Graduate Students and Students in Professional Programs
In May 2021 an email invitation was sent out to 9,315 Stanford graduate students, inviting them to participate in the IDEAL DEI survey. By the time the survey closed in June, 2,726 graduate student invitees (29%) had completed the survey.
We use the term graduate student in this summary of findings to include students in professional degree programs.
Demographics of Respondents
Primary purposes of the IDEAL DEI survey included collecting new and more detailed information about who we are as a community and exploring how race and ethnicity shape the experiences of community members at Stanford. Graduate and professional students are a significant presence in all seven schools at Stanford, spanning 14 distinct graduate degree types (e.g., MA, MS, MBA, PhD, DMA, JD) and 232 different degree-granting programs. Recently, Stanford has participated in a national effort to increase transparency in information about graduate student enrollment and outcomes. In support of this effort, a particular focus of this survey was improving our understanding of the diversity of our graduate student population. For example, the IDEAL survey asked graduate students questions about gender identity, socio-economic background, disability, and more. Below are several examples of new information about the demographics and identities represented among the graduate students who responded to the survey. We encourage you to explore the survey data further in the IDEAL Survey Demographics Dashboards. You can also find information for the full graduate student population on the IDEAL Dashboard, which displays diversity data from university records (and does not incorporate data from this survey).
Racial or Ethnic Identity
When comparing the seven broad racial and ethnic identity categories included on the survey (respondents were asked to check all of the categories that apply from the following list: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Asian American, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino/a, Middle Eastern or North African, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and White or European) to university records (see the IDEAL Dashboard), graduate student survey respondents generally resemble the overall racial and ethnic distribution of the graduate student population. However, this survey approached collecting racial and ethnic identity information differently than the federal race and ethnicity categories used in the IDEAL dashboards and other university reporting. For example, the survey added the category of Middle Eastern or North African to the broad racial or ethnic categories with which respondents can identify. In addition to selecting one or more broad categories, the survey prompted respondents to write in as much specific detail as they desired regarding their racial or ethnic identities. The survey also asked respondents to provide information about their country of origin and religious identity.
On the survey overall, 14% of graduate student survey respondents indicated two or more racial or ethnic identity categories (for example 109 respondents indicated both Hispanic or Latino/a and White or European identities), and 60% of graduate students wrote in additional details in addition to checking one or more of the seven main categories listed (for example, Chinese, Mexican, or Indian).
Gender and sexual identity
Over the years Stanford has requested demographic information - including gender identity - from students, faculty, and staff through a variety of channels. Often the categories used in these instruments have not been consistent with one another. This DEI survey is the first major data collection effort to use a consistent set of identity labels for both gender and sexual identities across all Stanford populations, going beyond the usual sex binary.
Twenty-three percent (23%) of graduate student respondents indicated their sexual identity as something other than singularly heterosexual or straight. Four percent (4%) indicated a gender identity as something other than just a man or woman.
On the IDEAL Survey data dashboards, you can view additional demographic and identity characteristics of survey respondents, and their intersections, including:
- Religious or spiritual identities
- Parents’ education background
- Self-identified as coming from a low income background
For example 21% of graduate student survey respondents identified as coming from a low income background, while 14% are from families where no parent or guardian achieved a 4 year college degree or higher education. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of graduate students have at least one parent with a postgraduate degree.
Inclusion and Sense of Belonging at Stanford
The survey covered several different aspects that might contribute to a respondent’s overall experience of inclusion or sense of belonging at Stanford:
- feeling valued
- finding groups, communities or spaces of inclusion or exclusion
- general aspects of psychological safety while participating in day-to-day activities associated with a respondent’s role at Stanford
Overall, 56% of all graduate student survey respondents agreed that they “felt valued as an individual at Stanford,” and 72% said they felt valued in their department or work unit. Looking at various demographic categories, we found that:
- 50% of LGBTQ+ graduate students felt valued as an individual at Stanford.
- 40% of graduate students who identified as having a disability agreed with feeling valued as an individual at Stanford.
- 40% of graduate students who identified as Black or African American felt valued as an individual at Stanford.
Inclusion and Exclusion
Among graduate student survey respondents, 84% reported having found at least one community, group, or space at Stanford where they feel welcome, and this finding was relatively consistent across racial or ethnic identities. In the follow-up question that asked students to provide places where they felt welcome at Stanford, many graduate students identified community centers, student clubs and organizations, as well as other types of identity and activity-based groups.
While 84% of graduate students indicated they found at least one welcoming space at Stanford, 37% of graduate students reported at least one place where they felt marginalized or excluded. At least 60% of both Black or African American and American Indian or Alaska Native graduate students indicated feeling marginalized or excluded in at least one place. Similarly, fifty-three percent (53%) of LGBTQ+ graduate students reported encountering places where they felt marginalized or excluded.
(Psychological safety definition may be found on the Definitions page)
The survey asked a set of questions to gauge graduate students’ feelings of respect and safety in their departments at Stanford, including:
- “I feel as though I have to work harder than my colleagues to be treated fairly” (27% of graduate students agreed)
- “In my department or work unit, it is easy to discuss difficult issues and problems” (49% of graduate students agreed)
When examined by demographic characteristics, we found that:
- Fifty three percent (53%) of graduate students who identified as gender nonconforming and 47% of graduate students who identified as nonbinary agreed that they “feel as though I have to work harder than my colleagues to be treated fairly.”
- Fifty two percent (52%) of graduate students who identified as Black or African American and 42% of graduate students who identified as Hispanic or Latino/a agreed that they “feel as though I have to work harder than my colleagues to be treated fairly.”
You can explore these findings in the Belonging and Inclusion dashboards.
