While prospective undergraduate senators lobby for votes and student groups flyer for special fees, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) is struggling to do something much more elementary: finding enough candidates to fill elected positions and looking to turn around an institutional history of low interest and accomplishment.
The 2011 and 2012 elections represented steep decreases in the number of graduate students casting votes — to about 10 percent per year — as well as numerous positions with no candidates running.
According to Elections Commissioner Brianna Pang ’13, these numbers are reflective of a divide on campus between undergraduate and graduate students.
“The key reason is grad life is very different from undergrad life,” Pang said. “You have so many more obligations beyond life in your dorm and making college friends.”
Graduate students are also literally farther away from campus life.
“Only about 50 to 60 percent of grad students live on campus. We miss out on a huge bunch of people who live off campus,” said GSC Secretary Roshan Shankar M.S. ’13, M.P.A. ’14. “There’s international students, there’s couples, there’s people who just got involved with their research groups… so they are more mentally removed.”
This distance from campus life means that the ASSU has historically focused its efforts to undergraduates. The GSC’s predecessor, the Graduate Student Association (GSA), was disbanded in 1993 after voters, mostly undergraduates, voted down its request for special fees.
“A lot of the services the student government provides are more undergrad-focused,” Pang said. “Since I’ve been at Stanford almost every single student that has served as an ASSU Exec has been an undergrad or a coterm.… It’s just more undergrads being involved and wanting to cater to the undergrads.”
The GSC elects 10 district representatives and five at-large representatives. Districts correspond to branches of Stanford’s graduate schools, with one member representing each school and with two senators representing the School of Engineering because it accounts for almost 40 percent of the graduate population. At-large representatives may be from any department.
This year’s election offered significantly more competition for candidates over previous years. Twenty-one candidates are seeking office, compared to 13 last year. Every district has candidates running except the Graduate School of Business. Shankar hopes this competition will also raise the GSC’s profile.
“If there’s competition, all the candidates who are running right now will try and be aggressive about their campaign,” Shankar said. “They’ll get out and do more publicity [and] get the GSC some eyeballs. So hopefully that should serve two purposes.”
Members also hope to increase engagement with the GSC through projects that are relevant to graduate life. Current GSC projects range from tax workshops for international students to a redesign of the Graduate Community Center. The GSC also allots funding for graduate student groups and hosts quarterly events, such as Grad Formal and an annual Thanksgiving Dinner.