Last Wednesday, April 15th, the Graduate Student Council held an Open Forum on Campus Climate and International Graduate Student Experience. We had approximately 50 attendees, administrators and students included. We had approximately 50 attendees, administrators and students included, and structured our forum around an open discussion of issues and concerns affecting graduate students at Brown. We had a productive discussion centering around three topics: 1) employment for international grad students, 2) support services, and 3) community spaces. Brief overviews of the key points raised during the forum can be found on the GSC website (available here). We would like to thank those participants who shared their experiences either in person or in writing, and we would also like to extend our gratitude to the university administration, faculty and staff for their active presence at the forum.
To add to this conversation anonymously, please submit feedback via this google form or email any member of the GSC executive board.
See below for brief overviews of the key points raised during the forum. Please note that personal details have been removed in the statements taken at the meeting, and online commentators have given permission to share their comments in full. An additional note: in each overview provided on the website, “students” refers one or more respondents who shared similar observations at either the open forum or in the anonymous comment form.
1. Employment and financial concerns for international students: Students expressed their frustration with limits on work hours that prevent international students from pursuing work at the Writing Center and the Sheridan Center. Several students stated that they were unaware of the financial challenges they would face in the U.S. and wished for more institutional outreach focused on proper financial preparation for living and working abroad.
2. Support services: Students expressed concern that departments, advisors, and DGSs have been either unsupportive or unaware when graduate students have struggled with mental health issues or have sought reentry after taking medical leave. Students suggested that the present advisor-advisee structure is unchecked, granting one person too much power without secondary petition. Students also stated that CAPS and existing support services, though vital and appreciated, are currently not well advertised for addressing actual graduate student issues and thus may not be seen by graduate students as useful. Finally, students raised the concern that International Graduate Student Orientation is too brief an event to anticipate all of the additional support and resources that international graduate students may need.
3. Graduate student community spaces: Students stated that existing spaces available to graduate students are limited and inadequate. There is no centralized space in which graduate students from across campus can meet, work, or socialize. Master’s students and international students feel particularly isolated due to the nature of their programs and the hardships incumbent to moving to a new country. Furthermore, students feel that the auxiliary housing affiliated with Brown is not only adverse to current doctoral student stipend levels, but also insufficiently managed.
In reviewing the issues raised at the forum and the anonymous comments received, the GSC intends to explore the following potential solutions:
- Appoint a staff member at OISSS who is specifically responsible for international graduate student issues and understands the financial stress these students face;
Consider extending hours and number of sessions for graduate students at CAPS;
- Begin a discussion pertaining to ways to allow international graduate students access the same opportunities afforded to domestic graduate students (notably, opportunities for employment at the Writing Center and the Sheridan Center);
- Create follow-up community building activities and resource events after International Graduate Student Orientation;
- Provide advisor and DGS training on mental health resources to ensure that faculty are sensitive to student situations and know the resources available to provide informed support to students who need help;
- Allow for an increased capacity at the Writing Center for graduate student writing support;
- Provide student training on navigating advisor-student relationships;
- In cases of attrition, keep records of student situations and outcomes;
- Keep track of first-generation students as well as students with children;
- Improve auxiliary housing options;
- Create a Graduate Student Center in order to provide shared community space for graduate students.
In the coming months and in partnership with the administration, the GSC will move forward on concrete solutions to address the issues raised at the forum. It has become abundantly clear that beyond issues with employment and community space, isolation is an issue that many of us share. Although we may feel as if our particular situation is an isolated case, in reality, there are many cases of isolation throughout the graduate student population. We hope that our efforts as well as the ongoing support provided by the Office of Student Life, the Graduate School, OISSS and CAPS will help to improve graduate student life at Brown in the near future.
With your invaluable contributions, we can begin to address the issues graduate students continue to face at Brown.