graduate School; Murrell Godfrey, Ph.D., Paige Duke and Michelle Dickson

Resources Statement: Success of this effort will require personnel support. To be most successful, the Graduate School will need funds to hire two graduate assistants (GAs) who work to support the efforts of new and continuing affinity groups. Having graduate assistantship positions specifically for these affinity groups will support continuity of the groups and reduce the burden on students to change the institution. The hiring of graduate assistants would compensate graduate students for their time and enable the GAs to manage required logistical tasks so that student leaders of the affinity groups can focus on leadership. Without the additional funds, Graduate School staff, including the dean and assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, will assist with mentoring and advertising of affinity groups.

Diverse and Equitable Community

The Graduate School previously engaged Hanover to assess ways that peer institutions support affinity groups for their graduate students and identified a number of potential affinity groups. The ultimate goal is to increase belongingness among graduate students with diverse identities. This goal also directly addresses a concern found in data from the Climate Study (i.e., one reason graduate students had considered leaving the university within the past year was a lack of a sense of belonging and social support). The Graduate School will need to gather baseline and ongoing data on belonging and engagement among graduate students. Our goal will be to significantly increase a sense of belonging and engagement among graduate students from marginalized groups. We also aim to increase the percentage of graduate students who participate in nonacademic extracurricular groups.

Institutional Capacity for Equity

We seek to support graduate students to develop two-to-three new affinity groups (in addition to BGPSA and OutGrad, which comprise our only active graduate student affinity groups). The Graduate School will assist in managing the annual budgets for these registered student organizations.

Inclusive Campus Climate

We will monitor the number of affinity groups for graduate students each year with the aim of increasing the numbers over time. Currently, we have two active groups. Based on peer institutions, we should be able to manage four-to-six active affinity groups at any given time with the appropriate financial and personnel support to manage the logistics for these student-led groups.

STRATEGIC ACTIVITY 4: Structured Curricular and Other Interventions Enhancing Support for Graduate Students’ Success

The Graduate School will work with units to develop new interventions that support graduate student success. These interventions will target two different types of need.

First, students vary in their familiarity with the academy and the nuances of university culture when they arrive, due to differences in mentoring networks. These differences often reflect effects of class, race, gender and citizenship privilege. The goal is to decrease the disadvantage that some students experience due to not knowing about hidden rules within graduate education.

Second, multiple phases of graduate education can be isolating, and the isolation may be more pronounced for students with underrepresented identities. Key points to address isolation include the initial entry into the graduate program and writing phases — as most disciplines emphasize solo writing as the standard for a graduate degree when a thesis or dissertation is a required component. The goal is to increase belongingness of students in these key phases.

Demystifying Graduate School

The Graduate School will encourage development of trainings (which can occur in the form of a course or be offered as informal professional development opportunities) to demystify graduate education. These trainings should provide students with opportunities to interact with university leaders, advanced peers and others at their same career stage. They should also enable graduate students to learn about campus resources.

The Graduate School will provide training on the hidden curriculum in graduate education, facilitate program review to identify hidden curriculum within the discipline/program, and support faculty efforts to provide formal (pending receipt of funds to support this initiative) and informal learning opportunities focused on demystifying graduate education within the specific discipline.

The Graduate School will facilitate the creation of connections for incoming graduate students. We will employ a graduate assistant (GA) for the summer to devise and implement the Summer Program in Networking (SPIN), which will support incoming graduate students in connecting with other incoming students so that they begin to build communities and network before arriving on campus in the fall. 

Writing in a Community

The Graduate School will also facilitate development of interventions to support graduate student writing with an emphasis on thesis/dissertation completion. The interventions shall be interdisciplinary and emphasize increasing connection for students who are completing one of the most isolating aspects of graduate study.

Area(s) Responsible: Graduate School (and IREP for data); Graduate Writing Center; Annette S. Kluck, Ph.D.

