As the fall semester nears its end, I would like to look back and report on all the things we have been working on at GPSC. So far it has been an exciting year for us. Attendance of reps in our General Assembly (GA) meetings has been consistently higher than last year. We have had guest speeches by representatives from Duke Police, Student Health Insurance and University Secretary Dr. Riddell. We passed a historical resolution, created new committees, conducted surveys and brainstormed on important issues. I hope you have been reading our weekly GPSC News, following our activities in the Duke Chronicle and had the opportunity to participate in our events. The following are some highlights from last few months.
To understand student perspectives regarding safety and to solicit suggestions, we ran a survey among graduate and professional students. Out of 2516 students that responded to the survey 48% felt unsafe on campus while 90% believed that the university needs to take up measures to improve safety. Of the total responders, 1442 students made suggestions about measures to be implemented, which were communicated to the leadership team of Duke Police. Most suggestions revolved around increasing patrolling on foot and bikes at strategic locations and we are glad that Duke Police implemented some of them. The issue of off-campus safety is even more concerning because most G&P students live off-campus. We are hoping that Duke Police will step up patrolling in nearby off-campus locations as well.
Our main point of focus for this year is off-campus housing which is intricately tied with off-campus safety. To analyze the off-campus housing situation, where
most G&P students live, we, we constituted a “GPSC Presidential Committee on Student Affairs” with a focus on housing, also known as the “Community Housing Committee.” The committee has highlighted short-term and long-term strategies which I would like to highlight. As a short-term plan we expect Student Affairs to create a position in its Housing, Dining & Residence Life office that will work exclusively for graduate student housing needs, update yearly neighborhood reports and maintain all housing related information at a central online resource. Our GA passed a resolution demanding the creation of this position in October. The Community housing committee will work with this position to address the housing concerns of graduate students expressed in the Housing Resolution. There have been many new apartment complexes developed in the last few years around Duke campus. However, these complexes are extremely high-end and expensive, thus unaffordable for most graduate students. The long-term vision of the committee is to make sure that safe and affordable housing is provided to graduate students. The committee plans to analyze various housing surveys conducted by Student Affairs to highlight student housing needs, weigh-in the changing economic dynamics of Durham, compare current off-campus housing situation to that of students in peer institutions and come up with innovative suggestions for the administration’s consideration.
GPSC at NAGPS
In early November, we participated in the Annual Conference of the National Association of Graduate & Professional Students (NAGPS) of which we are lifetime members. In the conference we learned how different graduate student governments/councils in various universities function and the national student issues that NAGPS is focused on, including student loans, federal interest rates, immigration issues (e.g., the Higher Education Act, the Dream Act). There were annual elections at the conference, and Shanna Lehrman, our GPSC University Affairs Coordinator and 2nd-year Law student, was elected as Chair of Legal Concerns for NAGPS. This is exciting because now we have a direct position on NAGPS exec board and will be able to connect effectively with other peer institutions and use the overall information to improve our structure and efficiency.
We at GPSC have consistently tried to incorporate graduate student opinions and ideas in our decision-making. Our approach for addressing safety concerns on campus was completely driven by the student survey we ran in September. Our student life team has conducted surveys to gauge student satisfaction after events, solicit ideas about the type of events that students want and, in response, incorporated “family-friendly,” “alcohol independent” events in our social programming. We are currently running a Logo Design competition, where the best designed GPSC logo will be voted on and selected by our GA. Thus, any student can leave his or her mark on GPSC for years to come. During our GA meetings we have conducted brainstorming sessions where reps were divided in random groups and had to brainstorm on specific questions. This has led to a bottom up approach to problem solving rather than a top-down executive driven approach. We encourage all students to talk to their respective departmental representatives and also participate in our surveys so that their ideas, perspectives and concerns can reach the GA and our exec board.
The biggest complaint from US Congress is that graduate students are not as organized and vocal as undergraduates. We have a long way to go to match the level of advocacy, passion and commitment that undergraduate students show for student issues. Our board is aware of that and it is our long term goal to bridge that gap. To achieve that goal will require strategic planning, solid institutional memory and tremendous support from the administration. Our current exec board is thoroughly committed to lay the foundation of that dream so that future boards can carry the mission ahead.
I look forward to working with you over the course of the year.
Ph.D. candidate, Biomedical Engineering and President, Graduate & Professional Students Council