Columbia University

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Graduate Equity Initiative




Steering Committee 
Graduate Equity Initiative 

Committee Co-Chairs:

Brent Hayes EdwardsProfessor of English and Comparative Literature[email protected]
Robert Y. ShapiroProfessor of Political Science[email protected]

Committee Members (in alphabetical order):

Luis M. Campos Professor of Chemistry [email protected]
Denise CruzProfessor of English and Comparative Literature[email protected]
Lisa Del Sol Ph.D Candidate, English and Comparative Literature [email protected]
Francisco Lara García PhD Candidate, Sociology[email protected]
Ellie M. Hisama Professor of Music[email protected]
Kellie E. JonesProfessor of Art History [email protected]
Rosalind C. MorrisProfessor of Anthropology[email protected]
Josh Whitford  Professor of Sociology [email protected]
Tian Zheng Professor of Statistics [email protected]

Ex Officio:

Sarah ColeDean of Humanities[email protected]
Fred HarrisDean of Social Sciences[email protected]
Bob MawhinneyDean of Sciences[email protected]
Celina Chatman NelsonAssociate Dean for Academic Diversity & Inclusion, GSAS[email protected]
Nevarez, NatalieAssociate Director for Faculty Diversity and Development, Arts & Sciences[email protected]

Administrative Support:

Jamie BennettAssistant Director of Academic Affairs, Office of EVP Arts & Sciences[email protected]

The membership of the Steering Committee will revolve over the course of the Graduate Equity Initiative between 2020-2025. New members will be appointed by the Executive Vice President and the Dean of GSAS in consultation with the Committee Co-Chairs. 


Mission Statement

Established in a joint endeavor of the Executive Vice President of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate Equity Initiative is a five-year program designed to encourage innovative and practicable thinking among faculty about ways to increase the number of students from underrepresented minority groups in graduate school, as well as to improve the climate of the institution and foster their successful progress through degree programs and into their subsequent careers. 

There are many areas in the academy that are explicitly and impressively oriented toward the amelioration of racism in society. But universities can also reflect and reproduce societal inequities (not only with regard to race but in multiple other ways as well). Within the academy, graduate education can play a crucial role in mitigating institutional complicity in societal inequities, because graduate school is where we foster the capacity to ensure the future life of the university as a changed extension of what has come before. The Graduate Equity Initiative Grant Program provides seed funding for programs designed by Arts & Sciences faculty to address systemic racism and underrepresentation in the academy in the long term. Ultimately, we hope these programs will contribute to a larger institutional effort to reconstitute our intellectual life around principles of racial equity and justice, as we aim to foster long-term change at Columbia and to help make a difference in the academic and professional spheres more broadly.


Graduate Equity Initiative Grants (Request for Proposals)

The Graduate Equity Initiative Grant Program provides seed funding for programs designed by Arts & Sciences faculty to create, expand, and enhance pathways of success to, through, and beyond graduate education for scholars from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds (Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Native American/ Indigenous). The Steering Committee of the Graduate Equity Initiative invites proposals from all units, disciplines and subject areas in Arts and Sciences. Preliminary draft proposals will be due by 4:00 PM on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, and the deadline for final submissions is 4:00 PM on Monday, March 8, 2021

Purpose and Scope

The mission of the Graduate Equity Initiative (GEI) is to encourage innovative and practicable thinking among faculty about ways to increase the number of students from underrepresented minority groups in graduate school, as well as to improve the climate of the institution and foster their successful progress through degree programs and into their subsequent careers. The GEI Grant Program is designed to support creative thinking about ways to address systemic racism and underrepresentation in the academy in the long term.

The GEI Steering Committee welcomes proposals at different scales, from focused attempts to strengthen or expand upon already-existing programs to ambitious collaborative efforts among units to build entirely new structures at Columbia. Applicants may choose to focus on a particular stage of graduate education with an eye to redressing issues of underrepresentation in a given field or fields. A partial list of possible domains of intervention might include: preparation for graduate school; MA programs with tuition subsidies and/or internship programs (whether for professional advancement or to strengthen participants’ candidacies for doctoral programs); admissions and recruitment; mentorship, training, and support for students during their graduate programs; teaching support and pedagogical training; professional development and placement; and postdoctoral fellowship programs. 