Resources Statement: To do this well, we would like to engage highly rated teachers to develop and offer courses to support writing communities. Because of the time and energy needed to support students who experience disadvantages due to the hidden curriculum in graduate education and the isolation that comes with writing, compensating the instructors is critical as a recognition of the importance of this work. Without additional funds, the Graduate School will have to rely on more informal interventions and volunteer time of faculty.

The Graduate School will provide the funding for the GA to operate SPIN.

These interventions will be implemented in phases such that we will initially focus on SPIN and summer short-term, informal writing engagement opportunities. If we are able to attain additional funding to support this effort, we will incentivize faculty and programs to develop courses and other opportunities with the goal of having a mechanism for all new graduate students to access trainings to demystify the hidden curriculum in graduate education by the fifth year.

Institutional Capacity for Equity

Development of interventions that support graduate students’ success as they face key transitions will increase institutional capacity for equity. We aim to increase the number of offerings to support demystifying graduate education and decreasing isolation in graduate education.

Diverse and Equitable Community

Baseline data are not available. However, for students participating in trainings on the hidden curriculum in graduate education, we would assess knowledge of institutional roles and operations with a pre-test and post-test. We aim to increase knowledge of the factors that support success for attendees.

Inclusive Campus Climate

Baseline data are not available. We will assess imposter syndrome feelings at the beginning and end of learning experiences focused on demystifying graduate education. We aim to decrease imposter syndrome feelings. We would also assess belongingness before and after completion of writing interventions with the aim of increasing institutional belongingness as a result of participating in such interventions.

STRATEGIC ACTIVITY 5: Cole-Eftink Fellows Program

Drawing on recommendations from individuals such as Gregory Vincent, J.D., Ed.D., we seek to create a cohort experience to support success of underrepresented graduate students. We have launched our initial year of the Cole-Eftink Fellows program and aim to develop the program to include underrepresented minority doctoral students from the U.S. who express an interest in an academic career and who have been offered a 0.50-time assistantship. Fellows will participate in a series of professional development activities. We aim to increase belongingness and facilitate continued interest in academic careers.

Area(s) Responsible: Graduate School (and IREP for data); Murrell Godfrey, Ph.D.

Resources Statement: To support the professional development activities and incentivize participation (because doctoral students have significant demands on their time, providing financial support to sustain engagement is important and helps with setting boundaries with advisers who may not be particularly supportive of students taking time for their own professional development), fellows will receive a small scholarship in addition to access to professional development trainings. Within our first three years, we aim to expand the program to fund a total of 10 fellows per year. We also hope to be able to bring in speakers (and compensate them) and mentors each term. Without funding, we will need to rely on volunteers.

Diverse and Equitable Community

Baseline data are not available (though IREP is working to develop capacity to gather such data). We aim to increase the percentage of underrepresented minority doctoral students who complete their degree within five years.

Inclusive Campus Climate

Baseline data are not available; however, the Graduate School will gather institutional belongingness data periodically from graduate students and compare that of individuals who participate in the Cole-Eftink Fellows program with that of those who do not.

STRATEGIC ACTIVITY 6: Elevate to Graduate School at the University of Mississippi (EGSUM)

The Graduate School will develop a new summer camp for rising seniors from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) called “Elevate to Graduate School at the University of Mississippi” (EGSUM) to interest the students in enrolling in graduate school at the University of Mississippi. We will prioritize students attending state and regional HBCUs, but students attending any HBCU will be eligible. Just as there is a lack of information on what graduate school is like at the University of Mississippi, the typical rising senior also does not have a well-formed understanding of all that is involved in graduate school: its purpose, how to apply, costs involved and possible sources of financial support, the challenges, the different kinds of degrees and kinds of specialization, the differences between undergraduate and graduate education, the relative selectivity and value of particular programs, the major topics available at UM that may not even be present in the undergraduate curriculum, and many other aspects. We will make available a one-week experiential camp each summer that will inform the rising seniors, give them an excellent on-campus experience, and encourage them to consider applying to and matriculating to our Graduate School.

