Group provides resources for black grad students at UNL

Graduate school can be tough — but for second-year grad student Mykesha Jackson, the path is a lot smoother because of the Black Graduate Student Association at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The association was formed 20 years ago at UNL and continues to provide academic and social resources to underrepresented graduate students on campus.

“BGSA has been absolutely crucial in my time here,” Jackson said, who is pursuing an advanced degree in Child, Youth and Family Studies.

Every Tuesday, the association holds on open study session in Room 200 of the Campus Union from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Attendance varies; some days the numbers are sparse, other times there’s a decent turnout.

The study sessions are just one way the group is working to build valuable social networks and mentorships for black graduate students.

The organization recently hosted a game night in collaboration with the Black Law Student Association and the Multicultural Student Society from the Law College, said vice president Alisha Caldwell Jimenez . She also said the organization does a community service event each semester, in addition to participating in The Big Event.

Chapters across the country are using these various social connections and academic resources to overcome hardships and limitations for black graduate students.

From 2005 to 2015, the total enrollment of black/African-American graduate students had an average annual percent increase of 3.2 percent, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

However, proportionally, this racial group is underrepresented on average in graduate schools in the United States.

In the fall of 2015, the national ratio of white graduate students to black graduate students was 1:5, slightly larger than the 1:4 ratio for undergraduate students, according to numbers reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

At UNL, although the overall racial difference is much larger than the nation as a whole, black graduate students are also underrepresented compared to the undergraduate ratio.

In the fall of 2017, UNL’s undergraduate ratio was 1:27 for whites to blacks, while the graduate ratio was 1:28. Specifically, there were 2,893 reported white graduate students compared to just 103 black students.

Besides numbers, one of the biggest problems for black graduate students is the lack of representation in terms of resources, such as mentors and guidance, Caldwell Jimenez said.

“A lot of us come here with ourselves as our support systems, and that’s it,” she said. “And then family back home, who may or may not have ever gone to graduate school, or may nor may not have ever been in college. So it’s just an added level of stress on top of being a graduate student.”

But with the association, Caldwell Jimenez has that support system.

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