Funding and Eligibility

Funding is available for projects of one to three years in duration in an amount up to $175,000 per year (for an application from a single unit) and $400,000 per year (for an application from a cluster of departments, institutes, centers and programs). Each proposal must include at least one unit with its own graduate program (whether MA or Ph.D), although collaborative proposals may include any number of other units (such as centers or institutes that grant graduate certificates) as well. In order to apply, lab-funded sciences must match all funding 1:1, either directly or with a combination of direct funding and in-kind commitments.

The GEI Steering Committee will offer online information sessions in December. Applicants will submit preliminary proposal drafts on February 1, 2021, and then meet for individual consultations with members of the GEI Steering Committee and staff from the Office of Faculty Diversity and Development in Arts & Sciences and the Office of Academic Diversity & Inclusion in GSAS. GEI staff will work closely with units to develop their proposals by identifying potential areas of collaboration or resource sharing among units; assisting applicants in finding the infrastructure and staff support to implement and administer programs; and adjusting budgets to ensure the impactful and efficient use of funds. 

Application Requirements 

Detailed application instructions, as well as models of already-existing programs, are available on the GEI website at committees/graduate-diversity    

Preliminary proposal drafts are due by email to Jamie Bennett <[email protected]> on February 1, 2021. Final proposals must be submitted by email to <[email protected]> by the deadline of 4:00 PM on Monday, March 8, 2021. Both preliminary and final proposals must include the following:   

1) Completed cover page;
2) Project proposal (2500 words maximum);
3) Budget and budget narrative; 
4) Letter of support from the Department Chair, Department Director of Graduate Studies, or Institute/Center Director, as appropriate (in the case that the lead faculty applicant does not hold one of these positions);
5) CV(s) of the lead faculty applicants.

The entire application must be submitted as one PDF file, with items organized in the order of the application requirements listed above. 

Selection Criteria

In evaluating project proposals, the Steering Committee will consider all of the following factors: 

1)    the urgency and scale of the need addressed by the proposal; 
2)    the quality of the conception and applicability of the program being proposed; 
3)    the potential for impact on issues related to the representation and success especially of students from underrepresented minority groups (Black/African American; Hispanic/Latinx; Native American/Indigenous) in programs across the Arts and Sciences;
4)    the plan for assessing and refining the program over time;
5)    the post-funding plan: a consideration of ways it might be possible to sustain the program after the grant period, and more broadly, a discussion of the proposal’s aspirations for long-term impact (what value will be created by the program? how might it transform the unit’s culture?);
6)    the approach to issues related to climate in the unit(s) submitting the proposal, and specifically the plan for consultation or collaboration with current graduate students in the unit(s).

Graduate Equity Initiative Award

In addition to evaluating proposals according to the selection criteria above, the Steering Committee will seek ideas that are translatable and generalizable, or “scalable”: i.e., that offer strategies and structures that might be applicable to other units in addition to those submitting the application. Each year, the Steering Committee may select the funded proposal judged to offer the most promise in this respect to receive a special one-time, $50,000 grant to be used for any purpose especially impacting current graduate students from underrepresented minority groups. (In the case of a joint submission from more than one unit, this amount will be split evenly between the applicants.) This amount will be given in the form of a budget that will roll over until it is expended. The winning unit(s) will be required submit a report detailing their plans for the use of the award.

In years three and four of its mandate (2022-23 and 2023-24), the Steering Committee will identify from among the programs it has funded those with the greatest capacity for scaling up, and, in its endeavor to support systemic change, will circulate a call asking other units to apply to adopt or expand them. Interested units will be eligible to apply for an implementation grant. 

Application Timeline

In December 2020, the GEI Steering Committee will host two information sessions to answer questions and provide further information about the application process. These will be held over Zoom at the following dates and times: 
    Thurs., Dec. 17 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
    Fri., Dec. 18 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM     
Preliminary draft proposals will be due by 4:00 PM on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, and applicants will be scheduled for consultation meetings in early February. The deadline for final submissions is 4:00 PM on Monday, March 8, 2021. Notification of awards will go out in mid-April. 


