Published: Tues., March 19, 2019
In Fall 2018, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) was approximately 30,000 undergraduate, professional and graduate students. Specifically, graduate and professional students comprised over 19% of the student population (UNL Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics, 2018). Integral to the educational experience of undergraduate students, graduate students are uniquely positioned within the University system. Although undergraduate and graduate experiences can overlap, graduate students are exposed to unique dynamics that require a collective voice to represent their specific interests and experiences.
The Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) is the current, student-led governing body for graduate students at UNL. Comprised of representatives from each graduate program at UNL, the GSA meets on the first Tuesday of each month throughout the academic year. While meetings topically vary, much of their work focuses on developing GSA governance policy (e.g., by-laws), planning events to enhance the graduate student experience, and discuss relevant issues affecting graduate students across campus.
At UNL, there are very few avenues for graduate students to talk with administrators about what is happening on campus. The University of Nebraska governance structure is composed of the President and other administrators in “Central Administration”, which are all supervised by the Board of Regents. The Association of Students at the University of Nebraska (ASUN) President, who is almost always an undergraduate student, is automatically the Student Regent from UNL. Recognizing the need for graduate student voices to be incorporated within the UNL governance structure, the GSA, as a body within ASUN, is situated well to foster conversation and engage with various governing bodies. By being incorporated with the undergraduate governing structure (ASUN), graduate students are allowed to have input on university-wide committees, discuss relevant issues with administrative members, and, if necessary, seek the support of the entire student body (i.e., undergraduate and graduate) for graduate student issues. Often graduate students are left out of the conversation and provided limited avenues for their voice to be heard. The GSA is that representative body that allows graduate student voices to be heard and represented.
Through the Graduate Student Assembly, graduate students have a formal body that is in touch with the issues that graduate students face. Officers and members of GSA are involved in committees addressing different avenues of student life such as student fee allocations, Faculty Senate and multiple facets of graduate education governance to name a few. Under their incorporation into the ASUN, GSA officers are often meeting with UNL administrators to share collective concerns and issues regarding graduate student education and well-being. Moreover, they actively work with administration and other governing bodies to develop resolutions and plans of action to rectify these identified problems. This is not a formalized, governance dictated meeting, but is an indication of how GSA is considered a representative body of graduate students collectively and use their institutional access to enlighten administration about the issues affecting graduate students at UNL.
Graduate students are often siloed into their individual departments which presents the graduate student experience as operating independently of the larger university structures. When graduate students learn about the similarities of experiences across departments, they are often surprised by the amount these dynamics overlap across not only departments, but colleges. GSA offers a forum for graduate students to systematically connect across departments, colleges, and campuses within the University. GSA provides an avenue and organization for graduate students to bring attention to issues they, and others, are experiencing and informing the relevant university actors about these issues.
GSA has worked to address issues that affect academic life, personal life and financial burden experienced by graduate students. For example, GSA has worked to provide an avenue for immigration experts to work with international graduate students on finding employment in the US after graduation and navigating their immigration status. Similarly, GSA has developed the Graduate Travel Awards Program to assist students in their attendance of local, regional, and (inter-)national conferences to increase the student and University’s recognition. Anyone on campus may bring graduate student issues or questions to the attention of the GSA by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UNL Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics. (2018). Fact Book 2018-2019. Retrieved from https://iea.unl.edu/publications/fb18_19.pdf