IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Graduate students speak out: a personal perspective
by Wilfredo Alvarez, graduate student, Department of Communication
Wilfredo Alvarez, far right, speaks at a meeting of the MGSA, a newly formed graduate student group. (Photo by Andi Fabri/University of Colorado)
During a recent meeting of the Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Alliance (MGSA), a newly formed graduate student group, I raised this question: “What are the main issues affecting graduate students at CU-Boulder?” Graduate students of diverse cultural and disciplinary backgrounds attended the meeting and shared interesting perspectives on issues that directly affect them. I was intrigued by their concerns, and it also helped me to realize how important the graduate student population is for any higher education institution.
How does CU-Boulder benefit from successfully retaining and graduating a vibrant, diverse community of graduate scholars? “Role modeling for future generations of graduate students,” said Tamara Williams, first-year sociology doctoral student. “If Flagship 2030 is to become a reality, the university needs to cater to the audiences it is trying to attract.” This is an important observation. Current undergraduate students may see our struggles and decide not to stay at CU-Boulder for graduate school. Students also feel that graduate student services and funding can be improved to assist with retention.
Due to the restructuring of the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA), multicultural graduate students feel there is no place for them to go to when seeking support outside of the structure of Counseling and Psychological Services. The connection can be confusing for students whose issues don’t fall under the disciplines of counseling or psychology. “We want to recruit a culturally diverse body of graduate students, but once they get here a specific support system to successfully retain and graduate multicultural graduate students is missing,” said Maria Genao-Homs, a second year master’s student in journalism.
Graduate student expenses also present a unique set of issues not common among the majority population of undergraduates. Struggling to meet these expenses is an added pressure during the demanding graduate school years that can affect scholarship and the ability to complete degrees. “Many graduate students have kids; childcare is a big problem for us,” said Kimberly Casteline, a second year doctoral student of journalism. “We need to get multiple jobs just to cover childcare expenses. A pressing issue for me is the lack of summer funding; I just don’t know how I’ll manage between May and August,” she said.
Although there are various issues affecting multicultural graduate students on campus, these students are very resilient. One example is their decision to form MGSA, officially established in the fall of 2007. The group was formed with the goal of providing personal and professional support to graduate students from multicultural and multidisciplinary backgrounds through social and educational activities. The group works toward this goal by collaborating with the Women’s Resource Center, the Graduate Teacher Program and the United Government for Graduate Students, in addition to the Office of Student Affairs.
“Organizations such as MGSA are essential to the recruitment and retention of graduate students representing a diversity of backgrounds,” said Julie Yun, MGSA advisor, psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services and former CMA adviser. “MGSA helps graduate students who might have a difficult time finding the support they need in order to complete their programs. The group provides a sense of connectedness to others that one might find difficult to achieve if individual departments are not particularly diverse. Because it is multidisciplinary, MGSA offers a broader sense of and appreciation for the campus community, a safe place to discuss a wide variety of graduate student issues, and opportunities to become leaders as concerns and issues are voiced publicly through discussion.”
Forming organizations like MGSA and voicing their concerns are ways that graduate students build community and take ownership of their journey at CU-Boulder. The opportunity to do both is one reason why graduate students feel their decision to come to CU-Boulder was a good one. They believe in CU as a place that provides a nurturing space for learning and growth.