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Purdue Graduate School News

April 5, 2021

Three grants for Advancing Social Justice and Diversity in Graduate Education awarded to graduate students


Three teams of Purdue University graduate students received The Graduate School’s inaugural grants for Advancing Social Justice and Diversity in Graduate Education. The grant program is open to graduate student teams to develop actionable ideas to advance social justice and diversity in graduate education at Purdue.

“This grant program taps into the ingenuity of graduate students to contribute to the design of systems, policies, and innovations that will help advance social justice and diversity in graduate education at Purdue,” said Linda J. Mason, dean of The Graduate School and professor of entomology. “These three proposals, developed by graduate student teams, selected by their peers, and supported by The Graduate School and faculty mentors, have the potential to spark meaningful change.”

Mentoring First-Generation African Students during the Graduate Application Process

Purdue is one of the top enrollers of international graduate students in the U.S., but only a fraction of international students is from African countries. Nokwanda Ndlovu Grava, a 2nd-year PhD student studying counseling psychology, is on a mission to change that.

Grava will employ time-honored practices of leveraging connections and mentoring to help more qualified Black African graduate students navigate the path to Purdue.

The goal of the “Mentoring First-Generation African Students during the Graduate Application Process” project is to mentor Black African students through the graduate school application process and provide funding for up to three candidates to take the GRE and TOEFL.

Grava, who is South African, attended poorly-funded segregated schools during the apartheid years, but finished high school in the new democratic South Africa. She said there is an “entire generation” of Black Africans who are highly talented, but face multiple barriers that prevent them from pursuing graduate school, including the lack of encouragement and social support from a trusted mentor.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity that I never had as a first-generation student who needed help navigating the graduate school application process, since it can be a very foreign and complicated process,” Grava said. “University spaces can be an intimidating place, especially for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds who often do not have any guidance.”

Grava plans to leverage her existing relationships with historically Black universities in South Africa to assist in the identification and recruitment of first-generation Black students who have the desire and drive to pursue graduate studies at Purdue and to mentor those students through the application process.

“First-generation students are inspirations to their families and communities, and simply by pursuing something as radical as graduate education abroad, these students will prove to their communities that this is a real possibility,” Grava said.

Nokwanda Ndlovu Grava

Nokwanda Ndlovu Grava is a 2nd-year PhD student in the Department of Educational Studies in the College of Education.

Scholarly Activism: Using Classrooms as a Workspace for Enacting Change within Systems of Oppression

The goal of the “Scholarly Activism: Using Classrooms as a Workspace for Enacting Change within Systems of Oppression” project is to fund graduate student research projects that will inform institutional policies supporting equality and equity for racially marginalized graduate students. The research projects will be conducted as part of a graduate-level course.

Fantasi Nicole, a 2nd-year PhD student in the School of Engineering Education and team leader for the project, said that she hopes the project will cultivate student-scholar activists who will combine their academic abilities and activist interests to affect institutional change.

“My passion is for empowering Black people to be change agents in the spaces that they inhabit, the lives that they live, and the hearts that they touch,” Nicole said. “It is not enough to advocate for our needs when it comes to social and racial injustice. We must take it a step further and advocate for the little boys, girls, theys, and thems of color who will be coming to these spaces long after us.”

Nicole hopes that the work inspired by the grant will acknowledge and challenge systemic inequities experienced by students at Purdue and bring about change.

“People are very creative beings, so I feel that the possibilities are limitless when you provide them with a safe space to be themselves, the opportunity to study what drives them, and the ability to enact change,” she said.

She envisions that the research projects might culminate in results such as recommendations for departmental policy revisions to support equitable practices, discovery and documentation of the experiences of graduate students of color, and the creation of organizations that support scholars of color as they tackle social justice related issues within the institution and surrounding communities.

 Fantasi Curry

Fantasi Nicole is a 2nd-year PhD student in the School of Engineering Education.

Tenaciously Visible: Community Storytelling and Connections for Identities their Intersections

The power of storytelling and the antidote of empathy intersect at the heart of the “Tenaciously Visible: Community Storytelling and Connections for Identities their Intersections” project. The prevalence of imposter syndrome in underrepresented minority (URM) students will be documented and shared for the purpose of destigmatizing failure, mitigating its effects, and empowering storytellers and readers alike.

Siya Kulkarni, 1st-year master’s student in Human Resource Management and project lead will work with teammate Muhammad Hassan Qadeer Butt, 2nd-year master’s student in the Department of Comparative Literature.

“Research has shown that academic performance is tied to the sense of belonging that a student may experience at an institution of higher learning,” Kulkarni said. But imposter syndrome disproportionally affects URM graduate students and leads to a sense of exclusion and isolation at graduate school, according to the authors, and the silence and stigma around imposter syndrome perpetuates the experience.

The project will support the creation of a website that will serve as a platform for URM graduate students to openly share their successes and failures of graduate school life. The stories will inform the Purdue graduate community of the unique challenges that URM students face during the course of their studies.

“We are hoping for surprise and insight when readers see not just the common patterns in the stories of underrepresented graduate students, but also how intersectionality uniquely impacts these stories,” Butt said. “More importantly, we are hoping to destigmatize failure in the narration of these stories.”

The authors expect that such open and honest storytelling will cultivate a sense of belonging and inclusiveness in graduate school for URM students and increase the success rate of URM graduate students at Purdue.

“The highest hope rests in increased and authentic visibility of the powerful stories in our community, which we hope assuages the dangers of single stories and the rampant racialized imposter feeling that many URM graduate students experience,” Kulkarni said.

 Huhammad Hassan

Muhammad Hassan Qadeer Butt is a 2nd-year master’s student in the Department of Comparative Literature.


Announcement of Funded Proposals for the Grant for Advancing Social Justice and Diversity in Graduate Education

Our Commitment to Social Justice: A message from Dean Linda Mason

Dean Linda Mason sends message of support to Graduate School community, announces grant program to advance social justice and diversity

Writer: Korina Wilbert,

Sources: Linda J. Mason,

Nokwanda Ndlovu Grava,

Fantasi Nicole,

Muhammad Hassan Qadeer Butt,

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