By Emma Smith
Debates over potential solutions to combat graduate student food insecurity dominated the Graduate Student Council (GSC) meeting on Wednesday night. The Council also discussed bills on previous notice about changes to Council bylaws and supporting conditions of approval for the General Use Permit (GUP), in addition to confirming a new Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Elections Commissioner.
Councillors engaged in an impassioned conversation with representatives from Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) about solutions to mitigate food insecurity. Concerns about graduate student affordability have been prevalent in campus discourse in recent months, with reports of students resorting to picking fruit off of trees in the area to feed themselves and their families.
Diversity and Advocacy Committee (DAC) Co-Chair and aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. candidate Ana Tarano ’13 M.S. ’15 discussed two proposals that she and other students have developed to turn current areas of waste into food for students in need: One idea was to implement a program of donating guest meal swipes, similar to “Swipe Out Hunger” programs at other universities, and the other was to create a mechanism for donating leftover meal plan dollars to graduate students.
Grace Achepohl ’20, who had engaged in previous conversations about the potential projects with Tarano, elaborated on the guest swipe proposal. She described a potential system in which undergraduate students would be able to donate their swipes on a portal, which would then allow undergraduates and graduates to request a certain number of swipes from the total pool.
Achepohl noted that some sharing does already occur if graduate students are comfortable asking undergraduates to swipe them into a dining hall, but that this method is neither efficient nor adequately anonymous.
“This program would strive to make it easier for this sharing to occur,” Achepohl added.
Kahlil Wells, Assistant Director for Stanford Dining, responded that guest meal swipes do not hold any monetary value; their purpose is to support community-building in the dining halls by allowing students to bring family members and other visitors. Thus, implementing a program in the way proposed would require a distinct change to funding.
Other councillors suggested that dining halls could stay open a set time after regular hours and have this period be free, until either food ran out or the dining time expired. Councillors mentioned that there are leftovers that are donated to organizations outside of Stanford, so an increase in consumption after the current dining period would not necessarily necessitate an increase in food production.
Wells explained, however, that each dining hall tries to run so that “the last student gets the same experience as the first student.” He worried that the service would be degraded if dining halls were to operate in the manner suggested.
He noted that there will always be some remaining food with the current model, but that the staff tries to minimize this overflow as much as possible.
“I don’t want to have people come into our dining hall that are receiving the dregs,” Wells said. “I don’t think that’s the way that you guys expect for us to deal with this problem — that we’re scraping the bottom of the bowl to come up with something for food.”
R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland was additionally concerned with any proposals that would require students to identify themselves as needing such aid, which would potentially isolate them from the rest of the student body.
Gabby Badica, a Ph.D. student in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and GSC social chair, added that the issue of food insecurity is one that lies with the University’s Long-Range Planning initiative and future fundraising efforts, as many of the potential solutions would require an increase in funding for R&DE. She emphasized the need to continue “bumping” the issue, recommending it be brought up to higher levels of the University administration, such as the office of the Provost.
Breeland was adamant that it was worth continuing to have conversations about these issues and potential proposals, and welcomed members of the GSC to meet with her and other members of R&DE for a more in-depth discussion.
Bills and resolutions
David Song, a doctoral student in higher education at the Graduate School of Education, introduced and authored a resolution endorsing the conditions of approval for the GUP by Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN) and Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE).
The conditions of approval center around ensuring affordable housing and childcare for graduate students and workers, as well as calling for increased engagement between Stanford and the greater community.
The Bill to Implement ASSU 2019 Constitutional Amendments was also introduced on previous notice by ASSU Governance and Special Projects Manager Luka Fatuesi ’17. The bill changes the bylaws so that two amendments approved by the student body in the Spring 2019 elections, F.E.E.S. Reform and Streamline Nominations, can be fully implemented and reflect the updated constitution.
The Council additionally discussed a bill to increase the funding allocated for a recent financial literacy event, hosted by Mind Over Money, which had greater attendance than anticipated and chose to film the event last-minute, at the request of students.
Councillors expressed their concern about setting a precedent for funding events retroactively but emphasized the need to support programs targeted at all graduate students. They requested that the video of the event be edited to include the GSC as a co-sponsor and to incorporate closed captioning to make it accessible.
The two bills and the resolution will be voted on next week.
The Council additionally confirmed new ASSU Elections Commissioner Christian Giadolor ’21 in a unanimous vote.
Other Council proceedings
ASSU President Erica Scott ’20 reminded the Council of a recent change to the Undergraduate Senate committee structure to allow for the creation of joint issue committees between all three branches of the ASSU. She announced that the list of priorities for these joint committees was in the midst of finalization and invited Council members to share their areas of priority and interests.
Scott also informed the group of a new graduate student affordability position within the Executive Cabinet, noting that no one had applied thus far and requesting that councillors spread the word about the opportunity.