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Sunday February 5th

Surviving and Thriving: Pop-up exhibit narratives from graduate students of color

The Graduate School's Department for Diversity and Student Success is hosting multiple pop-up exhbits during the fall 2022 semester. The pop-up exhibit in the Student and Academic Services Building (SASB) North is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022.
Buy Photos The Graduate School's Department for Diversity and Student Success is hosting multiple pop-up exhbits during the fall 2022 semester. The pop-up exhibit in the Student and Academic Services Building (SASB) North is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022.

Graduate students make up 29 percent of UNC's student body, and of that, less than 30 percent are students of color. 

Earlier this year, the Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success program hosted a summit called Surviving and Thriving: Narratives from graduate students of color.

The summit touched on subjects such as how isolating it can feel as a person of color attending a predominantly white university, how to connect with others going through some of the same situations and how to prioritize mental health.                      

The program has also hosted many different pop-up exhibits following the summit. The pop-up posters have scannable QR codes that allow students and faculty to make comments about the posters, share their own experiences and read some of the experiences of their peers.

Pop-ups can be found in the Student and Academic Services Building North until Oct. 28 and on the third floor of Wilson Library from Nov. 1 to Nov.10.

 Kathy Wood, director of diversity and student success at the Graduate School, said the school received a grant from the North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools to work on a project specifically aimed toward students of color.

Wood said the Graduate School sent out a survey to its students in hopes that they would share their own stories about their experiences at the University.

“We anonymously collected these stories and received permission to share some of the stories,” she said. “We had a summit, invited all of our campus students, faculty, staff and administrators in April.”

The summit did not have as many people in attendance as they had hoped because it happened to be on the same day as the NCAA basketball championship game in New Orleans.   

Following the summit, Wood said some students from the fine arts department acted out some of the stories as a live performance for additional community outreach. Since then, the Graduate School has been putting up pop-ups and storyboards all around campus in hopes that others use them to share their voices.

Yesenia Pedro Vicente, the previous assistant director for the Diversity and Student Success program at the Graduate School, said the summit and pop-ups are used as resources to know what students of color are going through and what struggles they are facing as they navigate school.

“We really wanted to know on the surviving side, what are some of the obstacles or challenges that graduate students of color face and then on the thriving side, what were some of the resources but also what were some of the personal interventions that students took on to basically help them thrive,” Pedro Vicente said.

AhDream Smith is a UNC class of 2022 alumna who was involved in the organization of the project, mainly focused on community outreach.   

“The intention was to bring to light just the student of color experience at Carolina,” Smith said. “I think, oftentimes, graduate students in general only get spotlighted for their contribution as researchers or bringing funding to the University, and their personal experience at Carolina gets neglected.”

Smith said many students of color were apprehensive about telling their stories because of possible retaliation.

“I would just be like, you’re not the only one who is the only one, but what does that say that students are literally scared to say their truths,”  Smith said.  

Pedro Vicente said she has been honored to hear the various narratives and stories that have come through the pop-ups and storyboards and hopes other students realize the importance that graduate students of color have on campus.

“I found that the most meaningful change starts with a conversation,” Wood said. “So, the next step will be reaching out and working within, and partnering with our departments on campus.”

@zoefrederick12

university@dailytarheel.com

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