Brent Hayes Edwards, GEI Steering Committee Co-Chair
Peng Family Professor of English and Comparative Literature
<[email protected]>

Robert Y. Shapiro, GEI Steering Committee Co-Chair
Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government and Professor of International and Public Affairs
<[email protected]>

Download the RFP  (DOC) 

Download the RFP (PDF)


Graduate Equity Initiative Grants (Detailed Application Instructions)

The Project Proposal should explain clearly the need or problem the project has been designed to address, as well as the rationale for the project’s approach in relation to the dynamics of graduate education in the field(s) covered. The proposal should also specify the roles of faculty, staff, and students in carrying out the project. It is important to consider (and plan for) the labor investment implied by the proposal: for instance, if the project involves a research internship, a faculty mentor, or a workshop, the proposal should specify whose responsibility it will be to carry out the associated tasks. 

The proposal should provide specific plans and standards for the evaluation of the program. How will it be assessed and refined over the course of its operation? What will be considered the measure of its success? 

The project proposal should also include a post-funding plan. This section should provide a consideration of the ways it might be possible to sustain the program after the seed grant period. More broadly, it should articulate the program’s aspirations for long-term impact. What value will be created by the program? How might it transform the unit’s culture?

The proposal must also address the climate for current graduate students enrolled in the unit(s) applying for funding. Even if the proposal is focused on another issue — say, a pipeline program to encourage and prepare undergraduates from other institutions to apply to graduate school — the proposal must include a section discussing the situation of students from diverse or non-traditional backgrounds in the program. Issues of climate are directly related to issues of recruitment: if current minority or non-traditional students find a program’s environment to be inhospitable, or even hostile, then it makes it even more difficult to attract prospective students. Such issues also have a direct impact on the success of students coming out of a program: an atmosphere of respect and collegiality is crucial in setting the stage for the student’s progress into the profession. 

Recently, student coalitions in many departments in Arts and Sciences have written statements and open letters outlining their sense of current problems and potential solutions. These documents should be consulted carefully, as relevant to the unit(s) submitting the proposal, and faculty should open lines of dialogue with current students to gain a sense of their perspectives. Project proposals should address student feedback (recognizing the fact that there may not be unanimity of student opinion in any given unit) and outline specific measures to ameliorate any problems in the unit’s atmosphere in this respect. 

The Budget and Budget Narrative should include a thorough prospective listing of all costs related to the implementation of the project, annotated or explained in the budget narrative as necessary. It is understood that costs can vary widely depending on the scope of the particular proposal. (As part of its consultation with each unit submitting a proposal, the Steering Committee and staff from A&S and GSAS will provide assistance with budget templates and cost estimates for program items.) 

In particular, the budget should note any administrative support necessary to set up and maintain the project. As appropriate, the budget narrative should include a dedicated section with an explanation of the administrative hours and skills that will be required. Units submitting applications are strongly encouraged to include (and list in the budget breakdown) an in-kind contribution of staff/faculty hours and expertise in order to bring projects to fruition. 

The budget may address staffing issues by including funding for non-academic administrative fixed-term postdoctoral fellows who might be employed to implement the program during the grant period. 

Budgeted costs may include a graduate course release for an individual faculty member taking the primary administrative responsibility in a given program, when that responsibility entails student-centered work for the program that reaches an additional course equivalent for a faculty member (10+ hours a week during term, plus additional time at the start and end of term). In such a case, colleagues at the divisional and departmental levels should expect to reconfigure existing graduate teaching (leaving undergraduate teaching intact) to accommodate the lost graduate seminar if it fulfills a requirement. Budgeted costs may not include research funds or salary supplements.

With regard to issues of climate in particular: even if the proposal focuses on a different stage of graduate education, the budget may include line items for programming in response to concerns of the current graduate student population.  

The application should include brief Letter(s) of Support from the Department Chair, Department Director of Graduate Studies, and/or Institute/Center/Program Director of each of the units submitting the application, as appropriate (in the case that the lead faculty applicant does not hold one of these positions). The letter(s) of support should confirm the unit’s commitment to the proposal and willingness to implement it, detailing any in-kind support the unit will provide. The letter(s) should also note if the unit has already obtained any funding (from another source) or institutional support for the program being proposed.


