Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Number 4

Diversity Digest
Volume 7,
Number 4

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Learning Through Evaluation: The James Irvine Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) Project
James Irvine Foundation’s Campus Diversity Initiative
Diversity Climate Surveys:
Worth the Effort
Unleashing the Power of Metaphor: Pepperdine University
Implications of Prop 54
Faculty Involvement
Enhancing Diversity: University of Southern California
More than Bittersweet Success: University of the Pacific
Curricular Transformation
Institutionalizing Diversity: Occidental College
Educating for a Just Society: University of San Francisco
Making Diversity News
Media Watch
Teaching Students Media Skills
AAC&U Evaluation Resources
Irvine CDI Evaluation Resources
DATA: Capturing Hopes

Enhancing Diversity: The University of Southern California
Center for American Studies and Ethnicity

By Dean Campbell, research assistant, Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis; William G. Tierney, Wilbur-Kieffer professor of higher education and director, Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA); and George J. Sanchez, associate professor of history, American Studies and Ethnicity and director, Program in American Studies and Ethnicity

Carol Geary Schneider

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California’s (USC) Center for American Studies and Ethnicity (CASE) has been funded by a 3-year Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) grant from the James Irvine Foundation to work toward three goals. They are: (1) to promote the retention of minority doctoral students; (2) to enhance the working conditions of minority faculty; and (3) to enhance campus-wide discussions of diversity. Achieving these goals will ultimately increase the number of faculty of color in the higher education pipeline, enhance USC’s campus dialogues on diversity, expand faculty research about race and ethnicity, and increase undergraduate students’ exposure to both race and ethnicity research. To help determine the institution’s progress toward these goals, USC’s Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis took part in the implementation of the grant’s evaluation plan.

The Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA) evaluated two CASE-sponsored activities, the Irvine Doctoral Fellowship Program and the Minority Summer Dissertation Workshop (MSDW). Each program provides programmatic support for the recruitment and persistence of forty-four doctoral students of color and addresses the particular challenges students of color face in predominately white research universities (e.g., lack of mentorship from faculty of color, limited peer networks with others minority students). Below, we have provided a brief sketch of these two activities as well as recommendations based on what we discovered through our evaluations.

Doctoral Fellowships and Dissertation Support

To reward academic departments for their commitment to enhancing diversity, the project has awarded fellowships to twenty-nine new doctoral students of color, twenty-seven of whom remain enrolled at the University. In addition to portable tuition and stipend support, students engage in a variety of professional development activities that support Fellows in continuing their doctoral studies, enhance their doctoral experience, and prepare them for faculty careers. Activities include a new student orientation and information session, monthly seminars, meetings to discuss research and form collaborative partnerships within a learning cohort, as well as attendance at national conferences.

The MSDW has provided programmatic support for advanced doctoral students of color at the dissertation proposal-writing phase—a critical point in a future faculty member’s academic career. Gaining a place in the workshop is competitive. Applicants must submit faculty letters of recommendation and a draft dissertation proposal to earn admission into the intense, three-week program that takes place over the summer. An external group of leading faculty scholars reviews draft proposals in formal one-on-one and group sessions. The workshop agenda also provides time for students to practice the peer review process by examining and commenting on each other’s proposal drafts. Sometimes these reviews occur during off-campus, informal, social dinner meetings with faculty visitors.


“Portable” research assistantships are given to the students directly rather than to particular departments or programs. This gives students the opportunity to work with specific faculty of color independent of whether the faculty member and student are situated in the same academic program. These portable awards also provide faculty greater flexibility in attracting doctoral students of color, particularly those students whose research interests match those of faculty of color. Some minority faculty members are currently working on proposed publications with the Fellows as a result of these portable assistantships. In addition, USC faculty of color have found new resources for their research through this Fellowship program.

Findings from the MSDW
show that collaborative relationships among students
and between students and
faculty are important and motivate students in the advanced stages of doctoral study.

Although the thirteen advanced doctoral participants in the summer workshop came from six different academic departments, each participant received the same instruction on the proposal writing process using the same proposal format. The MSDW faculty presented proposals at the workshop sessions that had earned them extramural funding or invitations to serve as visiting faculty at other prestigious research universities. The combination of financial assistance and the restructuring of the research assistantships better prepares students for later phases of their academic careers.

Findings from the MSDW show that collaborative relationships among students and between students and faculty are important and motivate students in the advanced stages of doctoral study. The peer relationships developed in the workshop were shown to be equally important. In the six-month period following the workshop, eight participants’ dissertation proposals were submitted for departmental approval with three accepted and the other five pending review.

Recommendations for Improving Doctoral Education

Although the suggestions given for improving doctoral education address the particular challenges students of color face, many are also helpful for all graduate students.

• Provide flexibility in graduate assistantships.
Direct funding to students of color has important effects on the qualitative aspects of students’ time-to-degree. Evaluators of other minority fellowship programs have coined the term “check and a handshake” to describe funding models that provide minority students adequate cash but do not foster relationships between students and faculty—an aspect of the learning experience central to student success and job placement. Departments might consider the option of teaching or research assistantships for doctoral students of color earlier in the doctoral program to provide adequate time for students to form social and professional relationships with faculty whom they might invite onto their qualifying exam and dissertation committees.

• Focus on placement through faculty networking.
One of the main sources of value for a research university is the placement of its doctoral students into professorships at other leading research universities. Other research universities should adopt the goal and develop a plan for promoting the nationwide scholarship of its leading students of color. The MSDW provided this exposure for its participants, which resulted in many invitations to Fellows from the MSDW visiting faculty to present at national conferences.

• Engage in continuous evaluation.
The challenges to recruiting and retaining minority doctoral students will remain a topic of interest while minorities continue to be underrepresented in the American professorate. CHEPA researchers will continue to investigate the challenges to minority student and faculty retention. Sharing the findings of our research has already influenced USC’s approach to recruiting graduate students of color. Previously, each school/college within this large research university conducted its own recruitment effort. Some of our findings pointed to the utility of a more centralized approach. In part, as a result of the reports produced by this project, a new senior level administrative position was created to oversee the university’s minority graduate student recruitment effort.

As the project approaches its final year, other questions remain, including how the project fosters diversity and organizational change and the impact of the project on policy reform for graduate study.

For more information about the project, see the CHEPA Web site, www.usc.edu/dept/chepa/case/.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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