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Health, housing, free speech bills discussed in packed post-election GSC meeting

HOLDEN FOREMAN/The Stanford Daily

Looming removal of dependent healthcare and ongoing concerns regarding mental health and free speech were discussed at Wednesday’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) meeting. A resolution requesting more mental health resources was passed, and four bills were introduced on prior notice, including one to certify the 2019 Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) elections results.

Attendance was unusually high, as students recently elected to the GSC also took part in the meeting. Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) representatives gave an update on next year’s removal of subsidized off-campus housing for graduate students. The future of High Performance and Education (HPE) dining is set to be decided by this summer.

Mental health

On the heels of an email describing some of Stanford’s incoming mental health initiatives, the GSC unanimously amended and approved a resolution from GSC Co-Chair and fifth-year cancer biology Ph.D. candidate Amy Tarangelo to call for greater and more nuanced resources.

To account for overlaps between the initiatives announced in the email and those the GSC was already planning to request, the Council added to the bill’s text a clause stating, “That we acknowledge and commend the efforts of the University to address the mental health crisis with recent updates from the Vice Provost of Student Affairs and are pleased to see common ground with the recommendations of the GSC Working Group on Mental Health and Wellness.”

The resolution, which has also been discussed in previous GSC meetings, is the product of the GSC Working Group on Mental Health and Wellness. The working group — formed by the GSC but containing a majority non-GSC membership — submitted its report two weeks ago.

The working group recommended more funding for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), fewer referrals of students to counselors off campus, relevant training for faculty and a program in graduate housing that is similar to the Peer Health Educator (PHE) program already established in undergraduate dorms.

“Fortunately, a lot of these changes [in the email] are exactly what we’ve been asking for, and exactly what we asked for in the report,” Tarangelo said. “However, it does make some parts of the report redundant.”

As the GSC considered whether to remove from the resolution requests that had already been ostensibly addressed in the University’s email, GSC Funding Committee Co-Chair and Biophysics Ph.D. candidate Melanie Malinas said the resolution should keep all original requests.

“[Stanford administrators] send a lot of emails that say things they’re going to do, and I don’t know if they’re actually going to do the things they say they’re going to do in these emails,” Malinas said.

Areas of overlap between the resolution and email are a good thing, said Gabby Badica, GSC social chair and a Ph.D candidate in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. She added that initiatives like those addressed in both documents “don’t happen overnight.”

“They’re going to probably form a working group and it’s probably going to take forever,” said Diversity and Advocacy Committee (DAC) Co-Chair and aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. candidate Ana Tarano B.S. ’13 M.S. ’15. “It will just be nice to have something with the report that is very thorough and is not just a couple of paragraphs in some email.”

GSC also decided to send the resolution directly to Stanford administrators, rather than circulating a petition beforehand, due partly to time constraints and — as Tarangelo put it — concerns that “grad students are not politically involved” and may not engage with a petition.

“Even if it’s a little bit redundant, [the resolution] makes it clear that this is what the GSC wants,” Malinas said. “Yes, we want more CAPS funding. We need to tell them that over and over and over.”

Healthcare

A resolution seeking affordable health care was introduced by Latin American history Ph.D. candidate Mateo Carrillo, an outgoing GSC member who said he introduced the resolution as a way to gear the Council’s focus toward Stanford’s potential removal of graduate students’ dependant health care coverage after the 2019-20 school year.

“Please don’t forget that you have hundreds of fellow graduate students who have children,” Carrillo said. “It seems the administration has forgotten that. There’s no plan for dependent healthcare coverage after next year.”

Dependants could include not just children but also spouses who are not in work, potentially because they are international and not allowed to do so.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” Carrillo said, noting that he used the University’s dependent healthcare coverage in his first two years as a Ph.D. student and noticed “a huge jump” in premiums during that span. “This is for moving forward.”

He urged incoming GSC members to take action next year, saying that he is confident “There is nothing in the works for 2020 and 2021” based on a meeting he and other student activists held with Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs Patricia Gumport, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Associate Dean and Director of Financial Aid Karen Cooper.

“There are no guarantees for coverage,” Carrillo said.

He cited data that, “over the past six years, dependent health care premiums have risen by 80%” at Stanford. And with regard to other universities, Carrillo said “Stanford’s peer institutions provide much more affordable health care for their student dependents.”

A “healthcare Bill of Rights” document created by the GSC last year will be circulated among students in light of the conversation surrounding Carrillo’s resolution, said DAC Co-Chair and Theater and Performance Studies Ph.D. candidate Kari Barclay, so people can add their thoughts on priorities that should be mentioned to Vaden Health Center Executive Director Jim Jacobs in an upcoming meeting.

GSC members also discussed the potential that Stanford is moving away from Healthnet as the provider for Cardinal Care, and will be collecting bids. Student input could make dependent healthcare a greater factor in the bidding process, Barclay said.

“There was a brief discussion last year about cutting dependent health care altogether,” he added.

Jacobs said in a past meeting that dependent healthcare is “exorbitantly expensive,” according to GSC member and electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate Ricardo Peterson M.S. ’17. But the cost of dependent healthcare is not a reason to give up in asking for it, Carrillo said, adding that Stanford “will find money if there is enough pressure.”

“We can all get together and support that Stanford students like yourself and your dependents deserve affordable health care coverage,” he said.

Free speech

Two bills on campus free speech — one requiring Voluntary Student Organization (VSO) leaders to agree to “a statement on freedom of speech” and another mandating ASSU meetings with a legal advisor regarding free speech topics — were introduced by ASSU Director of Academic Freedom and fifth-year graduate student Zintis Inde.

