GPSA senators advocate for graduate student COVID-19 protections

New childcare program created last semester; now taking nominations for Evening of Excellence

CALLIE GERBER, Evergreen reporter

WSU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association is starting this semester with big plans to give out rewards and scholarships, and it is currently taking nominations for its Evening of Excellence event.

GPSA will be forming the groundwork for the fall semester by working on bills that did not pass this year and planning how to better advocate bills, said GPSA President Reanne Cunningham Chilton. There will also be a greater focus on bills relating to childcare and student mental health.

GPSA Senator Jocelyn McKinnon-Crowley is hoping to see more protection for graduate students surrounding COVID-19.

“Most of us teach large in-person sections and aren’t being provided enough masks and not being [told] if our students have COVID-19. CDC doesn’t consider that a contact point,” McKinnon-Crowley said. “We don’t get any sick days as graduate students, and it’s just been rough.”

GPSA’s role is to advocate for graduate and professional students across the university, research sites and extension sites, Cunningham Chilton said. In addition, GPSA works with WSU administration on issues graduate students are facing.

The organization is meant for graduate students who have paid the Pullman-based Services and Activities fee, Cunningham Chilton said. This includes those on the Pullman campus, in addition to Prosser and Mount Vernon graduate students.

Cunningham Chilton said she got elected as vice president of legislative affairs last year and was in that role for the summer and first month of the fall semester. The president had to step down, though, so she was appointed as president.

“I was already really loving getting to interact with administration and different kinds of entities around the university to advocate for students, so [becoming president] seemed like a natural fit,” Cunningham Chilton said.

There are senators in GPSA from all different academic units around campus. Each senator has to attend a certain number of senate meetings, be part of a GPSA subcommittee and vote during the meetings, McKinnon-Crowley said.

McKinnon-Crowley said she is part of the university and student affairs subcommittee. The subcommittee created an automated voting system for GPSA last semester. Members began drafting a graduate student survey, which asks questions about how their program is treating them. They also advocated getting graduate students masks.

The subcommittee is also keeping track of graduate students who sit on university-wide committees. McKinnon-Crowley said they began working on the GPSA strategic plan in the fall, and it should be out this semester.

GPSA put on seven social events last semester. They also met with WSU administration about graduate students’ needs, such as renegotiating student healthcare. They also created a new childcare program to support graduate students who have dependents, Cunningham Chilton said.

Even with many graduate students struggling, they are still working hard to make WSU a better place, she said.

“That’s why it’s been all the more impressive how much graduate students have turned out this year for advocacy, whether it’s through legislation or just general, you know, university-wide advocacy,” Cunningham Chilton said.