Experience with Microaggression, Discriminatory Behaviors, and Harassing Behaviors
The survey asked about individuals' own experiences with microaggression, discriminatory, and harassing behaviors. (You can find out more about how the survey asked about these experiences in the FAQ document). Experiences with these behaviors at Stanford were broadly present across graduate student survey respondents in most departments at Stanford. Overall, 46% of graduate students experienced at least one of these behaviors within the last two years. More than 25% of graduate student respondents in nearly every department with more than 10 survey respondents indicated they experienced at least one of these behaviors within the last two years.
Before discussing the prevalence of these experiences it is important to highlight the impact that these experiences had on graduate survey respondents:
- 80% of graduate students who experienced at least one instance of microaggression indicated at least one significant impact.
- 21% of graduate students who experienced microaggression, 42% who experienced harassing behaviors, and 59% who experienced at least one discriminatory behavior felt their experiences interfered with their academic performance.
- Subsequent to their experiences, 31% felt uncomfortable voicing their opinion, 32% felt ostracized or excluded, and 28% avoided departmental or professional events.
“Microaggression” is used as a term for commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups (Sue 2010). Racial microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group”(Sue et al 2007).
The word “microaggression” itself never appeared on the survey. Rather, respondents were asked whether they experienced specific types of behaviors during the last two years by someone associated with Stanford:
- Someone invalidated your lived experience due to your racial or ethnic identity,
- Someone assumed you were inferior due to your racial or ethnic identity,
- Someone acted as if they were afraid or wary of you due to your racial or ethnic identity,
- Someone made you feel othered or exoticized due to your racial or ethnic identity.
Each of these questions also listed several concrete examples of these behaviors. In this report, we use the collective term microaggression to describe any of these experienced behaviors.
The percent of survey respondents that experienced microaggressions ranged widely across demographic groups - particularly by racial or ethnic identity. Seventy-three percent (73%) of Black or African American graduate students reported they experienced at least one form of microaggression. Of students who identified with racial or ethnic identities other than (or in addition to) White or European, 38% to 54% experienced microaggressions, in contrast to 17% of respondents who identified as White or European.
When asked about their relationship to the perpetrators of these microaggressions, 62% of graduate students indicated that another student was a perpetrator, while 36% of graduate students indicated a faculty member or instructor was the perpetrator.
Survey respondents were directly asked, during the last two years, “have you ever experienced discriminatory behaviors by someone associated with Stanford?” For example:
- Graded unfairly by a professor or instructor,
- Discouraged from pursuing a particular major,
- Denied or overlooked for a mentorship opportunity,
- Denied necessary accommodations.”
Overall, 17% of graduate students experienced discriminatory behaviors by someone associated with Stanford. Forty-three percent (43%) of American Indian or Alaska Native and 34% of Black or African American graduate students experienced discriminatory behaviors by someone associated with Stanford.
If a respondent indicated having experienced discriminatory behaviors, they were then presented with the following text:
- 29% of graduate student respondents who experienced discrimination felt that their experiences were specifically due to their racial or ethnic identity.
- 66% of Black or African American graduate students and 52% of Middle Eastern or North African graduate students who experienced discrimination felt that their experiences were specifically due to their racial or ethnic identity.
- The most common forms of discriminatory behaviors students reported were discouraged from participating in a program or research or opportunity (46% of those who felt discriminated against due to racial or ethnic identity) and denied or overlooked for a mentorship opportunity (46% as well).
Verbal, Written, or Online Harassing Behaviors
Survey respondents were asked:
During the last two years you have been employed at Stanford (or fewer, depending on when you were hired), have you ever experienced verbal, written, or online harassing behaviors by someone associated with Stanford? For example:
- Someone made a derogatory remark or gesture in person or online
- Someone sent me a derogatory email, text, or social media post
- Someone defaced property with derogatory graffiti
- I was embarrassed, humiliated, or threatened by someone in person or online
Overall, 20% of graduate student respondents indicated having experienced verbal, written, or online harassing behaviors by someone associated with Stanford. When examining this statistic by demographic categories, we found that:
- 35% of graduate students who identified as having a disability experienced verbal, written, or online harassing behaviors.
- 28% of LGBTQ+ graduate students, 20% of graduate students who identified only as heterosexual women, and 13% of graduate students who identified only as heterosexual men had experienced verbal, written, or online harassing behaviors.
When asked about their relationship to the perpetrators of these harassing behaviors, 60% of graduate students indicated that another student was a perpetrator, while 47% of graduate students indicated a faculty member or instructor was the perpetrator.
Impacts of These Experiences Among Graduate Students
When reflecting on the totality of their experiences, the most commonly indicated impacts among graduate student survey respondents who experienced at least one of the four types of behaviors (verbal harassment, physical harassment, microaggression, and discrimination) included:
- Feeling ostracized or excluded (32%),
- Feeling uncomfortable voicing their opinions (31%),
- Avoiding departmental or professional events (28%), and
- Having difficulty concentrating on academics (27%).
When asked about the impacts directly associated with each of the four experiences surveyed:
- Of graduate students who experienced microaggressions, approximately 58% indicated that they experienced some sort of significant impact as result of these behaviors. The most commonly cited impact was “Created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive social, academic, or work environment.” (32%)
- Of graduate students who experienced verbal harassing behaviors, approximately 86% indicated that they experienced some sort of significant impact as result of these behaviors. The most commonly cited impact was “Created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive social, academic, or work environment” (65%).
- Of graduate students who experienced discriminatory behaviors, approximately 88% indicated that they experienced some sort of significant impact as result of these behaviors. The most commonly cited impact was “Interfered with your academic or professional performance” (59%).
For More Information
We encourage you to explore the survey findings by viewing dashboards on:
Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-0-470-49140-9.
Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American psychologist, 62(4), 271.