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Grad Student Council Talks Health Insurance Plan, Pushes for Student Involvement

Grad Council Meeting
The Graduate Student Council met Wednesday night to discuss student unionization and a temporary halt to mental health survey reports.

UPDATED: Feb. 8, 2019 at 1:16 a.m.

The Student Health Planning Committee is temporarily postponing future meetings with the University until details of the Student Health Insurance Plan have been worked out with the graduate student union, the Graduate Student Council announced at its first monthly meeting of the year Wednesday.

SHPC is a committee formed in 2003 to “review the structure of and benefits provided through the Harvard Student Health Insurance Program,” according to the GSC website. Committee members include graduate students, Harvard University Health Services staff, and a representative of Student Financial Services.

In the coming months, the specific policies of the Student Health Insurance Plan will be negotiated by the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers bargaining committee and the University, leaving it subject to change following agreement on HGSU-UAW’s first contract. In the meantime, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Health Planning Committee will no longer be meeting with the University to propose reforms, as any changes to the insurance plan are for now in the hands of the two bargaining teams.

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With the ever-increasing presence of HGSU-UAW in GSAS student life and policies, Graduate Student Council executive board members said they are optimistic about their future in working alongside the union.

“Certain aspects of what the Graduate Student Council does, in terms of advocating for graduate students, may change as the ambitions of the graduate student union becomes more clear and their power develops,” GSC Secretary Zach. M. Hayworth said. “We’re open to that conversation.”

GSC President Blakely B. O’Connor said she is sure the roles of HGSU-UAW and the GSC will remain distinct in the future .

“There’s a big distinction in terms of Harvard representing students as employees versus students in a more academic and professional development setting,” she said.

O’Connor and GSC Vice President Diana Zhang also announced at the meeting that they had met with Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay to build better lines of communication between FAS and GSAS.

Graduate students have reported that athletic facilities are giving preference to undergraduates, according to O’Connor. Each time a graduate student applied for a time-slot in a gym, the slot was allegedly given to undergraduates and the graduate student was offered early morning time-slots instead.

O’Connor said making this imbalance clear was part of her message to Gay.

“GSAS students are important, and the things we do are important, and our needs should be considered just as important as the College students,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor also said she, Zhang, and Gay have met to discuss GSAS advising in anticipation of GSAS Dean Emma Dench’s new advising project as well as the recent GSAS efforts to bolster the exposure of non-academic employment opportunities.

Forty-six percent of respondents in a fall survey of GSAS students reported not receiving encouragement from their department to explore non-academic careers, according to survey results released in January.

The majority of the hour-long Wednesday meeting focused on a new initiative this spring: a push to increase involvement in student organizations. As part of this initiative, the Council will try to fill all board positions before the summer starts.

Council members also unveiled plans for the first-ever GSAS student organization leader banquet, a celebratory dinner held in the honor of student club leaders at GSAS.

“It’s the first time we are ever having this event, and we are hoping it’s a watershed moment that will make people think it’s attractive to have a graduate student organization,” Hayworth said .

“We would like graduate students to be more entrepreneurial in forming groups which cater to their academic needs,” Hayworth added.

Correction: Feb. 8, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the GSC, working in coordination with HUHS director Paul Barrera, had been told by the University to stop submitting departmental mental health survey reports until the student union had finished negotiating its first contract. In fact, it is the Student Health Planning Committee which chose to stop meeting with the University concerning proposals on the Student Health Insurance Plan.

—Staff writer Luke A. Williams can be reached at luke.williams@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukeAWilliams22.

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