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Graduate Student Council reallocates funds for student aid, creates mental health committee

Graduate Student Council reallocates funds for student aid, creates mental health committee

Graduate Student Council reallocates funds for student aid, creates mental health committee
July 31
12:00 2020

With a new mental health committee, the reallocation of funds and a secondary grade appeal system, the Graduate Student Council plans to continue its efforts to provide students with aid throughout summer and into fall.

Based on a survey GSC conducted in spring on what difficulties students were facing and how the GSC and the university could best aid them, the GSC created a Mental health ad hoc committee. The committee first started meeting in April.

Results from the survey showed the two largest student worries were about financial and academic difficulties, followed by mental health concerns and food insecurity. The survey, which was previously emailed to graduate students, is still available for students to convey any concerns for the fall semester.

GSC Senator and Mental Health Committee member Cammie Justus-Smith has advocated for identifying which areas students need help in and how to best reach students who may not know about GSC or the mental health facilities on campus.

Through this work, the Mental Health Committee came up with the idea to create videos and infographics to aid students through the GSC media page. Justus-Smith said GSC hopes to have the videos and infographics ready in August.

“It felt like something concrete we could do that was low-budget and accomplishable in a few months’ time, but also had the ability to highlight solutions for students who were struggling,” Justus-Smith said. “The focus of [the videos and infographics] will be on a variety of topics from surviving too many Zoom calls, setting up a home office, staying organized and finding mental health support on campus.”

Justus-Smith said online courses were not what graduate students were expecting and it can be difficult for students to learn how to cope with the sudden collapse of the compartmentalization of their school, work and family lives.

“We wanted to address this in a way that let other graduate students know they were not alone in these struggles,” Justus-Smith said. “And while I know we can’t offer a solution for every problem, we would really like to just open up the conversation and get students thinking about ways to stay sane and healthy during a very chaotic time.”

Justus-Smith said that the Mental Health Ad Hoc Committee will take a few weeks off in August. The committee will come back in September and begin to work on directly supporting on-campus services to best support the student body.

GSC also created a secondary grading appeal committee policy for students this summer. This committee was proposed as a solution for academic concerns after the university did not implement a pass/no pass option for graduate students.

Normally when a graduate student wants to challenge their final grade in a class and has already spoken with their professor about it, they may reach out to their department chair. The chair then puts together a committee, reviews the grade and decides whether or not the student should have received a different grade. Previously if a student did not agree with the committee’s decision, they could have it reviewed by the department’s dean.

GSC Senator Bailey Sterling proposed creating the secondary grading committee to review the first committee’s decision as a way of adding further support for students during the pandemic.

“Just like everyone else, the COVID-19 crisis has thrown GSC for a loop,” Sterling said. “None of us thought that there would emerge such a pressing need to change or amend a well-established grading appeals policy.”

Sterling’s proposed committee is based on the first committee’s design and provides an additional level of academic security for students.

“The establishment of this committee in the coming semesters ensures that graduate students, new and seasoned, traditional and distant, will have an outlet to address their concerns about grading inconsistencies in light of extenuating circumstances,” Sterling said.

Vice Provost for Graduate Education Joseph Oppong is the convener who would assemble the secondary committee in the event of a case. He said there have been no cases to see a secondary committee so far.

“I believe that because of the option of another level of review, appeals are being resolved satisfactorily through the normal process,” Dr. Oppong said.  “At least, that is my hope.”

Student concerns over thesis and doctoral presentations led to Toulouse’s partnering with GSC to purchase a three-year subscription to Doctoral.Net, at the company’s cost with no profit. Among other services to aid students, Doctoral net will provide a platform for giving thesis and doctoral presentations.

GSC previously passed a motion for additional financial services for graduate students. GSC President Tiffany Miller has continued to work on reallocating funds from canceled programs and events to programs like the food pantry and the Student Success Fund.

Miller is also working to decrease the cost of the National Association of Graduate Professionals conference. The university was set to host the conference in November, but it will not be online.

Normally the conference would involve guests from MIT, Harvard and Rice and cost a relatively large sum of money.

“Something I am trying to wrap my head around is how can I get the cost of this thing down low so that the funds I would normally spend on an in-person conference I can instead find new ways to use on students,”  Miller said.

Featured Image: The Graduate Student Council, Student Government Association and Active Minds held a forum on mental health on Feb. 25, 2020. Image by Quincy Palmer

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Matthew Lippi

Matthew Lippi

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