Though much focus has been given to the diversity initiatives of Penn’s undergraduate community, graduate students are also making their voices heard.
In light of Penn’s recent Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence, the Graduate and Professional Student Association has been working to create a more welcoming environment for students across the University’s graduate schools.
Whereas Penn’s administration has expressed an interest in bringing in a more diverse student and faculty population, GAPSA’s efforts have been more targeted toward accommodating current minorities.
“If there are people who are comfortable here, they will tell people similar to them of their comfort level,” School of Arts and Sciences graduate student Rachel Delgado, GAPSA’s Vice Chair for Equity and Access, said.
Delgado added that her roles include “advocating for the non-traditional students [and] making sure that different view points are expressed” from those like older students, students with children, female students and LGBT students.
“I believe marginalization occurs when your voice isn’t heard,” she said.
Promoting awareness and multiculturalism have been key in making Penn’s graduate schools a comfortable community, Fels Institute of Government student Usama Mahmud, GAPSA’s Vice Chair for International Affairs said.
In the case of international students, Mahmud works to highlight and clarify issues that affect the international community, such as student health insurance, the organization of visa information sessions and instruction on tax rules in the United States.
“There are certainly some places that we do not have the exact details or requirements of the university application process of how to apply and what the university offers,” he said.
The role of GAPSA in diversity initiatives, Delgado said, is to try to create an accommodating environment by gathering feedback to see how to better serve the graduate community. There is already a lot of diversity at Penn, she said, so the goal is to bring it to light.
“You want to make sure … that you’re creating an institution that’s really going to be receptive to a lot of different kinds of students who are interested in different sort of subjects who learn in different types of ways,” Senior Adviser to the Provost for Diversity John Jackson said. “To not be diverse is to set yourself up to fail.”
Delgado, however, sees several areas for improvement in Penn’s policies and practices.
She believes that more communication and socialization is necessary between members of all of the graduate schools, since “graduate colleagues come from all walks of life.”
“That’s where Penn could really strengthen its uniqueness in that way by facilitating those interactions and keeping in mind different groups,” she said.
Delgado added she would “like the administration to think about us” in many cases — such as the difficulty to find parking when coming into the city from the suburbs for a night class. This increased help from the administration would make it easier to push forward GAPSA’s initiatives for non-traditional students, she added.
“The way in which you deal with the eclectic global world of the 21st century is by building as inclusive and diverse a social, intellectual and institutional life that you can,” Jackson said.