The stories of underrepresented graduate students during COVID-19

Pandemic adds extra stress to lives of underrepresented graduate students

William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center

The stories of underrepresented graduate students during COVID-19

Pandemic adds extra stress to lives of underrepresented graduate students

William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center

A new study analyzed graduate students’ experiences during the pandemic and includes suggestions to help universities and families best understand how to support their graduate students. Family members, administrative and academic faculty and underrepresented graduate students were all surveyed to glean a complete picture of how their experiences changed because of the ongoing pandemic.

The study, Historically Underrepresented Graduate Students' Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic, is a collaboration between eight authors at the University of Nevada, Reno. The study exists as the result of one of many research efforts by the University's National Science Foundation Innovations in Graduate Education funded project, a collaboration between some of the top administrators, educators and scientists to innovate and develop new ways to provide historically underrepresented graduate students with all the tools they need to succeed.

The authors revealed inequalities across many areas. Underrepresented graduate students saw access to products linked to their culture and ethnicity drop as businesses were forced to shut down. Students had to find new ways to attend online classes when they didn’t own the prerequisite technology, struggled to contact faculty and saw existing financial and nonfinancial stressors worsen as the pandemic crawled forward.

“One of our major findings is that the pandemic amplified some inequalities and access to resources,” Bridget Walsh, lead author of the study and a professor of Human Development and Family Science at the University said. “There were struggles presented, but, simultaneously, people were counteracting. The things universities did balance it in a way.”

However, throughout the pandemic, institutions such as the University helped all students by providing financial assistance. Additionally, the University provided access to technological resources and the internet for both graduate and undergraduate students who needed it.

“A lot of students don’t have access to those things, maybe didn’t even have internet at home, so they rely on the community campus for that,” Matthew Aguirre, a co-author of the study and director of Postdoctoral Affairs, Graduate Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives, said. “Hotspots and things like that became crucial.”

Many underrepresented graduate students often don't get the opportunity to take advantage of the resources offered by universities. Sometimes, students simply don’t know these resources exist or otherwise feel that they should already have all the knowledge they need to attend college successfully from their undergraduate experience. The study also revealed the importance of support from key family members for many underrepresented graduate students, who oftentimes saw the amount of responsibility they needed to shoulder for their family increase during the pandemic.

“We know, historically, underrepresented graduate students benefit from the support of not only the university, but their family system, whatever that looks like, and that is particularly important in times of crisis,” said Tricia Woodliff, co-author and an assistant professor of the Counselor Education Program at the University.

Graduate students can often be left on the wayside when it comes to discussing the experiences of university students. The study aims to not only correct this but ultimately facilitate the creation of better support structures for underrepresented graduate students and for their families.

“For me personally, working in the area that I do, it's allowed me to see how we can serve our graduate students better from these underrepresented populations, not only inside a pandemic, but outside of one as well,” Sheena Harvey, co-author and director of the Fitness & Recreational Sports Department, said.

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