The first bill, which was subject to much debate at last Tuesday’s Undergraduate Senate meeting, would require an ASSU event statement on free speech and community values to be displayed on all student groups’ event announcements and flyers. The bill would create a working group to determine the specific language of the statement and the protocol for those who fail to comply.

In addition to compelling VSOs “to enumerate the values of our community” regarding free speech, Inde said the first bill is intended “to sort of educate students about these issues that keep coming up.”

“[It] sometimes feels like we’re in a little bit of a loop in these conversations,” he added, describing his work as the first-ever ASSU Director of Academic Freedom as “a sort of fact-finding and relationship-building process.”

Furthermore, he said, specific leaders in the ASSU governing bodies would be required to present the statement at the beginning of their terms to encourage reflection and evolution.

“By that process — to sort of update that statement of values, that educational process — [ASSU members] revisit as a community each year what it is that we want this statement to say and how it should be applied,” Inde said.

GSC members posed few questions on the bills as the meeting became pressed for time, but some did express concern about the state of free speech on campus in general.

“I’m just very confused about what Stanford’s standards on free speech are,” Malinas said.

All four bills discussed on prior notice at Wednesday’s meeting are planned to be put to a vote next week.

Updates on dining, housing

An assessment on HPE dining is being carried out by R&DE, and the decision on whether to continue the program in future years will be made by this summer, said GSC Co-Chair and Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics Yiqing Ding.

In their update, Stanford Dining Director Eric Montell and Student Housing Operations Director Imogen Hinds addressed concerns regarding the termination of subsidized off-campus housing for graduate students next school year.

Masters students will still have only one year of guaranteed on-campus housing, Hinds said. She added, however, that the potential return of two guaranteed years of on-campus housing for such students is “something we have to be watching.”

“We certainly are looking at what the numbers will be and what we would be able to do,” she said.

In the meantime, regardless of whether there is a guarantee, she said is “encouraging anybody in their second year” to apply for on-campus housing if interested, as “there’s a much higher likelihood that they’ll get it.”

“At least from the numbers we have right now, we will have space to be able to do that,” she added. “We may be increasing other populations going up that currently have guarantees for housing.”

R&DE may offer some of the existing off-campus rooms to students at market rate.

“What I see happening is them going to the med school residents and those types of people,” Badica said.

Hinds noted that, at this point in the housing lottery last year, there were 480 couples looking for housing. There have been 504 this year, but this increase, she said, does not cause particular concern in terms of housing availability.

“We definitely have enough family housing,” she said.

While the quantity of on-campus housing is increasing, GSC members noted that housing prices remain of concern.

“As a Ph.D. student, I see the price of housing keep increasing at a rate much faster than the rate my stipend increases,” said second-year physics Ph.D. student Shangnan Zhou, who was recently elected to the GSC. “If this continues, eventually, I need to find a way out.”

“This is an ongoing problem that many of us have been dealing with for the duration of our Ph.D.s,” Tarangelo said.

The Graduate Housing Advisory Committee will be forming a framework to help coordinate the move of graduate students back onto campus. Badica is on the committee already, and Carrillo expressed interest in joining.

“Our goal in the committee is to make the moving process as least disruptive for students as possible, and my goal is to make sure they all get their first preferred choice of living,” Badica said.

Ding expressed concern over a lack of information being shared on the end of subsidized off-campus housing. He was notified when applying to renew his housing, he said, but has not seen emails regarding the matter. Hinds agreed that more should be done to inform graduate students of the situation.

There will be a meeting to discuss the completion and future of the Escondido Village Graduate Residences, which will house some but not all of the students returning to on-campus housing, on April 24.

Certifying elections results

GSC will be responsible for certifying Erica Scott ’20 and Isaiah Drummond ’20 as winners in an ASSU executive race they won by just 19 votes over Kimiko Hirota ’20 and Bryce Tuttle ’20. GSC election results, special fee requests for the graduate student population and ASSU constitutional amendments that were ratified will also be certified in the vote next week.

Of the five amendments on the ballot this year, “Measure A: F.E.E.S. Reform,” “Measure B: Streamline Nominations” and “Measure D: Membership Rights” were passed. GSC members and ASSU Financial Officer (FO) LoMo Phillips ’18 discussed how confusion among students may have contributed to rejection of the other two amendments: “Measure C: House in Order” and “Measure E: Executive Committee Membership Changes.”

“[Measure C] just made sure that there was a stipulation in the constitution that explicitly stated that yes, the constitution will follow local, state and federal law,” Phillips said.

“I always knew that that third one was going to be a little sketchy because it is tied into the rights of defendants and the accused,” said Councilor and Latin American history Ph.D. candidate Mateo Carrillo, who noted his involvement working on the amendments with ASSU Special Projects and Governance Manager Luka Fatuesi ’17.

But Carrillo questioned the rejection of Measure E, which would have removed the ASSU Financial Officer’s (FO) requirement to attend executive cabinet meetings. He said, “It seems the most vanilla of all” the amendments on the ballot.

“I think the reason why that one didn’t pass is that people don’t necessarily have an understanding of what exactly happens at execcom meetings,” Phillips said. “Budget is almost never discussed. Nothing financial is really discussed.”

She said she thinks future FOs’ attendance of executive cabinet meetings will “still not happen.”

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

A previous version of this article misidentified Measure E as Measure C in the third-to-last paragraph. The Daily regrets this error.

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