Area(s) Responsible: Graduate School (and IREP for data); Robert Doerksen, Ph.D., and Brenteria Travis

Resources Statement: The one-week, on-campus activity will be held in summer each year starting in 2022. Each year, students will participate, including staying on campus and with meals provided. In our initial year, we aim to engage around six students and to increase the number by an additional six students each year until we have 24 participants annually. The program will include general, academic and discipline-specific sessions, intensive writing workshops and student panels, as well as dinners and tours. The activities will help inform, interest and prepare the participants for graduate school. There will be recruiting trips each year to each HBCU in Mississippi to promote the camp and graduate education.

Institutional Capacity for Equity

Development of Tableau interface to track applications from HBCUs and minority-serving institutions (MSIs)

Diverse and Equitable Community

We will track

  • Success of the project goals, including whether the participants matriculate to our Graduate School, and how successful they are in their further education and career
  • Applications and enrollment of individuals from underrepresented minority universities in Mississippi in graduate programs (baseline unexamined though data are available)
  • Seven-year graduation rate of graduate students who participated in the EGSUM program who matriculate in a graduate program at UM

Inclusive Campus Climate

Pre- and post-surveys will be administered to assess campers’ perceptions of the inclusivity of the University of Mississippi and of graduate education at UM. The post-survey will also assess the students’ appreciation of the various elements and presentations of the camp. The survey will include the chance for subjective comments and suggestions.

STRATEGIC ACTIVITIES SUMMARY

Administrative Divisions Equity-in-Action Plans
ACTIVITY METRICS
Institutional Capacity Diverse and Equitable Community Campus Climate
Mississippi EDGE Enrollment of underrepresented minority graduate students from Mississippi (baseline is approximately 280)

Enrollment of individuals from underrepresented minority universities in Mississippi in graduate programs (baseline unexamined though data are available)

Admissions offers to yield ratio for underrepresented minority graduate students (baseline is approximately 60%)

Seven-year graduation rate of underrepresented minority graduate students from the state of Mississippi (baseline unknown)

 

Perception of value as a function of race/ethnicity and attendance at a minority-serving institution among students from the state of Mississippi (current perceptions are unknown)
Admissions Redesign Annually report to programs the applicant-to-offer ratio for their applicants as a function of race/ethnicity using a five-year average (baseline is no prior reporting of such data to programs) Reduce the discrepancy in the ratio of offers made to white and underrepresented minority applicants
Affinity Group Development Support graduate students to develop two-to-three new affinity groups

Develop budget management practices for supporting graduate student affinity groups (currently does not exist)

Increase sense of belonging and engagement among graduate students from marginalized groups (baseline unknown)

Increase percentage of graduate students engaged in student organizations (baseline unknown)

Track and increase the number of active graduate student affinity groups (baseline: BGPSA and OutGrad comprise our only active graduate student affinity groups)
Thriving in Graduate School Course Develop interventions to support graduate student success during key transitions (tracking number of formal opportunities; baseline is no formal offerings beyond our less-structured professional development series)

 

Increase knowledge of institutional roles, resources and operations from start to end of trainings designed to demystify graduate education (baseline unknown)

Monitor time to degree of those who identify as international students, racial/ethnic minority or high financial need and reduce any discrepancies that exist (baseline unknown)

Decrease imposter syndrome feelings, after participation in trainings and interventions
Cole-Eftink Fellows Program Increase percentage of racial/ethnic minority doctoral students who complete their degree within five years (baseline unknown, assuming data mirrors national findings) Increase institutional belongingness of Cole-Eftink Fellows program relative to peers who do not participate (baseline unknown)
Elevate to Graduate School at University of Mississippi Develop Tableau reporting structures to track applicants from HBCUs and MSIs

 

Increase the number of students from HBCUs that matriculate to UM’s Graduate School (baseline data available but unexamined)

Increase the preparedness of applicants from HBCUs to UM’s Graduate School

Enhance campers’ perceptions of the inclusivity of the University of Mississippi and of the quality of graduate education at UM

 

 

[1] Bensimon, E.M., Dowd, A.C., Witham, K. (2016). Five principles for enacting equity by design. Diversity and Democracy, The Equity Imperative. Winter 2016, Volume 19, No. 1.