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Association aims to improve graduate student life

Nov. 13, 2009

By Melissa Perry

The Graduate Student Association has outlined a new set of initiatives to improve the academic and social lives of the university's graduate students.

GSA President Alessandra Gonzalez, a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology program, said the association exists to advocate for graduate students and present their concerns to the graduate school and the university's administration. They also work to increase awareness about Baylor's graduate departments and help the university rise above competing programs.

"We advocate on behalf of graduate students with the mindset that thriving graduate programs at Baylor will benefit all of the Baylor community," Gonzalez said.

A press release from the association outlining proposed measures also discussed concerns regarding better health care options for graduate students, including paid parental leave for students with families, increasing money for professional development and budgeting for on-campus dining and subsidized parking.

While the association shares some of the same concerns as undergraduates, graduate students face issues of their own.

"Graduate students have a lot in common with undergrads: concerns about parking, interest in sustainability, concern for Baylor's ranking and so on," said Vivien Zelazny, chair of the GSA Policy Task Force. "But they also face a particular set of challenges: things like the availability of office space, affordable housing, childcare, finding work for spouses in Waco and availability of public transportation."

The inclusion of paid parental leave is an important issue within the health care initiative. A large number of graduate students are married and have children, Gonzalez said.

"We do want to help Baylor match its vision to promote a family-friendly environment for its students," said Gonzalez. "Our graduate students have raised important and legitimate concerns about the viability of a graduate student having to decide between starting a family and finishing their studies."

While many of the initiatives focus on the specific needs of graduate students, the GSA is also proposing a measure that would benefit undergraduates. One of these proposals is to provide on-campus dining discounts to graduate students who teach.

"We requested allotment for graduate students who are teachers of record to receive on-campus dining discounts so that we could eat with our students and foster intellectual discussion outside the classroom," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the recommendations were presented to the administration last spring and several of them, such as options for subsidized parking, will receive a place in the budget as soon as next fall.

In addition to advocating for quality-of-living issues, the association serves as a social outlet for graduate students who spend the majority of their time working and studying. Because all graduate students are considered members of the association, whether they actively participate or not, they have the opportunity to meet people outside of their departments.

"It's easy to get caught up in your own world, and to forget that there is life outside the lab or the office," Zelazny said. "The GSA helps students to connect across departments and to forget their work for a little while."