Are racial disparities evident in higher education disciplinary programs? That’s what Lucas Graff, a Ph.D. candidate in UNLV’s higher education program, has dedicated himself to finding out.
That interest isn’t new. Before joining UNLV five years ago, Graff worked in residence life and focused on creating a more equitable student discipline process.
Today, Graff serves a retention, progression, completion (RPC) coordinator at the UNLV Graduate College, assisting graduate students in progressing through and completing their academic program.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I attended a small private institution in the Midwest during the early 2000s that did not have many resources for LGBT students. I experienced many instances of homophobia, including threats on my life. It was incredibly isolating as the number of out queer people was also small.
We know our faculty and staff can have a profound effect on their students, but tell us about a lesson you learned from a student.
Telling a student they are going to be suspended because they engaged in behavior that put another student at risk is extremely difficult. I have had the unfortunate experience of doing just this. It never gets easy; but when a student is crying in my office because they were supposed to be graduating and now their graduation is delayed, you learn a lot about compassion and empathy.
Tell us about an object in your office and what it represents to you.
I actually don’t have many items on my desk, but I do have a little goat figurine that screams when you press it. I got the screaming goat during the Graduate College’s most recent end-of-year celebration. Not only is it fun to press and hear my colleagues laugh, but I like it because it reminds me to keep calm when dealing with difficult situations.
Best three-month stretch of the year?
For me, the best three-month stretch of the year is February, March, and April. Since moving to Las Vegas and meeting my partner, I have been able to start playing tennis and join a league as an adult, and the temperature during these months is perfect for tennis. Tennis has taught me how to keep fighting even when you are not playing your best.
You just won Megabucks and want to give back to the university. What would you support and why?
I would probably give some of the money for a scholarship specifically for a member of the speech and debate team. I competed when I was an undergrad, and having public speaking experience has been vital to my work. I would also want to create some sort of scholarship or graduate assistantship that is specific for the summer session. Many graduate students face a funding gap during those months, and providing assistance would alleviate some of their stress.
What was the last book you couldn’t put down, show you binge-watched, or band you kept on replay?
Listening to audiobooks during my commute is one of my favorite pastimes.
The last book I could not stop listening to was Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The book deals with a lot of themes I relate to, and I wish my younger self could have read it. Not only is the language beautiful, but the story had me literally laughing out loud.
What breakthrough or discovery in your field do you wish you had made?
I am working on finishing up my Ph.D. in higher education, and the research I am completing for my dissertation is the discovery I would like to make in my field. We know disparities based on race exist in K-12 discipline and the criminal justice system; however, this research has never been applied to discipline programs in higher education, even though administrators hold the same amount of bias as the general public.