December 17 and 18, 2020: Information Sessions
February 1, 2021: Preliminary draft application deadline
February 8-March 1, 2021: Consultation with A&S and GSAS (via appointment)
March 8, 2021: Application deadline
Mid-April 2021: Notification 

Download Application Instructions (DOC)

Download Application Instructions (PDF)

Download Grant Proposal Cover Page (DOC)

Download Grant Proposal Cover Page (PDF)



Already-Existing Program Models

There are already several programs at Columbia that aim to address some of these areas. Proposals may build on already-existing models or represent entirely new solutions. 

For example, with regard to outreach and recruitment, there are various pathway or “pipeline” programs including summer research experience for undergraduates, academic-year enrichment programs, and bridge (to PhD) programs. Columbia is home to several such initiatives, including the GSAS Summer Research Program, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, the HBCU Fellowship Program, and the Bridge to PhD Program. Minority underrepresentation in the academy is an issue that goes beyond campus: proposals for the Graduate Equity Initiative are welcome to target undergraduate students from other institutions (as does the HBCU Fellowship Program in the School of Professional Studies); or to provide preparation for students who may not necessarily end up matriculating in graduate school at Columbia (as does the Bridge to PhD Program).

There are also many ways to enhance the experience of students from underrepresented groups once they are in graduate programs on campus. These efforts include pre-orientation programs intended to boost discipline-specific academic skills before the beginning of the program; mentoring programs; research internships; pedagogical training and teaching opportunities; funding to support research or conference attendance; curricular revision and development; scholarly resources and strategies (e.g., uncovering the “hidden curriculum” of graduate school, or demystifying the tenure-track hiring process); professional development activities (e.g., networking, or alumni events); writing workshops, dissertation colloquia, and other spaces for advancing marginalized scholarship; forums for public or community-engaged scholarship; and opportunities for social interaction and mutual support among students from underrepresented groups. Some of the existing models at Columbia include the Provost Diversity Fellows, the Diversity Research Collective, and the Graduate Initiative for Inclusion and Belonging run by the Office of University Life. 

Finally, there are some models on campus for transitional support for students as they complete their degrees. These include placement programs, information sessions for students pursuing non-academic employment, and internships in a variety of career settings outside of the academy (e.g., nonprofit organizations, publishing, journalism, private business). Along with some dissertation fellowships open to all A&S doctoral candidates including the Heyman Center Fellowships, there are also more specialized opportunities such as the Heyman Center Public Humanities Fellowships and the 
GSAS Fellowships in Academic Administration. Although there is not currently a diversity postdoctoral fellowship program across Arts and Sciences (as there are at many universities), there are a few models such as the Teachers College Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and the Columbia Earth Institute Postdoctoral Diversity Fellowship.


Additional Resources

System Racism in Higher Education: A Bibliography of Sources 

Note: This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a collection of resources regarding the larger issues at stake, which may be useful reading as you design your programs and craft your proposals. Units applying for Graduate Equity Initiative funding are encouraged to explore any relevant literature pertaining to these issues in your respective fields. 

Sara Ahmed, “The Nonperformativity of Antiracism,” Meridians Vol. 7, No. 1 (2006): 104-126.

Roderick A. Ferguson, “The Usable Past of Kent State and Jackson State,” Ch. 1 of We Demand: The University and Student Protests (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017). 14-34.

Kimberly A. Griffin, Marcela M. Muñiz, and Lorelle Espinosa, “The Influence of Campus Racial Climate on Diversity in Graduate Education,” The Review of Higher Education Vol. 35, No. 4 (Summer 2012): 535–566

Samuel D. Museus, María C. Ledesma, and Tara L. Parker, “Racism and Racial Equity in Higher Education,” ASHE Higher Education Report Vol. 42, No. 1 (November 2015): 49-71. 

“Talking About Race /Being Antiracist,” National Museum of African American History and Culture. Available online at:

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Introduction: Black Awakening in Obama’s America,” in . From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016). 1-20.