The Graduate Student Government Assembly held an open meeting March 8 to discuss the results of the 2017 GSG digital election and elect representatives into the government’s remaining open positions.
From the digital election, Jonathan Balkind GS, a Ph.D. student in computer science and a Wilson residential graduate student, was elected president and Akshay Mehra GS, a geoscience Ph.D. student, was re-elected vice president. Seven people were elected to the GSG, all of whom ran uncontested, and three more people were elected from yesterday’s meeting for social officer, treasurer, and communications director.
This year’s election boasted the highest turnout in recent memory, with 721 out of 2,682 students voting, which was 26.9 percent of the graduate student body.
This year’s election also featured a SPEAR referendum to divest from private prisons which passed by 85 percent among voting graduate students. Former Academic Affairs Chair Daniel Vitek attributed this year’s high turnout of 26.9 percent to the energy from the divestment referendum.
“We had a referendum this year. Usually we vote for people, but in this case we were voting for an idea,” Vitek said. In previous years, election turnouts never surpassed 20 percent with 15.9 percent in 2016 and 13 percent in 2015.
President: Jonathan Balkind
Vice President: Akshay Mehra
Secretary: Bernat Guillén Pegueroles
Academic Affairs Officer: Ekaterina Pukhovaia
Facilities Officer: Mai Nguyen
Health and Life Officer: Hendia Edmund
Special Events Officer: Adam Fisher
From the vote at Assembly:
Social Officer: Amitesh Datta
Treasurer: Zachary Hervieux-Moore
Communications Director: Emily Kern
Balkind chose to run for 2017–18 GSG president due to his years and experience as communications chair of the GSG, collaborating with other parties on campus to advocate for important issues, such as reforming the University’s academic calendar.
“Creating collaborations with parties on campus has allowed for more graduate student advocacy and made grad students feel more at home in this community. I feel like the administration is becoming more awakened to grad students’ concerns,” Balkind explained. “We’re trying to form a student body that feels more like a cohesive student body.”
Improving housing is a big priority Balkind said, as insufficient on-campus housing is a consistent complaint among graduate students, over 30 percent of whom do not live on campus, according to the Graduate Student Housing Report from March 2017.
“We want to move and get some concrete promises from the administration,” Balkind said. The report, which had an approximately 51 percent response rate, revealed that around 92 percent of surveyed graduate students wanted on-campus housing, primarily to find a greater sense of community, gain access to resources, save money on housing, and facilitate their ability to research and teach.
He also emphasized the need to incorporate “more diverse viewpoints” into the GSG by bringing people on board have only been involved with GSG through “events or direct advocacy.” Graduate unionization was another urgent concern Balkind addressed with the wider Assembly.
“We will continue to provide impartial information on graduate unionization to the student population," Balkind said. "So that when and if an election does happen on campus, students understand exactly what they’re voting for."
Robert Decker, a French and Italian Ph.D. student and supporter of unionization, encouraged people to invite the Princeton Graduate Student Union to explain the union’s cause and why they support unionization, particularly if they are ill-informed. A PGSU town hall will be held this Monday, March 13, at 6 p.m., with speakers from NYU, Temple University, and Rutgers University, all of which have established student unions.
Balkind said that that when unions form on campus, the message is often spread by word of mouth. He said he wants GSG to provide more formal channels of information.
During the meeting’s open forum, students shared a new project to start an academic writing center for graduate students, according to Michael Zhang, an art and archaeology Ph.D. student. Zhang said the program would focus on “how to write with a scholarly focus, applying methods, using academic language.”
The writing program would specifically help graduate students improve their scholarly English writing skills, a particular need for international students for whom English may not be their first language.
“The University doesn’t offer professional help for grad students to improve their academic English writing,” said Luciano Vanni, a Ph.D. student in art and archaeology. “Apparently it’s one of the only universities [that does not offer help]. Students who need help in academic writing can enroll in courses, but each course usually costs around $10,000 per semester, and the University doesn’t provide financial aid, according to Vanni.
“You have to pay on your own, or have a department fund you ... I’m speaking for myself,” Vanni continued. “[There is] a remarkable amount of writing and a very short amount of time to do it.” Vanni is originally from Italy.
“We’re trying to gauge the level of interest for such a program,” Zhang said.
Graduate students also discussed the Day of Action on March 6. Feedback was positive across the board.
“I was there [at Frist] for a good portion of the day,” Decker said. “It seemed like it was rather successful. I went to one class that was very full and the other classes were very well attended. From a political perspective, it didn’t seem like it was necessarily one-sided,” citing conservative teach-ins that were held that day.
Another graduate student who gave a teach-in at the event remarked on the “real sense of community among the graduate students, faculty, and undergraduates.”
The meeting took place in Jadwin 102 at 5:45 p.m.