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GSC discusses elections, housing, solutions to food insecurity

HOLDEN FOREMAN / The Stanford Daily

Graduate Student Council (GSC) members reflected on campus food security and discussed potential measures to address it in a meeting that also saw Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) update the Council on construction.

R&DE update

R&DE Stanford Dining Director Eric Montell said more than 400 graduate students participated in Tuesday’s Mardi Gras dinner at the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons (AFDC). He added that graduate students are “more than welcome” at the Midnight Breakfast event being hosted at the AFDC, Paul Brest Hall, Lagunita Dining and The Axe and Palm (TAP) on Monday.

“If you go to AFDC especially, there will be quite a long line,” Montell said, adding later that the event will be “a big party.”

R&DE informed the Council last week of an initiative to host all campus dining hall events at the AFDC.

R&DE also addressed the ongoing Escondido Village Graduate Residence construction project, noting that Building A — the closest to Escondido Road — is “completely topped out” with floor and wall panels, whereas panels are in place up to the ninth floor of Building B, the eighth floor of Building C and the seventh floor of Building D, which is closest to El Camino Road.

The fire pump building that will supply water pressure for the other buildings’ sprinkler systems has been constructed, and the garage including commons space is also nearing completion.

GSC Social Chair and Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages Ph.D. candidate Gabby Badica emphasized that it will be possible for students to move into the new buildings from off campus.

“My understanding is that the current population of graduate students living in off-campus housing will be moved onto campus,” R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland told the Council.

For people who want to stay off campus, Badica said, no final decisions have yet been made. Not everyone off campus will be moved directly into Escondido Village, but the addition of 2,400 housing units in the new buildings will offset the reduction in off-campus housing for about 1,100 students, resulting in a net increase of grad students with University housing, R&DE representatives said at the meeting.

Escondido Village Graduate Residences will house 75 percent of graduate students.

Councilmember and Theater and Performance Studies Ph.D. candidate Kari Barclay said he is concerned about the affordability for students with disabilities and support animals, who he said often end up paying high prices for studio housing. In response, Badica and R&DE pointed out the Service and Support Animal Committee.

Food insecurity

Establishing a campus food bank and subsidizing meal swipes for food-insecure students were two ideas discussed by GSC members in a reflection on affordability in light of a recent Daily article covering students who forage for food on campus.

“Send people to the graduate life office and their deans will help them,” Badica said, noting that the deans have discretionary funds and can find “extra money for” graduate students while working with the dean’s office.

In terms of a food bank, Badica expressed concern over the costs of insurance and the amount of manual labor that would be needed for operation. She said “it was a lot of work” to run a food bank at the previous university she attended.

“I have my doubts that this could be sustainable for us here,” she said. Instead, she advocated for a program that would give food-insecure graduate students meal swipes for access to “healthy,” “all-you-can-eat” food in campus dining halls.

She said such a program would give students “the best possible food,” noting that a lack of car ownership among graduate students would make other options such as grocery store gift cards less effective.

“Do we have any discretionary funds left over as way that we can use as a way to help with this issue of food insecurity?” asked Diversity & Advocacy Committee (DAC) co-chair and aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. candidate Ana Tarano B.S. ’13 M.S. ’15. “I don’t want to see money sitting somewhere when other people are paying tuition, taxes and all of these things and they’re not getting food.”

“I don’t know if it’s the role of ASSU to fill that,” Tarangelo replied.

While councilmembers noted that they have the money to fund a program addressing food security, Stanford Solidarity Network has confirmed that Second Harvest Food Bank will come to Stanford in two weeks.

Councilmember and Latin American History Ph.D. candidate Mateo Carrillo posited that the University may not support bringing a food bank to campus since it would expose students’ struggles, but Tarano said she thinks such a concern is “irrelevant.”

“There are people who need to eat who have families who are also providing maybe the little money they make to their parents, grandparents, whoever they’re taking care of, and I’d rather they have the opportunity to succeed at Stanford and perhaps have some class mobility,” she added.

According to Tarangelo, Second Harvest said Stanford is the only university not receiving food bank services in the Bay. While Badica said she supports the idea of food banks helping students, she would like to see efforts in the dining halls as well.

“We don’t have to have one thing,” she said. “We can have multiple things.”

Barclay said he is in the process of creating this year’s graduate student life survey, which covers topics including housing, dining, affordability, mental health and harassment. Last year’s survey received about 1,700 responses, Barclay said, and led to the creation of a 60-page policy report.

“It’s a great tool for us to advocate with to the University,” Barclay said.

With regard to the power of the GSC’s survey results, members expressed concern with the University’s interpretation and attention to the survey results. Giving the University more control over the survey was discussed as one means of making results more appreciated and impactful.

“How do we prioritize between getting as much data as possible versus convincing administrators who will never be truly content because they didn’t control the survey?” Tarano asked. “I don’t know.”

Barclay mentioned privacy concerns as another reason not to turn over data analysis to the University, which led members to speculate whether they could add a question where students could give permission for such sharing.

Regardless, the council members indicated they would like more surveys done, with Tarangelo suggesting that a paid survey commissioner position be created to provide compensation for the time spent on conducting surveys and analyzing the data, which Barclay said could take four months.

At the end of the meeting the councilmembers briefly discussed their plans for GSC swag this year, though they decided not to pursue the merchandise after Carrillo suggested the Council “take the swag money and give it to people who need food.”

“How about we take the swag money to swipes, swag to swipes,” he added, referencing Badica’s proposal to provide food-insecure students with meal plan swipes.

Rolling elections bill

GSC voted unanimously to table a bill that would place on the spring ballot an amendment to split the election of Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate members into a two-part process by which half of the seats are filled in a spring election and the other half are filled in an election the following fall.

The order of senators filling seats would be based on the number of votes each senator receives. The bill was introduced by ex-officio member of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate Tim Vrakas ’21 at Tuesday’s Senate meeting.

Titled “Bill to Re-Establish the Senate As a Continuous Body,” the bill was also tabled by the Senate on Tuesday. In order to appear on the spring ballot, the bill needed to be passed this week. In light of the bill’s failure to pass the Senate, Vrakas informed the Council Chairs he would not be at the meeting in an email sent at 2:24 a.m. on Wednesday. 

“You have to come if you want us to vote on it,” Badica said.

Vrakas argued on Tuesday that the amendment would make it easier for senators to collaborate on and execute long-term projects, in addition to facilitating preservation of institutional knowledge and increasing the Senate’s productivity in transition periods. 

“One election a year is hard enough for our elections commissioner,” added biophysics Ph.D. candidate and GSC funding committee co-chair Melanie Malinas. “I just think that’s ridiculous.”

Tarano said she supports some of the ideas addressed in the bill, such as preserving institutional knowledge among members.

“There are some ideas,” she said. “I don’t think the proposed ones are fully fledged.”

 

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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