Raising the Voices of Graduate Students


Students walking to and from class on campus at the University of Utah on Wednesday, November 16, 2016

By Jacqueline Mumford, Managing Editor

A group of graduate students is working to create a graduate assembly that would incorporate and involve more graduate students’ voices in the University of Utah’s governance process.

Graduate students and faculty collaborated to petition the U’s leadership to allow for a formal assembly of elected graduate students on campus. According to Devon Cantwell, a doctoral student in political science and advocate for the graduate assembly movement, the U and its students have needed a graduate assembly for a long time.

“Currently, we’re the only Pac-12 university that doesn’t have a grad assembly or grad organization of some sort,” Cantwell said. “Last semester, there was an amalgamation of political events happening and issues concerning graduate students, like the proposed tax bill, and it was incredibly hard for us to organize across colleges and departments to figure out how they impacted graduate students.”

The petition aims to create a structure where all graduate students, including those who don’t live near campus, have families or are full-time professionals, feel included and have the opportunity for their voices to be heard. The goal of the graduate assembly would primarily be to advocate for graduate students’ rights and make it easier to discuss issues like pay and discrimination. The assembly, according to Cantwell, would also promote interdisciplinary research and facilitate more frequent and clear communication between departments.

“Graduate students make significant contributions to the research and teaching that powers the university — their views on campus matters should also be significant,” said Thulasi Seshan, a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in geography who signed the petition. “The proposed graduate assembly would elevate the voice of the university’s graduate students and allow them to truly be heard.”

Although the group is still collecting signatures, the petition with over 300 names of students, staff and faculty has been sent to the U’s academic senate to create an ad hoc committee. The committee, if approved, will be tasked with running focus groups, surveys, town halls and more to build the most student-friendly and efficient graduate assembly. In December 2018, the committee would be required to have a budget proposal for the assembly and elections for the assembly would be held in spring 2019.

This is not the first attempt at organizing such a group, but Cantwell hopes that this effort will make further strides than the last.

“In 2013 and 2014, the recession was over and students didn’t feel the sort of press on higher education that we’re feeling in the current political climate,” Cantwell said. “But in the last two years, more people are starting to see the need and the benefits of having someplace for graduate students to go to get their concerns addressed. For grad students who have limited time and resources to get their views heard, knowing that the university has our backs on this initiative, to begin with, is a huge step forward.”

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