UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly considers themes for advocacy agenda at 1st meeting

Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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At its first meeting of the year Thursday evening, the campus Graduate Assembly brainstormed its potential goals for the year.

The meeting served as a space for the assembly’s executive officers to present updates and for delegates to voice their suggestions for this year’s advocacy agenda, a written set of two to three pressing issues to which the assembly plans to devote its time and resources during the year.

The assembly agreed to focus on environmental sustainability, career development and transparency in administrative decisions and campus fees. The delegates did not vote on the advocacy agenda Thursday, but it will be finalized at a future meeting.

The Graduate Assembly, which serves as the campus’s official representative body of graduate and professional students, writes legislation, provides funds for graduate student groups and advocates the interests of graduate students at the city, state and federal levels.

At the meeting, the executive officers gave a detailed update on the success of the previous year’s advocacy agenda items: wellness, diversity and sexual assault.

Last year’s assembly passed a resolution to add graduate students to a faculty hiring committee and contributed to the hiring of an additional campus sexual assault survivor advocate and to the expansion of the Tang Center’s urgent-care hours.

Graduate Assembly External Affairs Vice President Iman Sylvain spoke on behalf of the goal of diversity, explaining that the tenure process for faculty is not democratized enough because faculty members are promoted only by their superiors. The assembly ultimately passed a resolution in April urging the administration to include graduate student representatives in the faculty hiring processes.

Sylvain said at the meeting that “there’s a lot of bias” in the decision-making process and that “having other people in those discussions is very good.”

The assembly dedicated a period of the meeting to giving delegates the opportunity to express their viewpoints on the campus’s decision earlier this year to discontinue Student Health Insurance Plan coverage for dependents of campus students.

Several comments made by assembly delegates focused on “outrageously high” living expenses, with many delegates saying that the inclusion of health care as an additional financial burden for students makes attending UC Berkeley almost impossible.

Second-year linguistics graduate student and delegate Geoff Bacon said the changes to SHIP coverage are most harmful to graduate students.

While delegates brought up the possibility of passing a resolution against the campus’s termination of dependent health care coverage, the discussion was tabled until the Oct. 1 meeting.

“(The Graduate Assembly is) one of the most proactive student bodies,” Bacon said. “Overcoming institutional opposition is going to take some effort and grunt, but I’m pretty optimistic that we’re enough of a dedicated group to make some real, measurable progress.”

Ariel Hayat is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ArielHayat.