Graduate student Assembly demands Christ’s respect

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In taking office on July 1, Chancellor Christ represents an important break with UC Berkeley tradition: she is our first female chancellor. I am excited to continue to partner with her in her new role to break another: our campus tradition of undervaluing graduate and professional students.

After serving more than a decade as president of Smith College — an institution with less than 3,000 students and only a handful of graduate students — it is entirely understandable that Chancellor Christ would be more familiar with the concerns and needs of undergraduate students than those of graduate and professional students. Promisingly, over the past year in her capacity as interim executive vice chancellor and provost, Christ developed a strong working relationship with the Graduate Assembly and its leadership. I particularly applaud and appreciate her commitment to addressing issues important to our populations such as housing, basic needs insecurity, diversity, funding, supporting students of all immigration statuses and wellness.

UC Berkeley’s legacy has been built by every member of staff, faculty and the student body. In the campus’s almost 150 years perched in the hills above the San Francisco bay, this combination has proven the immense power and promise of public education. UC Berkeley, like any large and storied institution has earned the right to acclaim our accomplishments and accolades. No. 1 public institution in the world! Most Nobel laureates! Have you seen what we’ve done to the periodic table? I hope we are able to add one more accolade to this list: the campus most dedicated to cultivating and supporting its graduate and professional students.

Graduate and professional students are the intellectual linchpin of this institution. We are students, instructors, researchers, readers and colleagues. We shape the undergraduate experience as undergraduates’ teachers, mentors and role models. We are a living, breathing embodiment of the academic pursuit that makes UC Berkeley great. We enrich the pathbreaking scholarship on this campus, challenging and transforming ideas and concepts and carrying these insights with us when we leave.

We are students deserving of world-class instruction and advising. Professional students are more than streams of revenue. Graduate students are more than employees — a term denied our population nationally, as it would secure us such things as workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits. We are teachers and researchers deserving of fair treatment by our employer. We are children, siblings, parents and friends deserving of an affirming, supportive and safe campus climate. We are complicated, but are we necessary, too. We are as much a part of UC Berkeley as anyone.

If members of this new administration continue the narrow focus on the “undergraduate experience,” they will also extended the framing of graduate and professional students’ needs as subordinate to those of undergraduates. Thus, while we understand the reason behind the administration taking on this particular agenda, we hope that they will understand our weariness with the status quo.

As much as it might seem to be, UC Berkeley is not a zero-sum game. Engaging with graduate and professional students does not undercut the important work around undergraduate education. In fact, the two are synergistic. Acknowledging the unique needs of graduate and professional students does not dilute the administration’s commitment to undergraduates’ concerns. Rather, it acknowledges the truth that UC Berkeley is patchwork of indispensable communities with sometimes differing priorities.

As Chancellor Christ leads us into our second 150 years, charting a course fraught with fiscal challenges, questions of student safety versus student voice and an ever-increasing and changing student body, we ask that graduate and professional students, their unique needs, and fundamental positioning within the campus are considered alongside those of undergraduates. I am hopeful that graduate and professional students will be able to rely on our new chancellor to listen to us, to be an advocate for us, and to work with us to make UC Berkeley the truly remarkable university we all believe it can be.

Kena Hazelwood-Carter is the president of the UC Berkeley Graduate Student’s Assembly.