December 9, 2016

By Simon Goodacre | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences   

On November 29, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) hosted a townhall meeting for students to raise issues and suggest ideas about improving the graduate student experience at Brandeis. President Ron Liebowitz, GSA President Marinella Taoushiani, and Steven Weglinski, Senior Coordinator for Graduate Student Affairs, served on the panel, which was moderated by Joe Wilson, Educational Programming Coordinator for the GSA. Eric Chasalow, the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Jessica Basile, the Director of Graduate Student Affairs, were also in attendance along with 21 students.

During the opening remarks, President Liebowitz acknowledged that this is the first time in his career that he has interacted with so many graduate students since he was one himself. “The world of graduate education has changed since that time,” he said with a chuckle, “and I look forward to making the graduate student experience at Brandeis better.” Taoushiani emphasized that the meeting was a safe space and that students should “feel free to raise issues, concerns and ideas.”

Food was the first item to be raised. Earlier this year, Michelle Mann and the GSA negotiated a meal plan for graduate students with Sodexo, but many feel that it is too expensive. Taoushiani said that they introduced the plan at the lowest price that they could, but they hope to provide more flexibility in the future. Liebowitz stated that he would like to increase the flexibility of meal plans for all students.

Transportation was a major concern for students, many of whom live in other neighborhoods in Waltham or in Boston and Cambridge. MBTA passes can be obtained at a reduced cost from the Graduate Student Center, but only if students are willing to purchase them for four-month periods. Students suggested that further subsidies and more flexibility with the time period would be helpful. Students would also like to see the BranVan run until 6:30 or 7:00 pm and to have a better description of where shuttle stops are. The GSA has already worked to increase shuttle service this year, but they agreed that there may be more options available.

The final item on the agenda was a discussion about the GSA budget. All graduate students contribute a small amount to the GSA in their tuition, and students asked for more transparency about how the money is spent. For instance, TGIF is an extremely expensive event to host every month, and while it is well attended, that money could be invested in other activities and programs. Some thought a survey of graduate students would be helpful in gathering ideas, and they suggested that the budget should be posted on the GSA website 

In closing the meeting, Taoushiani stressed that the GSA needs to raise its profile with graduate students this year. “It’s your money that funds the GSA,” she said, “so you should be involved in the conversation about how it is spent.” If you have ideas or concerns for the GSA, you can submit them with an online form. Students should also visit the GSA website, which is regularly updated with announcements, events and initiatives.