GC Models "How to Increase Graduate-School Diversity the Right Way"

January 16, 2019

The CUNY Pipeline programs, overseen by Professor Herman Bennett, are cited by The Chronicle of Higher Education as an "exemplary model" for diversifying graduate education in the humanities and social sciences.

Despite concerted efforts to boost the representation of minority students in graduate school, their numbers remain paltry. In 2016, just 15 percent of U.S. doctoral graduates were African-American, Hispanic, or Native American. But The Graduate Center’s innovative Pipeline Fellows programs, reimagined by Professor Herman Bennett (History), prove that this trend can be bucked.

In an essay in the January 14 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, titled, “How to Increase Graduate-School Diversity the Right Way,” Leonard Cassuto, professor of English at Fordham University, describes The Graduate Center’s undergraduate and graduate Pipeline Fellows programs an “an exemplary model” for diversifying graduate education in the humanities and social sciences. “CUNY’s concerted efforts enable the institution to fulfill the mission of an urban public university — and show the way to the rest of us,” he writes.

Cassuto specifically praises Bennett for his role as the “architect” of these initiatives. “Bennett didn’t invent any new programs — instead, he changed how the existing ones operated and, in so doing, raised CUNY’s diversity numbers,” Cassuto writes.

When Bennett assumed his role as executive officer of the Office of Educational Opportunity and Diversity at The Graduate Center, CUNY offered eight graduate fellowships for minority candidates.

Bennett converted the eight full fellowships to 18 “top-ups”—supplemental awards of $10,000 a year. “The change not only increased the number of diversity fellows, it also aided the university’s recruitment,” Cassuto writes.

“Bennett also gave the two pipeline programs substance and coherence,” Cassuto adds, citing monthly career development conferences for graduate fellows and intensive summer workshops that prepare undergraduate fellows for graduate school. Bennett meets with each undergraduate Pipeline student two or three times during the summer, and he has ensured that the program provides them with breakfast and lunch, as many are from households earning less than $30,000 a year.

“Every year,” Bennett explained, “there has been at least one student who is homeless. That usually doesn’t come to our attention immediately. One homeless kid knew which libraries were open at night so she could get her work done.”

Student mentoring is also encouraged. Graduate fellows mentor undergraduate Pipeline students, and many graduate-student Pipeliners teach in the summer workshops. Former undergraduate Pipeliner Ethan Barnett, who is now a Ph.D. student in history at the University of Delaware, notes that there’s also “quite a bit of peer mentoring going on,” as students help each other as editors, counselors, and friends.

“Students relax and thrive in this culture,” Cassuto writes. He quotes Graduate Center Ph.D.s student Michael Mena (Anthropology), who told him that the program “gave me a space to sound like myself,” and without it he “would have returned home.”

Cassuto explains, “It’s hard to overstate the importance of this work.” He added, “On one hand, it’s an extraordinary instance of, as Bennett puts it, ‘being present and offering them the resources that we can.’ On the other hand, it’s the creation of what he describes as ‘both a culture of diversity and a culture of inclusion.’”

Comparing the CUNY Pipeline programs to the Mellon Foundation’s Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, Cassuto writes, “the CUNY program operates on a larger scale: It admits larger numbers, and does more to link the undergraduate and graduate experience. And its modest cost results from what sets it apart: the personal attention.”

Bennett explained that the fellows have, “at their disposal, the resources of the institution and an understanding of how the institution works, so that they can produce first-rate scholarship and be amazing teachers.”

Cassuto concludes, “Bennett’s exemplary work offers his institution — and all of higher education — a chance [in Bennett’s words] to ‘rethink what we mean by the public interest, what the university is, and how underrepresented people fit into it,’ and something more: ‘how they’re constitutive of it.’”

Applications for the 2019-2020 undergraduate Pipeline program are currently being accepted. Learn more and apply