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Jaggar DeMarco: Graduate students need the weight of the SA

For many undergraduates, the only graduate students they interact with on a daily basis are teaching assistants.

You might not have known that about a dozen graduate students – some with families and part-time jobs – sit on the Student Association senate. Their election process every winter is as invisible to undergraduates as their day-to-day presence: Many graduate students are elected via write-in voting without any flashy campaigns.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jaggar DeMarco

As a result, some of these students don’t feel beholden to the senate. We saw the real consequences of this lack of commitment when three SA graduate senators left their positions over the summer.

Unfortunately, quitting before the school year even begins is commonplace for at least a few of them every year. But by leaving the SA, it makes it even more difficult for graduate student issues to be pursued.

No one should work a job they’re not committed to, obviously. And I’m not undervaluing the huge time commitment the SA presents. But the people best qualified to advocate for graduate students are graduate students themselves.

The solution at some of GW’s peer schools has been to form a separate council – and our own graduate students proposed that just a few years ago, before administrators met them with a “we’ll see.”

But if graduate students formed their own student leadership group, it would be more difficult for both groups to accomplish their goals. The SA, even as GW’s top student advocacy group, just barely has the ear of officials – it only gets five minutes to present at Board of Trustees meetings. Dividing that swaying power between two groups would muddle the message of the student body and confuse GW about our priorities.

Graduate students need to be welcomed into the existing SA to avoid furthering the divide between the graduate and undergraduate student populations.

For that to happen, the SA may need to make some changes. The SA’s weeknight meeting schedule presents a difficulty to the many graduate students enrolled in night classes. If all it takes is some schedule shuffling to better bring graduate students into the SA’s fold, it seems like an obvious step to take.

Still, you can’t expect graduate students to show up to SA meetings if they don’t think they’ll hear debate on issues they care about. The SA’s priorities should be spread around more evenly. Instead of focusing on the differences between the two groups, the key to bridging them together is emphasizing the issues they have in common.

For example, all of us – graduates and undergraduates alike – are preparing for life after school, so we all should care about ensuring GW’s career services are the best they can be. Graduate students have institutional and experiential knowledge that can be useful to us undergraduates, like experience with internships, which is a perennial concern in the SA and the minds of students. The graduate student voice in this conversation would be hugely beneficial, while they would reap the benefits of having the SA on their side.

Graduate students shouldn’t back away from a call to provide perspective as people who have already lived through the undergraduate experience.

Besides, all students at GW, regardless of age or course of study, have one essential thing in common: We all avoid J Street.

Jaggar DeMarco, a junior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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