On the top floor of the Graduate and Professional Student Center, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate met Wednesday night in an oval, in a dim room with graduate and professional school flags painted on the walls. Downstairs, Harald Schwefel GRD ’04 learned how to make a fuzzy navel in Gryphon’s Pub with bottles of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels lining the walls.

Schwefel, an engineering and applied mathematics graduate student, is the vice chair of the Graduate Student Assembly, a five-year-old organization with a precarious footing in the competitive business of graduate student representation. Tonight, the Assembly will meet to begin discussing an amended charter. Before the end of the academic year, the group must vote on that charter, although no one is sure exactly how the process will go. The group will again be trying to redefine its niche between the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and GESO, which is trying to unionize teaching assistants.

“The GSA in my mind has been enormously effective,” Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said. “This is still, I would say, a relatively new entity — They haven’t actually established a [timetable for a] renewal procedure.”

Asked whether she thought the charter would be renewed, Hockfield said, “I sure hope so.”

But in the meantime, Schwefel is learning how to bartend. Surrounded by graduate students twisting empty cups on their heads after an alcoholic relay race, he explained what the assembly has done since the start of school: so far, the group has declared its support of the graduate senate’s decision to place flowers in front of Sterling Memorial Library after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; the assembly put out a pamphlet about graduate student representation for first-year students and made sure economics doctoral candidates who arrived early for math classes were eligible for Yale health care; and the group has reaffirmed its position of neutrality on GESO.

“We don’t feel it is our responsibility to be for or against GESO,” Schwefel said. “We said this year if there is a union, we will deal with it, and if there isn’t a union, we will deal with not having it.”

GESO Chair J.T. Way GRD ’05 did not return phone calls.

Hockfield said it is difficult to know whether the vocal presence of GESO has altered the effectiveness of the GSA, “because you can’t do a controlled experiment.”

But independent of GESO, Schwefel said his group presses on. He explained what the assembly plans to do in its next few meetings: handle computer issues, finalize all healthcare issues for the early economics students, make a concerted effort to boost lagging membership numbers, and maybe a comprehensive charter-revamping project.

“We are going to at least start mentioning it and talking about it [Wednesday night],” said GSA steering committee member Renzo Comolli GRD ’04, an economics doctoral candidate who owes the health benefits he received early to some of the toils of this year’s assembly.

According to the GSA Web site, there are only 31 members filling 112 spots in the assembly.

The group would be better if more students actually participated, Hockfield said, but she added that she thinks the young organization has done well so far.