Center for Multicultural Educaiton

December 2, 2020

Graduate College GA Dreams Big for Diversity

"While funding is a concern for every graduate student, not everyone has the same opportunity."

As the Graduate College's Graduate Assistant for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tabitha Decker knows that many student populations have historically been excluded from the higher education community.

"There is a need to provide more resources and opportunities for students who are historically underrepresented in graduate school," Decker said, reflecting on her role in the Graduate College.

Decker, a Master's student in the Post-Secondary Education: Student Affairs program, has worked hard to shape the Graduate College's recent diversity initiatives, including the brand-new Diversity and Inclusion Advancement Award.

"We are honored to have Tabitha as the first DEI GA for the Graduate College," said Dr. Jennifer Waldron, the Graduate College Dean. "Tabitha's work is to create programming, connection, professional development, and other opportunities that support our diverse community of graduate students."

"Tabitha is setting the foundation for the continued work of honoring and supporting the rich differences of our student body and their lived experiences."

When Decker first received a Graduate Assistantship offer from the Graduate College, she knew it would be a special chance to practice important skills related to her program. "I took this opportunity because it would give me...hands-on experience. I was also thrilled that [the] position required some autonomy which would allow for creativity and motivate me to move out of my comfort zone."

In Decker's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion role, she's had opportunities to brainstorm new resources for incoming students and research enrollment data to determine how to direct funding toward underrepresented graduate student populations at UNI.

"It is hard to pick [a favorite project]," Decker admitted. "There are a number of things I am looking forward to [accomplishing]."

"One of those is working to fully establish graduate student affinity groups. This will be a great way for students to expand their network beyond their program."

According to Dr. Waldron, "affinity groups help bring people together from across campus who have a shared identity with the goal of community-building and supporting multiple identities. As the groups continue to meet, their focus and purpose will evolve in response to the needs of the group and campus relative to the societal climate."

Next to establishing affinity groups, Decker is perhaps most excited about the chance she's had to shape the Diversity and Inclusion Advancement Award.

This scholarship will support incoming graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds. The Graduate College's goal in offering this award is to foster diversity initiatives that will impact UNI's graduate population and the broader university community.

"I hope that [this scholarship] will help recruit students with diverse interests, backgrounds and experiences. This will enrich the graduate programs by creating more opportunities where students share different perspectives," Decker noted.

In terms of her own opportunities, Decker is looking forward to building on her work with the Graduate College in the future. "[This work] has helped me sharpen some of my skills, which will help me to be a better Student Affairs Professional."

"It has also opened my eyes to some opportunities that I had not given much thought before."

Written by Grace Mertz