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Grad students rally for quality of life

Rally calls for access to healthcare, less expensive housing, fair sexual assault policy

About 30 graduate and undergraduate students called for improvement in grad students’ working and living conditions at a rally Tuesday in freezing conditions on the Main Green. The rally focused mostly on issues of health care, housing, childcare and funding for post-fifth year research. But it also touched on issues of grad student sexual assault policy and racial diversity — topics that Stand Up for Grad Students, an organization advocating greater grad student benefits, plans to address in future rallies.

Participants held up posters with phrases such as “Grad power,” “Healthy grads make Brown work” and “Don’t be a slumlord, Brown.”

“The Graduate School certainly treats us like workers when it requires our labor,” SUGS wrote in a Jan. 29 guest column in The Herald. “But it insists we are students when we demand workplace protections and an institutional voice.”

Though the University insures grad students through the insurance company Consolidated Health Plan, it offers no provisions for dental work.  Taft Avenue Daycare Center — the only daycare center exclusively serving the young children of University faculty, staff and grad students — shut its doors in 2012.

Students entering their seventh year of research were recently denied health care, despite the University’s requirement that all students have insurance, said Ben Holtzman GS at the rally. Princeton and Harvard continue to provide resources through the entirety of study, so Brown should use these peer institutions as models, he added.

At a Graduate Student Council meeting last semester, Provost Vicki Colvin recognized the importance of dental care, but so far no changes to the grad health care package have been made, Anne Gray Fischer GS said at the rally. The University “needs to give us something to smile about,” she said.

Yale and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst provide their grad students with dental coverage, said Sara Matthiesen GS, who pointed out that UMass Amherst’s endowment is smaller than Brown’s. “There is room in Brown’s budget for these demands,” she said, adding that the administration needs to consider whether or not it wants to prioritize graduate education.

Brandon Welch GS spoke at the rally about his frustration with auxiliary housing that is limited in number, above market rates and not accurately described on the University’s housing website. The pricing scheme is so misleading that “I can do better than this in a place in Manhattan,” he said.

After closing down Taft in 2012, the University offers a childcare subsidy, but “it is not close to enough to cover the costs of daycare,” Matthiesen said.

The University was forced to shut down the daycare center because of “concerns about the Center’s ability to comply with changing state regulations and provide children with a healthy and safe environment,” President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote in her March 2013 response to the Report of the Advisory Committee on Childcare.

Members of the Student Labor Alliance and the library workers’ union showed their solidarity by joining the grad students at the rally. “The University acts more and more like a transnational company, putting profits over human needs,” said SLA member Stoni Tomson ’15.

Rally participants said they would continue to push the University to reexamine benefits offered to grad students, noting that Tuesday’s rally was the first in a series of events the group will hold this semester.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Provost Vicki Colvin attended a Stand Up for Grad Students meeting to discuss dental care last semester. In fact, she attended a Graduate Student Council meeting. The Herald regrets the error.

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