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Graduate and professional students, joined by their spouses and children, rallied in front of University Health Services Thursday afternoon to demand changes to the family health care plan offered by Yale.

The demonstration, organized by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, attracted about 80 supporters. Approximately 20 speakers recounted to a cheering crowd some of the financial difficulties they have faced because of what they said were high dependent health insurance and child day care costs, as well as an insufficient parental leave policy.

GESO member Jennifer Seaich DIV ’06, who helped organize the demonstration, said the need for improvements to Yale’s health care plan is one of the key issues that led to GESO’s decision to hold a plan a strike vote to be held April 13.

“It’s time for change now,” Seaich said. “As a teacher in the history department, I will go on strike for this.”

But Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said family health insurance is tied to students’ registration in the graduate school, not to their serving as teaching fellows. Yale’s health care coverage for graduate students and their families is competitive, he said.

“We are happy to have professional school students serving as teaching assistants, and we furnish a very high compensation based on all national, regional and local models of parallel compensation,” Butler said.

Robin Cowie GRD ’07 said she would like to have a child before leaving Yale, but is afraid that if she does, she will leave without her anticipated doctorate in art history. The costs of Yale-sponsored dependent health care and the insufficient length of allowed parental leaves for students leave female students who want to have children disadvantaged, she said.

“I’m not going to choose,” Cowie told the crowd. “I’m just going to live my life. Yale has to choose to continue disrespecting its graduate students or honor the many different lifestyles of its students.”

Yale officials are currently looking into ways to expand child care, University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. She said a graduate student union is not necessary for students to be able to address their health care concerns to the University.

“There are vehicles by which graduate students can work with other graduate students and with the administration to discuss issues which they think ought to be addressed,” Klasky said. “By demanding that the administration recognize a union or by declaring they ‘go on strike,’ that’s not a way to address any of this issue.”

Graduate students at Yale do not pay tuition, and next year’s minimum stipend for Ph.D. candidates will increase to $19,000. The University currently provides free comprehensive health care for its 2,329 doctoral students enrolled this year and pays half the cost of comprehensive coverage for doctoral students’ dependents, Klasky said.

The Graduate and Professional School Senate also supports more substantial family health care coverage for graduate and professional students, GPSS Vice President Joel Zeiner DIV ’05 said.

“Our position is that it’s grossly inadequate for professional students, and it’s also inadequate for graduate students,” Zeiner said.

GESO has organized rallies in the past to challenge the University to expand health care benefits. In December 2003, more than 100 female students and unionized workers were arrested after a demonstration on Cross Campus in which protesters challenged the University to expand childcare and health care benefits for women.