A reader writes:
Given the expertise of this blog and its readers, I would like to ask for some help. I have a philosophy student who is currently considering offers from several graduate programs. She returned from a recent campus visit feeling traumatized after school representatives marginalized her through efforts to demonstrate their “inclusiveness” and “commitment” to diversity.
I apologize for the vagueness of the details and understand the specifics may affect responses. The student liked the idea of presenting her situation to this blog, but for the purpose of protecting my student’s identity, I’m not going to name the “diversity” groups(s) or the specific graduate program. For now, I’ll include that the program is a highly interdisciplinary, social justice-oriented program. She is a member of a community with protected status and has been offered significant scholarships reserved for school-specific diversity initiatives.
Some examples she provided for how the school treated her as a token and exotic other:
- Planning events with unrelated “diverse others” that erased significant differences between heterogeneous identities
- Focusing on her “diversity status” in every encounter and putting her in situations to speak for an entire community, which distracted attention away from her work as a scholar
- Being told that if she had problems meeting admission requirements, including standardized testing, that the school has a “diversity exception” permitting them to accept lower scores, GPAs, etc. for diverse applicants, even though SHE HAS ALREADY BEEN ACCEPTED to this program!
Advice she has requested from us:
1. The economic incentives and research opportunities are substantial, but she’s concerned about working with and being mentored by people who treat her this way. What thoughts do you have on navigating this conflict?
2. How to respond to the program. She is considering turning down the offer, but also wants to explain why. How to do this without being reduced to an “ungrateful other”?
3. “Is grad school even worth it?”
Advice I’m requesting:
1. Experience with how to mentor a student through this process.
2. Strategies for using my professional position to help her respond that can deflect some of the focus and energy directed at her personally?