4/1/20 Graduate Students

A group of graduate students, including Lauren Murfree, who is sitting in the corner, has dinner together to support Asian businesses around campus before the stay-at-home order was put in place.

Several graduate student groups are speaking up to Purdue administrators to make sure their concerns don’t slip through the cracks during online learning.

After hearing about graduate students struggling because of classes transitioning online, members of Graduate Rights and Our Well-Being posted a survey.

“We’re hoping to gather information and stories and then we can actually back up that students are having issues,” said Lauren Murfree, a GROW guiding committee member and a doctoral student in the Department of Health and Kinesiology.

Purdue Graduate Student Government, the governing body for graduate students, voted Tuesday to contribute $15,000 to the Dean of Students emergency fund and $2,000 to ACE Campus Food Pantry.

GROW listed on its website a series of demands for the administration, including unlimited paid sick leave, full coverage for health costs related to the coronavirus, and legal guidance to international students.

Based on the survey, many teaching assistants have struggled with an increased workload because of needing to transition the material online.

“What we’ve been hearing is that a lot of people are basically bearing the brunt of the actual putting the classes online,” Murfree said. “A lot of professors either are not aware of how to do that or they’re really just kind of putting it on the TA.”

Murfree noted that there is wide variability, as some professors do have a lot of experience with Blackboard Learn and take most of the responsibility.

Several GROW members have emphasized that the administration has overlooked students’ mental health. Counseling and Psychological Services group therapy sessions have been suspended, in addition to the training clinic run by the counseling psychology program.

“Group therapy sessions is a major service graduate students use,” said Roberta Weiner, a GROW member and a doctoral student in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. “Those people are offered no treatment now.”

Murfree worries that social isolation will only exacerbate mental-health problems.

“(Purdue’s) really not providing the resources to people about how to deal with the mental health outcome of being in a pandemic right now,” Murfree said.

Graduate students living on and around campus with their families have also expressed concerns. These students must balance a workload and take care of children who may no longer have child care or school.

Jessica Felder, the president of the Graduate Student Parent Network and a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science, has brought up their issues to Linda Mason, the dean of the graduate school, who she said gave a positive and receptive response.

The administration worked to prorate the child-care expenses at Purdue care facilities so families had to only pay what they needed.

“We’re very excited that these day cares are recognizing this crisis is hitting families very hard,” Felder said. “The financials of day care, if they can’t even have their child in day care, would be very overwhelming.”

Mason said the graduate school will continue funding child care and need-based support, but no additional funds will be distributed at this time.

Felder believes the best thing faculty can do to support graduate student parents is to check in with their students.

“Many times, graduate students are fearful or nervous about reaching out because they don’t want to disappoint their advisers,” Felder said. “Whenever faculty reach out to their graduate students, it helps bridge that gap and open that line of communication. ”

Although the graduate school can’t push for common guidelines for graduate advisers, they have encouraged them to be accommodating during these times.

“We have asked all advisers to maintain communication with students and answer questions in a timely manner, and to be understanding and flexible as students adapt to this new reality,” Mason said.

“This whole situation is sort of uncharted territory. It’s not something that the University prepares for, per se,” PGSG President Taylor Bailey said.

Mason said graduate school administration and staff are trying to be as flexible as possible for students. “We are modifying policies so that graduate students can continue to make successful progress toward their degree goals.”

Others disagree. Weiner, for one, is concerned about the Safe Campus Task Force recently announced by President Mitch Daniels to create a safe campus environment in the fall.

“It has no graduate student representation,” Weiner said. “At the least, I hoped Linda Mason would be on the task force.”

Overall, Bailey said the administration has the graduate students’ best interests at heart and has included the graduate student voice when making many decisions during this tumultuous time.

“I think the deliberate inclusion of graduate students — (with) me as the proxy to (them) in a lot of conversations — also (makes) sure that our perspective is included,” Bailey said.

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