Yale Daily News

Despite the challenges of remote operation, the Graduate School Assembly has doubled down over the past six months — continuing to propose new projects and even meeting more regularly than before the pandemic.

Since last March, the GSA has focused on a number of initiatives to support students during the coronavirus pandemic. The representative body met more frequently than usual this summer, according to GSA Vice-Chair Maria del Mar Galindo GRD ’22. It held its elections in April as scheduled.

“As the leader[s] of this organization, we’ve put a lot of work in this summer into planning and really thinking intentionally about how to make this year happen and bring as much energy and excitement as we possibly can for the upcoming school year,” GSA Chair Meaghan McGeary GRD ’22 said, adding that she knew this academic year would present challenges.

Since March, the GSA has worked with Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley to make extensions available to graduate students — many of whom fell behind on work when the University shut down nonessential research and libraries. The GSA has also nominated graduate students to committees that have shaped plans for the various stages of reopening. 

Cooley also said that GSAS chose to expand the Dean’s Emergency Fund — typically available to graduate students with unexpected monetary expenses — to cover pandemic-related costs, such as emergency travel home from research locations.

“During the pandemic it was particularly helpful to have regular meetings with the GSA,” Cooley wrote in an email to the News. She added that her meetings with the GSA Steering Committee in general “greatly enhance my ability to understand student concerns, focus on priority areas and exchange important information.”

McGeary added that the GSA is coming up with ways to build community, especially among first and second years.

“This is such an important time for those students,” she said. “We’re … just trying to be as creative as we can about ways that we can bring those students together in ways that they will want, and in ways that will help their experience.”

McGeary said the GSA is deciding how it can best engage the graduate school community through virtual events, and it has already taken concrete steps to help first years. She said that GSA Public Relations Chair CJ Rice GRD ’22 worked to make The Compass — the GSA’s orientation guide to navigating life at Yale and in New Haven — fully online this year. It is now available across the globe on the GSA’s website.

But while the assembly has been working to help students respond to the pandemic, their work is not solely focused on coronavirus developments, according to Galindo and McGeary.

“We’re very aware of how much people are looking for support in the regular walks of life that they have received in non-COVID times and now,” Galindo said. She added that she recognizes the “unique space” graduate students occupy — one that often involves being students, teachers and researchers simultaneously.

The GSA has partnered with the Graduate and Professional Student Senate to improve Yale’s dental plan for graduate and professional students. The two have also worked together to present testimony at the Connecticut State Assembly in favor of expanding UPASS — a public transportation program that allows students access to bus and train lines. McGeary said the expansion of this transit program “remains a top goal for us,” though the state legislature has gone virtual for several months.

In addition, the GSA has continued to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, according to Galindo.

“We’re proud of the way we’ve been able to represent graduate students this summer,” McGeary said.

GSA meetings are open to all graduate students, and this semester they will be held on Zoom.

Giovanna Truong | giovanna.truong@yale.edu