Guest Column: GPSS shows diversity across gender, race, religion

When U.S. business and political leaders were predominantly white men coming from elite backgrounds, their demographics and life experiences seldom varied.

However, much is changing in the United States today, and Iowa State is no exception to this transformation. As student enrollment continues to rise at Iowa State, the diversity of student population continues to expand.

For example, the total international student enrollment at Iowa State has grown from 2,580 in 2002 to 3,510 in 2012. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of graduate and professional students has slightly increased from 5,195 to 5,296, an increase of 101 students. Out of 5,296 currently enrolled graduate and professional students, 1,625 or 31 percent are international and come from 80 different countries.

“So what?” some of you might ask.

It is well known that in order to get the best results you need to have a diverse group of people involved in the conversation, especially when the outcomes of group’s discussion will affect a large proportion of the population. Given that the demographics of our students are becoming more and more diverse, it is imperative to have our student leaders to come from diverse backgrounds to accurately represent the diverse student constituency.

Founded in 1969, Graduate and Professional Student Senate is a governing student body that represents all graduate and professional students at Iowa State University. To date, GPSS is composed of six executive officers, two Government of the Student Body senators-at-large, and 62 senators who represent 44 graduate and professional departments and programs in all seven colleges.

To add, GPSS leadership is diverse not only in department representation, but also in its demographics. In a recent survey of 61 GPSS members, 60 percent of participants identified themselves as male and 40 percent identified as female, which is not too far from the current graduate and professional student population gender ratio (male: 53 percent; female: 47 percent). GPSS Senate also adequately reflects the student status of its constituents. Whereas current ratio of graduate/professional student body is resident — 35 percent, nonresident — 34 percent, and international — 31 percent, GPSS membership is composed of resident — 33 percent, nonresident — 23 percent, and international — 43 percent. GPSS membership also varies in age (ranging from 21 years old to 50 years old, with an average of 27 years old), religion (atheist: 12 percent; Buddhist: 2 percent; Christian: 25 percent; Hindu: 18 percent; Jewish: 2 percent; Muslim: 5 percent; Roman Catholic: 13 percent; no affiliation: 18 percent; and other: 5 percent), and race (African American: 5 percent; Asian/Pacific Islander: 28 percent; Latino/Hispanic: 7 percent; Middle Eastern: 3 percent; White/Caucasian: 52 percent; other: 5 percent). When asked if English is their native language, 57 percent responded “yes,” and 43 percent said “no.”

More than half of this year’s GPSS is composed of new senators. For 63 percent of senators, this year will mark their first term in the GPSS.

The presence of diversity has been also noticed in the GPSS presidency. Looking back at the last five GPSS presidents, three females and two males, all five presidents come from different graduate departments with majors in toxicology, genetics, chemistry, electrical and computer engineering, and human-computer interaction.

The current executive board is composed of six students from six different fields: president — human-computer interaction, vice-president — chemistry; treasurer — veterinary medicine; chief information officer — electrical and computer engineering; university and relations legislative affairs chair — materials science and engineering; and professional advancement grants chair — apparel, events and hospitality management. Three out of six executive officers were born outside the United States.

As graduate and professional student enrollment continues to rise, diversity among GPSS is no longer a preference, but a necessity. Current diverse membership in GPSS ensures that its senate effectively reflects the diversity of the constituents it serves. This is the level at which diversity can have a positive effect on the future of the ISU graduate and professional students, our university, and the Ames community overall.

Anna A. Prisacari

GPSS president

[email protected]