Graduate students, as well as university faculty and staff, met Thursday afternoon to share information and discuss issues of diversity within the graduate division of UCSB.

The Diversity Luncheon was the first in a series of such meetings in which the graduate community is encouraged to come together to develop strategies that address the recruitment and retention of a diverse graduate student population, said Cynthia Hudley, acting associate dean of the graduate division. Hudley, who led the luncheon, said the goal of the talks was to create a vibrant community that respects and protects diversity.

“We want to foster an environment that welcomes, nurtures, appreciates and values the many different experiences, backgrounds and values of people across the state, country and world,” Hudley said.

The UC system received a $10 million grant from the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) to provide support for activities that increase the number of underrepresented students that receive a doctoral degree, Hudley said. The funding, which is being divided among the 10 UC campuses, will be used to hire staff and develop resources to support graduate students and their research. The National Science Foundation funds the AGEP program.

Emma Flores, UCSB AGEP coordinator and graduate diversity director, presented statistical data related to graduate enrollment at UCSB. The data found that of the more than 3,000 graduate students enrolled at UCSB in 2003, only 233 were from underrepresented groups that include ethnic minorities and women.

According to data from Graduate Admissions and the Office of Budget and Planning, enrollment by American Indians has decreased by 25 percent over the last 10 years. In the same period, enrollment of African-American students has dropped by 38 percent. The lack of diversity is most evident in the sciences where the number of minority students drops to single digits. For example, there are only two each of American Indian, African-American and Chicano students enrolled in graduate engineering programs on campus.

Attendants of the luncheon, which was organized by graduate peer advisors Laura Hill-Bonnet and Rebekah Matagi Walker, included representatives from various departments across campus including mathematics, religious studies and psychology. Discussions focused on mentoring, academics and support services as well as recruitment and academic preparation, with the stated goal of generating an agenda and plan of action.

Hill-Bonnet, peer advisor for the graduate division, said the meeting was a chance for members of the UCSB community to build contacts.

“It’s a networking opportunity for groups and scholars on campus to pool resources,” Hill-Bonnet said.