Retaining Students of Color in Grad School

Inside Higher Ed | Pub Jan. 5, 2024

Systematic change must be made to ensure they succeed in academe, writes Robert W. Fernandez, who suggests some specific interventions.

As a formerly undocumented immigrant who has spent a decade in academe fighting for the advancement of Latino students in higher education in the sciences, I want to shed light on the struggles that students of color face in graduate school and why so many of us are leaving it.

Growing up, I never dreamed of becoming a scientist, because I figured that such a career path was not available to me as a child of immigrants. As the oldest in my family, I told myself that I would major in business administration in order to find a well-paying job to support my family. I did not have the luxury of thinking big.

All of that changed one day in community college, however, when I attended a biology class taught by a Black woman professor. Her lectures sparked something in me that gave me permission to dream. From community college to a four-year institution, CUNY’s York College, I built up research experiences working on the social behavior of the fruit fly, attended scientific conferences and published academic papers. All that led to my acceptance to a doctoral program at Yale University in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.

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