Keck students struggle to connect

When second-year medical student Ali Tafreshi sits with his fellow senators at the Graduate Student Government meeting each month, one thing sets him apart from almost everyone else in the room: He’s wearing a white lab coat over his button-down and slacks.

Tafreshi, who also serves as the student body president of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is one of five GSG senators from Keck. Together, they are responsible for representing 1,200 medical, master’s in public health and Ph.D. students who call Keck home — a task that Tafreshi says is difficult because of the disconnect between the Health Sciences Campus and GSG. Burdened with classes and work, physically separated from the University Park Campus and often overlooked for programs and social events, many Keck students feel isolated from the governing body that represents them, an issue that Tafreshi says prevents them from taking full advantage of everything it has to offer. He and other Keck students involved in GSG agree that while the organization is making an effort to reach out to members of the HSC community, there is still work to be done before students on both campuses feel like they are represented equally.

“[GSG] seems like something that was not meant for us,” Tafreshi said. “There’s all of these law students, business students, Ph.D. students that are involved with it and it’s right next to them, and it seems like [Keck students] are an afterthought to that.”

Tafreshi said that when he first came to USC as a medical student, he knew that GSG must be important — but he never learned anything about it formally and never heard anyone talking about it around campus. After conducting research online, however, he realized the full scope of what GSG could do — and wanted to help other students realize this as well.

“There is a disconnect between funding we receive from GSG and involvement in GSG,” Tafreshi said. “Most people’s involvement with GSG seems to be applying for funding … and nothing beyond that. They seem to understand how to ask for money, but it’s like a black hole — you don’t know what GSG is, you don’t know how anything is run, you don’t know how the finance committee runs, but you may or may not get your money and then you don’t ask questions after that.”

Tafreshi explained that part of this lack of understanding came from the amount of work that Keck students had, including classes, internships and clinical hours that prevent many from reaching out to organizations like GSG that aren’t immediately accessible from their campus. Sydney O’Connor, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in health behavior research who also serves on the GSG Executive Board as the HSC director of operations, said that Keck students were too far from the UPC-based GSG.

“Students throughout the year have voiced that they feel that being at the Health Sciences Campus can be isolating,” O’Connor said. “A lot of the time, major events and social programming are held at the University Park Campus, like tailgates and Springfest. It can feel very far away from us.”

O’Connor explained that she and other GSG representatives from Keck are trying to bridge that gap, and she believes they have succeeded in improving HSC’s connection to GSG over the past few semesters. New programming like HSC tailgates, increased student representation through the HSC Concerns Committee and greater efforts to connect HSC students to UPC resources have helped many Keck students feel like GSG is an active presence on campus, O’Connor said. Colleen Garvey, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Keck’s cancer biology and genomics program and a first-year GSG senator, added that both campuses have worked together to make students more aware of what their student government can do for them.

“People have been more vocal and taken the initiative to try to make it more inclusive,” Garvey said. “The communication has been huge — letting people know about the resources they have and the events that are going on.”

However, O’Connor said that GSG can do more to bring resources to HSC — but it needs the help of UPC students and the recognition that Keck may require more attention because of its distance. Bringing UPC resources such as therapy dogs and safety personnel to HSC, O’Connor said, would go a long way toward helping students there gain a greater appreciation for what GSG can offer.

“One of our goals is to bring all the resources and excitement that are available at UPC to HSC students,” O’Connor said. “We also want to encourage HSC students to actually travel to events taking place at UPC or at other locations around L.A. to meet students that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet. We’re in a position as HSC GSG members where we are more aware of the resources that are available and who we can reach out to for specific requests, and we’re able to connect students to those individuals.”