When the Ronald Tutor Campus Center opens its doors in August, graduate students will finally have their own place to go — a new 3,000-square foot lounge that the Graduate and Professional Student Senate has decided to purchase.
GPSS voted earlier this week to spend $200,000 over the course of the next five years to name a lounge on the fourth floor of the new campus center. Though there was debate about whether the cost was worth it, the decision ultimately passed with a slim majority.
GPSS President Johannes Schmitt said he started exploring the possibility of purchasing the lounge with USC Student Affairs last semester.
He said he went in wanting to find some place for graduate students in the new building and was surprised by the administration’s swift response in offering them a space to call their own.
For five yearly payments of $40,000, the GPSS obtains naming rights for the lounge, allowing GPSS to name the space “The Graduate Student Lounge” and dedicate it to all graduate and professional students at USC.
Schmitt said he hopes naming the lounge will encourage graduate students to use it as a common space.
“There’s this problem of visibility of graduate students,” Schmitt said. “Every graduate program individually has a lounge within their department, but we want to encourage [graduate students] to come out of their comfort zone.”
Schmitt presented his proposal to the Senate on Monday night. Patrick Bailey, executive director of Student Life and Involvement, also spoke to the Senate, discussing a recent survey that revealed most USC graduate students sit in their cars between classes.
“Graduates at large have nothing specifically to themselves,” said Abhinav Chandran, public relations chair for GPSS. “Undergraduates have places to go. I know people who just do their work in Leavey, spend time in Leavey — having a place specifically for us, we’ve never had that before.”
Deborshi Saha, a graduate student studying computer science, said the lounge will be particularly useful for international students.
“I think a lounge would help international students meet local students,” Saha said. “Most graduate students I know go to the library or Burger King or the UV between classes.”
Some graduate students, however, think spending money to name the lounge was not a smart investment.
“Personally, I think we shouldn’t waste money [on naming the lounge],” GPSS Senator Sean Taitt, a first-year graduate student with the USC School of Social Work, said.
Taitt was one of several students to speak out against the proposal during the meeting.
“It’s another forum for networking, but it’s going to cost future graduate students more to pay for the building,” he said. “It takes away from others later on.”
One student senate member called out, “If it’s called the Barack Obama lounge, can I still use it? I don’t get why we need to name it.”
But Schmitt believes the name will encourage graduate students to “linger on and be there” and might help “foster a more prominent, unified graduate student community” on the campus.
Additional criticism of the proposal addressed the fact that the lounge will not actually be for the exclusive use of graduate students; as a common space in the campus center, it will be open to all students. Schmitt pointed out the potential benefits of the situation.
“Undergraduates should know there’s a place on the fourth floor they can go to ask questions or meet graduate students,” he said.
Schmitt said, though it seems like a lot of money, some students may not understand how large this year’s GPSS budget is.
In fall 2009, the graduate programming fee — which enables graduate students to attend and benefit from GPSS programs — was expanded to include all students taking less than six units. This expansion has generated approximately $200,000 in additional funds available to GPSS this year. Of this, 80 percent must go toward the GPSS travel grant fund. GPSS plans to make the payments for the lounge from left-over money in this fund.
Schmitt said he thinks this is an important step for graduate students.
“Undergraduates have so many opportunities to be a part of that Trojan experience,” Schmitt said. “I don’t think that Trojan experience exists for graduate students as much. Most graduate students, I think, would be interested in having more going on at the graduate community level, and I think The Graduate Student Lounge may help with that.”