Hundreds of Georgetown University graduate students signed an open letter to university administrators demanding increased financial and academic support from the university as the COVID-19 pandemic upends professional and educational life.
The demands include expanded relief funding for all graduate students who have lost summer jobs as well as increased Georgetown-sponsored employment opportunities. The letter also calls for a one-year funding extension for doctoral students on assistantships who have had to put their research on hold because of the pandemic. Without support, conditions for many graduate students are growing dire, according to the petition.
“Graduate students have lost access to labs, libraries, archives, and other facilities necessary to complete their research. Fieldwork has been essentially halted forcing many of our colleagues to interrupt their research and return to the U.S.,” the petition reads. “Many graduate students, especially international students, will not be able to find summer work to support themselves if the university does not open this summer, for they are restricted from finding off-campus employment.”
Georgetown University Graduate Student Government collaborated with the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences to establish the Graduate Student COVID-19 Relief Fund earlier this spring. Through the $35,000 fund, graduate students in need of financial support could apply for a grant of no more than $500. The limited budget for the fund means few graduate students have been able to receive necessary financial support, according to Henry Watson, GradGov director of advocacy and a first-year doctoral student in the department of government.
“We received 388 applications for our fund, almost all of which represented real and pressing needs, and most applications expressed a financial need far in excess of our $500 limit,” Watson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We were only able to support 81 students at an average grant of $434 given our budget limitations.”
The university also created a COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund for Students, through which undergraduate and graduate students can request a grant no larger than $1,000 to cover academic expenses or COVID-19-related costs. These emergency funds, however, do not cover the daily living fees many graduate students incur, according to the petition.
The petition makes reasonable requests that, if adopted, would allow Georgetown to set a meaningful example for other universities, according to Ray Kim, a fourth-year doctoral student in theology and religious studies who signed the letter.
“I think the requests made in the letter are fair requests,” Kim wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We hope GU can take the initiative and set a positive example of how universities in America can support their graduate workers.”
Graduate students at other universities have raised concerns about derailed academics and poor employment opportunities. Stanford University history students joined a chorus of graduate student frustration at the university and sent a letter to faculty demanding $7,000 summer stipends and other accommodations, according to The Stanford Daily.
The Georgetown administration is committed to assisting its graduate students, according to a university spokesperson.
“This crisis has impacted all of us in profound ways, and we strive to provide our graduate students, as well as the rest of our student body, with resources, from financial support, to career guidance, to mental and telehealth services,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The university’s response to graduate student concerns has been lackluster, according to Kyilah Terry, a first-year master’s candidate in German and European Studies.
“There has been no response to potential internet inequality facing low-income students, no resources for immense anxiety due to fear of infection among immunocompromised students, no satisfactory mention of income insecurity due to loss of wages and employment from the closing of facilities and alleviation of student worker hours, and no understanding that ‘best practices’ result in zoom classes putting poverty on display for several low-income students,” Terry wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Terry, one of the petition’s main contributors, helped circulate the petition to different departments to gather student feedback. She hopes the letter will encourage change.
“While the pandemic is affecting our mental health, living situations, education, income, job/ internship prospects and so forth, the university has not implemented any adequate or student-proposed accommodations,” she wrote. “It is our hope that this letter is the beginning of a conversation and the testimonials, all worthy of being heard, ensure that the administration knows who its policies are affecting.”