After finding support in the University Senate, some graduate students are calling for their own center at Columbia.
Although many individual departments within the University’s graduate schools have their own student lounges, Columbia does not have a defined space where all graduate students can gather. But some grad students are pushing for a space of their own.
Supporters have taken the first step: the University Senate’s Committee on Campus Planning and Physical Development assembled a proposal for an interim graduate student center, which the senate voted to support as a body at its first meeting in September.
“Such a space would offer space for study and meetings and also provide a space for graduate students from all disciplines to meet colleagues who have similar research interests or who may be able to offer assistance or mentoring for grant writing, dissertation research and teaching or TA-ing,” said Kristy Riggs, a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Riggs is also vice president of the Graduate School Advisory Council and a member of the Graduate Student Center subcommittee.
The proposal says that while community rooms or lounges are open to graduate students, there is no central location for the entire graduate student community. There is a Graduate Faculties Lounge, but supporters of a graduate center say it is not solely dedicated to graduate students, and is therefore sometimes unavailable for group use and lacking in multimedia equipment. Supporters are examining the amenities of graduate student centers at other Ivy League Universities.
The report also claims that a graduate student center would be beneficial to the emotional and psychological well-being of graduate students.
“Right now, the Columbia graduate student experience can be very insular,” Riggs said. She cited a Graduate School Advisory Council quality of life survey from the spring of 2009 in which 77 percent of respondents indicated that they felt that the graduate community was not cohesive or supportive.
Liya Yu, GSAS, co-chair of the External Relations Committee and Senate member of the Graduate Student Center Subcommittee, said that the purpose of the center is “to build community in an interdisciplinary way, which will automatically lead to a social way.”
“My own vision behind this center, and I think the goal of University life, is to create a community where graduate students don’t just lead very isolated paths to their career,” Yu said.
The Committee provides two options for possible space configurations, with each plan including variations of a large main space, conference rooms, group meeting rooms, a copy room, and a hallway area.
They have also identified several potential locations for construction. Their preference is currently the former Psychology and Biological Sciences library.
Graduate students had mixed feelings about the proposed centralized location.
“Apart from clubs, I feel like there’s no place where I can meet other grad students,” Jon Siapno, a student at Teacher’s College, said. “I definitely think that an interdisciplinary student center would definitely be a plus.”
“Having another location to study would be nice,” Maggie Delcid, another student from TC, said. “Between the different programs, there’s not really that much interaction.”
However, Eli Ackerman, a student at the School of International and Public Affairs, said he doesn’t believe a center should be a top priority.
“I think that’s a laudable goal, I think we should all be friends with each other,” Ackerman said, referring to supporters’ goal of increasing interaction on campus. “But seriously, just buy us beer and put us in the same place—you don’t need a building for that.”