What is the GSA? Most Brandeis undergraduate students might be unsure of what this acronym stands for. The GSA, or Graduate Student Association helps to represent graduate students at Brandeis as well as coordinate issues of student life between its students as well as to inform administrators.
A number of the goals of the GSA are to make sure that the voices of graduate students at Brandeis are heard. This can often be a difficult process given that Brandeis has more undergraduates enrolled than graduate students. According to Carlo Guercia Sammarco, a GSA senator, “Brandeis graduate students are about 40 percent of the student body, and it seems like the general university caters mostly to undergraduate. It is getting better though.”
In spite of these constraints Stephen Alkins, a GSA senator and Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) noted that the GSA “ensures that graduate student perspectives are heard, acknowledged and incorporated into the strategic planning of initiatives throughout Brandeis.” By engaging the graduate student community, the GSA hopes to resolve graduate student issues effectively and efficiently.
Some of the responsibilities of the GSA include serving on various committees that in turn will represent the graduate students. The GSA also works closely with the Office of Graduate Student Affairs to create “various forms of programming for graduate students,” says Alkins. In the past, the GSA has hosted events ranging from a ski trip, sporting events, tax seminars and a social event known as TGIF. TGIF occurs sporadically and is a great way for fellow graduate students to socialize amongst their classmates.
Many graduate students also view the GSA as helping to improve the graduate student experience. In particular, Sammarco commented that “the main thing is [the GSA] gets people from different schools to know each other. In addition, it provides some interesting initiatives to participate to, and helps support grants for students with interesting ideas.” Sammarco further noted the popularity of TGIF as well as the Red Sox games that the GSA will try its best to organize.
The GSA also tries to solve issues directly relating to graduate students’ lives on campus. Transportation can often be a difficult issue for many graduate students given the fact that there is little on-campus housing for graduate students. Therefore, those students without access to a car are left either walking to campus or taking an overcrowded BranVan. The GSA has tried to lobby for increased route coverage from Brandeis to help ameliorate this issue. The increased shuttle coverage is also meant to allow for a greater variety of affordable housing options. Among the various “test” routes proposed includes one that would stretch to Auburndale, giving graduate students the option of living there and finding affordable housing. This shuttle would go to the Riverside station regularly, allowing for nearby Brandeis graduate student Auburndale residents easy transportation to the campus.
Another issue affecting graduate students is filing taxes. Particularly, international graduate students often have difficulties navigating US tax laws. Given the large percentage of international graduate students, this issue is important to many graduate Brandeisians. The GSA currently hosts two annual tax seminars in order to educate the graduate student community on how to file taxes as well as other tax related information.
In addition to these issues, we also had a chance to talk to the GSA about diversity on campus and what the GSA would like to do in order to increase minority student involvement. During the protests, the GSA released a statement of solidarity to show both its support for the protesters and its commitment to diversity. According to Alkins, the GSA “brings in students from different ethnicities [and] out of 2,000 grad students it’s very diverse.” In an attempt to create more dialogue, the GSA has planned an upcoming panel on diversity to talk about possible solutions.
Some of the issues to be discussed according to Alkins include minority faculty and student recruitment as well as access to resources and funding. Alkins went on to comment that the minority students, while well-meaning in their protests, would be more effective by helping out in the planning process of increasing diversity on campus. By increasing the involvement of minority students in these talks, the GSA and the university can hope to be even more effective and attune to the needs of minority graduate students.