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Graduate student leaders raise intensity of student-life efforts

Tired of what they deem to be their second-class status at the University, graduate student leaders have re-energized their efforts this year to improve graduate student life.

Though they mostly worked to prevent the Graduate College from becoming a residential college and to fight restrictive D-Bar policies, graduate student leaders — among them Graduate Student Government president Eszter Hargittai, activist Karthick Ramakrishnan and U-Councilor Jason Brownlee — have been tackling a proactive agenda as well.


In the past, the GSG — formerly called the Graduate Student Union — met once a month and had little interaction with the USG. With Hargittai at the helm, however, the GSG has met every three weeks and displayed a larger, and louder, presence in University and USG forums.

"Graduate student interest in issues facing grad students is at probably a 10-year high," outgoing U-Councilor Stephen Garcia GS said. As a U-Council priorities committee member, Garcia said he lobbied for funding for Graduate School Centennial fellowships and financing for prospective minority graduate students to visit the University.

"[The graduate students] have closer bonds than a year ago," Garcia noted. "Certainly the D-Bar debacle and the grad college as a potential undergraduate college has brought them together."

Hargittai did not attribute the surge in graduate student involvement on campus to such incidents. "We just happen to have some really active people this year," she said. "I think a lot of issues always come up. We're just a lot more responsive this year."

Improving the GSG

Hargattai said she has tried to improve the GSG through simple changes, such as increasing communication between graduate student leaders, inviting graduate student U-Councilors to GSG meetings and forging stronger links with graduate alumni.

Even basic changes such as adding written agendas and holding meetings in a room with a circular table "so it would be more like the USG" have helped the GSG avoid repeatedly addressing the same issues without success, Hargittai said.


"We'd get together and go over the same thing every time," she said of previous GSG administrations. "It was pretty low-key."

She said the University administration and the USG have been responsive to the GSG's overtures for increased collaboration, but neither group has gone far enough.

"In terms of the Graduate College, that was a pretty quick resolution in the administration dropping that idea," she said. "But otherwise, we have yet to see progress when it comes to seeing results."

The recently elected GSG U-Councilors — chair Ramakrishnan and Tamar Friedmann, Michiko Taga, Manish Vachharajani and Betsy Wheeler — plan to address a full platform of issues next year, ranging from securing dental care to graduate student housing to student loan deferral concerns.

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Like their USG counterparts, GSG members have pledged to fight so their voice will be heard by the administration. "I've realized that decisions made by the administration often don't include graduate students, at least in the initial stages," Taga said.