Oct 192009
Authors: Seth Anthony

Much of what happens on a university campus is oriented toward the undergraduate population — understandably so, as undergraduates outnumber every other group.

But the more than 3,000 graduate students at CSU play a vital role in the university structure — we help teach the classes and labs taken by thousands of undergraduates, we grade papers and take care of tedious tasks that free up time for faculty, we’re the ones in labs doing much of the pathbreaking research that the university wins accolades for. And yet we often feel left out when it comes to making major decisions.

While graduate students also care deeply about the issues that affect all students —- from tuition and parking to state funding and 3-unrelated — graduate students are also demographically different. We’re more international, we’re older, we’re more likely to have families and children. But beyond this, the concerns of graduate students are often categorically different from those of undergraduates.

Unlike undergraduate degrees, which consist almost entirely of coursework, many graduate degrees consist largely of conducting original research, and we’re usually closely supervised for our entire degree program by just one faculty member.

Inappropriate conduct by a professor may only affect one course for an undergrad — but for a grad student, it can affect their entire career, raising issues of ethics and accountability that need to be closely monitored.

Unlike undergraduates, many graduate students are financially supported by assistantships, “part-time” research or teaching positions which put us into an odd category halfway between “employee” and “student” — often without the benefits associated with employee status or the protections afforded to students.

The quality of these assistantships and the benefits attached to them, an area where CSU falls behind peer institutions, matters not only for attracting grad students, but for our quality of life while we’re here.

Unlike undergraduates, graduate students are subject to a requirement that we must have health insurance, and that health insurance must be “comparable” to the university’s student plan. This means that we care deeply about the details of the student insurance plan and the rules surrounding it.

For the past several years, graduate students have been fighting to reform these rules and improve student insurance — an issue that has gone largely under the radar of the undergraduates who staff the Collegian/or populate student government.

Unlike undergraduates, who typically retreat to the library, residence halls, or off-campus homes in the evenings, graduate students often find themselves on campus late at night, working unsupervised in research labs with hazardous materials or expensive equipment. As I detailed several weeks ago, this raises serious safety concerns for graduate students that CSU has yet to address.

In order to address all these issues, and others, we need a strong Graduate Student Council, with representatives from the whole gamut of departments, from political science to public health, from business to biochemistry. When grad students in one department have a concern, that concern is often shared by graduate students in other departments who they’ve never met — an artifact of the isolated lives we often lead.

Unlike undergraduates, who at every turn are encouraged to participate in extracurricular clubs, sports and organizations, graduate students are often explicitly discouraged by their mentors and advisors from being involved in activities outside their academic programs and research groups. These pressures make it difficult for graduate students to organize together, and make it all the more important that our concerns be shared.

So, grad students, here’s your call to action: If you care about these issues, join the Graduate Student Council. Visit the Graduate School’s Web site and download the application to become one of your departments’ graduate student representatives. Come to our meetings on the first Monday evening of each month. Join our Facebook group and e-mail list. Let’s make our voice strong, so that our concerns are finally heard.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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