Community Content: An Appraisal of the Efforts of the GPSA to Graduate and Professional Students

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Recently, an article entitled “GPSA delegates grow frustrated with lack of action” appeared in The Daily Collegian on Monday, November 17, which may be read here. In this article, selected members of the GPSA voiced their concerns with the progress the student government has achieved to date. The author of the article grossly neglected to provide any factual information or engage in any fact-checking to substantiate the claims made by the interviewed members of the GPSA; additionally, the author chose not to interview other members of the organization including the President, Executive Vice President, Vice President of External Affairs, or any elected members who held viewpoints which differed from the opinions of the three members interviewed. Therefore, so the graduate and professional students of the Pennsylvania State University will be properly informed of actions taken by the GPSA with regards to the topics brought forth in the article, I am writing to address the items critiqued, including: advocating for the student healthcare plan, GPSA efforts to raise awareness and prevention of sexual assault, the development of social and programming events for graduate and professional students, and the utilization of “Open Forum” time effectively. This article is being published so that all graduate and professional students may be informed with facts, and not hearsay or opinions. I strongly consider you to read the factual information contained therein and decide for yourself if GPSA is serving you well.

In regards to student healthcare:

The then-GSA hosted an open Town Hall Health Care Forum this past spring with a panel of members from the administration to address questions and concerns from students, in addition to creating a GSA Health Care committee to advocate on behalf of students and to engage the student community. GPSA members sat on the Student Healthcare task force, which provided a full report, this fall, and may be read here.

Though additional conversation about advocating for the affordability and betterment of the student healthcare plan should continue, the elected delegates of the Assembly chose not to continue discussion at the meeting of November 12. This does not infer elected delegates have not shown a tremendous investment of time and effort advocating for student health insurance, but rather that the Assembly had spoken not to discuss the topic further during that specific meeting. The publicly stated rationale by the delegate who objected to extending discussion, was that without facts and numbers regarding proposed plans, the conversation was devolving into unproductive speculation and we would better serve the community by first obtaining accurate metrics and then dedicating a specific time to debate further.

The GPSA has aided in the development of an emergency aid fund for students who need financial assistance to help pay emergency medical costs. It is without question that the most discussed topic over the past 9 months in GPSA meetings has been healthcare.

In regards to sexual assault prevention and awareness:

The GPSA hosted a student guest speaker, Stephanie Berberick, to address the Assembly on October 1st to discuss the impact sexual assaults have on victims, and to engage the University to openly discuss how to prevent sexual violence through training modules and bystander intervention. At the subsequent meeting, a resolution that supported action to a systemic problem affecting an estimated 1:4 college women was brought forth to the Assembly to confront sexual assault at Penn State. The Assembly did not pass the resolution – NOT because sexual assault and sexual violence are without question the most troubling and disturbing acts that occur on college campuses – but because there were serious concerns about the action items, and ample evidence to suggest that, in drafting the resolution, the authors failed to incorporate feedback from any other organizations around the University or consult with groups already focusing on this topic, including the Sexual Assault Task Force and Bystander Intervention Task Force. Though the authors’ intentions were admirable and pure, the resolution did not consider what efforts have been made by the University and therefore called upon the University to do things that are already being implemented or that have previously been considered, investigated, and found impossible or unproductive or legally impermissible. As a result, GPSA President Danielle Rhubart called an “emergency” Assembly meeting at which time members of the Assembly who attended went out in groups around the University Park campus identifying areas where there was low lighting and where the Penn State Office of Environmental Safety could best position additional Emergency Call Stations. On October 29, the GPSA hosted Peggy Lorah, director of the Center for Women’s Studies, to discuss Penn State’s actions to prevent sexual assaults on campus. Katie Tenney, of the Bystander Intervention Task Force, also addressed the assembly at the following meeting on this topic. Between Stevie, Katie, and Peggy, the GPSA spent over three hours over the course of three meetings on this topic, excluding additional discussions on the resolution.

In regards to “wasting time on programming events”:

The GPSA puts great effort into using allocated Student Activity Fee funds to develop social activities for graduate and professional students. Much of the recent criticism has been regarding what the money is being spent on (i.e. social events over political activism), however, the GPSA must operate within the bounds of Penn State University’s Student Activities Fee Board regulations, which impose restrictions on uses of the money – namely that it must be spent on “activities” that are available and open to all graduate and professional students. The Winter Gala was a very well attended event on Friday, November 14. Attendance was up 50% from last year. It was a semi-formal dinner that cost $10 to attend. An additional $5 donation was suggested, NOT for the GPSA, as GPSA cannot make money on any events, but to donate to one of two charities which the attendees could chose from: The State College Food Bank or The International Justice Mission (for more information see which aims to combat sexual violence, physical abuse, and human trafficking internationally. GPSA holds family-friendly tailgates, which have been heavily attended and are open to all graduate and professional students and their families and friends. The Graduate Cup is an event in the spring started two years ago, which allows graduate and professional students to form teams to compete against other student teams in fun, recreational activity. In 2013, the Graduate Cup had over 400 attendees. Other than the recent dissenting voices outlined in the article of November 17, who, despite having been elected to the GPSA Executive Board by the time of last year’s Grad Cup, and who chose to make a political statement by boycotting the event, criticism and disapproval for these events has been essentially nonexistent.

In regards to the efficacy of the “Open Forum”:

Although individuals may desire more time to discuss various topics, it is the vote of the Assembly, which has the authority to determine if additional topics should be discussed. As many members of the Assembly are new to GPSA, it would be difficult to ascertain that the GPSA is conducting business to please the administration or act as “university apologists” by not engaging in robust dialogue during open forum. In fact, many of the handful of members who criticize the GPSA for the efficacy of the open forum policy are the students who are already taking the opportunity to express their opinions in the GPSA Assembly meetings.

It is my hope this article provides clarity to our constituents, and that you are now fully aware of the actions taken by the GPSA Assembly this year.

We want to hear from you, our constituents, and we encourage all of you to attend our next scheduled Assembly meeting, December 3, 2014.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to represent the views of, nor should they be attributed to, the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

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About the Author

Brian Aynardi

Ph.D. Candidate and GSA Faculty Senate Representative

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