Grad students and ’SC officials discuss key issues

Graduate Student Government held its first town hall meeting Wednesday night, where students got the chance to interact with a panel of university officials who answered questions concerning graduate students.

Panelists · Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sally Pratt and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Jackson respond to questions about graduate students’ needs. – Priyanka Patel | Daily Trojan

Panelists included Dept. of Public Safety Chief Carey Drayton, Senior Associate Dean of Students Lynette Merriman, Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sally Pratt and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Jackson.

The 20 graduate students who attended the meeting discussed issues ranging from security to financial aid with the panelists.

Drayton emphasized that the department’s primary goal is to ensure the safety of university students. He said he supported the new policies that make the University Park Campus a closed campus between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., following the shooting incident on campus last week.

“We’re not building walls, but we’re putting things in a different sort of light than we have before,” Drayton said. “So things change and coming through campus is one thing that is going to change.”

Current national issues affecting university policies were also discussed, particularly the Supreme Court case of Fisher v. University of Texas, regarding a college’s right to use affirmative action with decisions regarding student admittance.

Jackson defended the university’s policy of holistic review, stating he personally benefited from affirmative action.

“USC’s committed to providing access to folks who historically might have been denied access to an institution like USC,” Jackson said. “We want other students of color to have access to these schools.”

Recognizing that this diversity at the university creates a wide range of graduate students to support, all of the representatives present on the panel stressed they were advocates for students pursuing their master’s degrees.

“My job is making sure USC is a welcoming environment that allows students to flourish, and we are responsible to both undergraduate and graduate student needs,” Jackson said.

Pratt recognized the difference between addressing undergraduate and graduate students, and assured town hall members that the university has resources for graduate students.

“Undergraduate students are most like each other,” Pratt said. “However, graduate students are very focused on a given set of things. All graduate studies are hard and are built on stress. I’m interested in working with all constituents to find out what graduate students’ needs [are].”

Tiffany De Leon Avalos, a first year graduate student in the Rossier School of Education, believes town halls help build connections among graduate students while creating an outlet to address shared concerns.

“Because graduate school is complex and we all are focused on our own studies, these meetings give us the opportunity to foster a community and feel that there is an agency advocating for us,” De Leon Avalos said.

The Graduate Student Government hopes to continue connecting graduate students across diverse fields together throughout the year. Graduate Student Government has planned several social and professional events for graduate students to foster this sense of community.

“We are the voice of and advocate for students, especially since graduate students are very internally focused,” said GSG President Yael Adef, a graduate student in the USC School of Social Work. “We want to break down any barriers that may exist.”