Both Yale’s Graduate Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Senate, which together represent around 7,000 students across the University, are entering the academic year with new leaders who have common goals for the next two semesters.
According to assembly Chair Wendy Xiao GRD ’17 MED ’18, the assembly will be focusing on housing as one issue of central importance to its members. Meanwhile, within the senate, dental care is at the forefront of this year’s agenda, as Yale does not provide dental care for either graduate students or professional students.
Members of the senate and the assembly collaborated over the summer to negotiate a deal with insurance company Delta Dental, which, according to GPSS Advocacy Chair Edward Courchaine GRD ’20, is still not affordable for most graduate students.
Courchaine and senate President Savannah Thais GRD ’20 said Yale has been unwilling to put any money behind a dental plan for graduate and professional students. Both noted that Delta recently implemented a 12-month waiting period policy, during which a new enrollee can only receive insurance for basic cleanings and checkups, and that all other costs must be out of pocket.
“It again comes back to this point of, unless somebody’s willing to pony up finances, there’s not really a better option out there,” Courchaine said.
The Graduate and Professional Student Senate represents all postgraduates at Yale, including the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and all 12 professional schools, while the graduate assembly represents only students from the GSAS.
According to Xiao, housing is a major concern for the assembly because, in the past, landlords in New Haven have abused graduate students, who are often under-informed about tenant rights and rarely have time to pursue legal action. The graduate assembly has so far addressed the issue by organizing an annual housing fair and working with a caseworker hired by Yale Housing to facilitate landlord-tenant relations. Xiao said rising rent prices continue to be a dominant issue for graduate students.
“We still want to make landlords accountable, it’s still a pretty high occupancy rate, but I think one of our goals is to at least set up a process to increase housing for graduate and professional students in New Haven that’s well-priced,” Xiao said.
The senate has also initiated a graduate and professional student cost of living assessment to help curb issues like limited access to affordable housing and dental care. This assessment, both Courchaine and Thais noted, could potentially allow for students to be eligible for more federal loans to help cover their total cost of education, as they can currently only apply for those loans based on a Yale-led assessment — a system which Thais called “outdated.”
“We want to collect data on whether or not Yale’s numbers for various programs are accurate, learn when and how they were last calculated by the University and then we want to rework those numbers if we find discrepancies between what Yale calculated and what the actual reality is that students are experiencing,” Courchaine said.
Senate leadership said they would like to have the cost of living assessment finished by the end of this academic year.
Both Xiao and Thais also pointed to child care as a concern shared by many of their constituents. In August 2016, the graduate assembly released a report on child care that said child care options in New Haven are limited and beyond the budget of a graduate student stipend.
The report found that 15 percent of the 124 GSAS respondents take on debt to pay for child care, with an average debt per year of $8,600. The report also noted that some Yale-affiliated day care centers may have waitlists that last several years.
“We want the University to make not necessarily all of our priorities their priorities, but some of them should be,” Courchaine said. “Because in particularly the dental case, we have substantial evidence that no matter how much we prioritize it, without their help it’s not going to get better.”
New assembly and senate leadership are elected in the spring semester each year.
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