Graduate students face challenges joining on-campus orgs

Journalism graduate student Samantha Johns, in her second semester at Emerson, balances her coursework with a part-time job off campus as a graduate research assistant on campus and interning at a local hospital.  

This semester, Johns and others in her graduate program decided to get involved in on-campus organizations. However, they quickly realized that participation in organizations is much different for graduate students.

“There are some clubs that just haven’t been as open to including us,” Johns said in an interview. “But we definitely will go and talk to them and see if any club is willing to have us and go from there.”

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On-campus organizations at the college are generally geared toward undergraduates, effectively limiting involvement opportunities for graduate students, Assistant Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Andy Donahue said.  He said the organizations are more focused on undergraduate students because they make up the majority of the student population, and their student services fee funds organizations with SGA affiliation. 

“We really do cater our opportunities toward our undergraduate students based on the financial factor, the availability factor, [and] the sheer number of undergraduates versus graduates,” Donahue said in an interview.

If graduates want to get involved, the college offers several organizations specifically for them that receive funding through the Graduate Student Association, which operates similar to the Student Government Association and began over 30 years ago. 

There are currently 13 GSA-affiliated graduate organizations, such as Graduate Students for Publishing, Theatre Education Graduate Association, and PRGrads. While there is nothing in the GSA constitution that prohibits undergrads from joining graduate orgs, Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies Jan Roberts-Breslin said she does not know of any undergraduates that have joined GSOs. 

Roberts-Breslin said graduate students pay a student services fee as part of their tuition just like undergraduates.

The graduate student services fee is $350 per semester for full-time students and $122 per semester for part-time students. For undergraduates, the student services fee is $436 per semester.  

The Graduate and Professional Studies Department restructured GSA this fall, creating a new position, the representative of graduate students, and removing the president and officer positions. The college hired first year film and media arts MFA student Aarushi Nigam as the representative of graduate students about two weeks ago. 

“I am supposed to be the liaison between the student community and the grad studies office,” she said. “So if there are students who have an issue with something, even if I can’t help them out directly, I can direct them who to go to about that problem or how to best solve it.”

As the representative of graduate students, Nigam is responsible for holding monthly GSA meetings and said she’s currently communicating with Graduate Student Organization leaders before planning the first meeting.

“I have met a lot of students who are running the GSOs,” she said. “They are very enthusiastic about holding more events for their GSOs and trying to get more students involved in their events and activities.” 

Nigam said that there is a lack of communication where students don’t know how to get involved in GSOs and that the GSA needs to tell graduates students that organizations are looking for participants. 

Nigam said she would like to see undergraduates and graduate students mix more frequently. 

“Especially with related programs, I would like to meet undergrads in the film program, for example, to see what they have studied and what their experience has been,” she said. “Personally, I would love for the students bodies to mix.” 

Roberts-Breslin said the busy lives of graduate students in balancing school with full-time jobs and families are a factor in why organizations are oriented toward undergraduates. 

When graduate students do get involved in organizations, they are typically ones geared toward their profession, Donahue said.

Johns got involved with WEBN and the Emerson Channel by reaching out to the organizations and talking to professors. 

“I know that there are some people who are deterred from even bothering to ask because they are like, ‘They are going to say no, so why do I even waste my time?’” Johns said. “But I think that the best thing I have done is being open to going and trying and talking to the undergraduates.”  

Ultimately, Donahue said that graduate students can play an important role in organizations and provide a good support system for undergraduates within their academic department.

“Especially with our grad students coming here to pursue degrees that some of our undergraduate students aspire to, they can be really, really positive influences and have great relationships with our undergraduates,” Donahue said.

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