Student advisory group recommendations for making handbooks more inclusive

The Graduate College kicked off the 2021 Building Networked Communities Summer Workshop series with a webinar focused on creating student-centered, antiracist approaches to graduate program handbooks. 

Facilitated by Associate Dean of Graduate Academic Affairs, Tamara Underiner, and presented by the recently formed Graduate College Student Advisory Academic Policy Group, support staff and faculty attendees were provided with a case study of over 20 program handbooks and recommendations to make them more equitable and inclusive based on their findings and experiences as graduate students. This is the first time a collective endeavor between faculty, staff and students has been made to revise handbooks.

“There are many ways we can attack racism on a university campus and graduate program handbooks can be on the flank of our fight against it,” said Dean Underiner. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that the handbooks are [...] reflective not only of the rules and regulations but also of the climate we are welcoming students.” 

The Student Advisory Academic Policy Group, consisting of five graduate students from different academic and ethnic backgrounds, concluded there is still more work to be done to make sure graduate student handbooks across the university are reflective of ASU’s charter and goals for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Group Members:

  • Gabriel Alvarez, Masters candidate, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Mohammed Iddrisu, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English
  • Javeed Kittur, Ph.D. candidate, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
  • Mara Lopez, Ph.D. candidate, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
  • Katreena Thomas, Ph.D. candidate, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

“Seeing ourselves represented at the faculty level, at the student level, in programming, all of that stuff is important,” said Mara Lopez, a doctoral candidate from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, expressing the importance handbooks play in the recruitment process. In looking for programs, there was consensus among the policy group that the program handbook played a deciding factor in making their higher education choice, more so than the information available on a website.

“A lot of the information for prospective and current students might not necessarily have to be separate,” added Katreena Thomas, a doctoral candidate from Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, “especially when you’re advertising and promoting your own program.”

Other key takeaways from the case study are keeping students at the center of program handbooks, developing a strong DEI statement and making the document free from jargon, keeping it up-to-date and interactive - making sure links are always active. 

“For many people now, videos are a thing that are pretty attractive,” said Mohammed Iddrisu, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English. “They would want to watch and see real people talking.” 

The deadline for program handbook updates to the Graduate College Office of Academic Affairs is July 1. For more information on building inclusive graduate student handbooks, visit