Graduate students foster community to fight isolation

May 15, 2016, 10:56 p.m.

To fight the risk of “apartment-department path” social isolation, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and Stanford administrators are pursuing programs to foster a stronger community among graduate students. While many of these programs are relatively new, social isolation remains a concern for some graduate students.

Meica Magnani PhD ‘17 is grateful for a close-knit graduate community in her department but says that social isolation is a major issue for many graduate students.

I do think that social isolation is a huge problem for [some] grad students just because so much of your work is you and your computer and your books, and I think in many disciplines, it can be a huge psychological burden for people,” Magnani said.

Ken Hsu, assistant vice provost of student affairs and director of the Graduate Life Office, notes that over time, graduate students tend to develop what Hsu refers to as an “apartment-department path.”

“We’ll check in with a student who’s been here four or five years, [and] they would not know where Old Union is because that’s not on their path, or even where the stadium is if they don’t go to sporting events because their life is so filled with their studies,” Hsu said. “So we realize that to get people out and about and meet each other, we have to start early, before that path is formed.”

The Graduate Life Office tries to start early by conducting New Graduate Student Orientation (NGSO), which aims to bring together students from 90 programs across seven different schools. Different programs start at different times of the year, which makes it difficult to engage every student present during orientation. Hsu notes that NGSO has become better aligned with departmental schedules during this time, which is a way of encouraging people to participate. In addition to NGSO, Hsu notes that new graduate students also have a departmental orientation, and that community associates in graduate housing work to acclimate new graduate students to residential life.

“So with all three levels, departmental, residential and NGSO, we’re trying to encourage as many people as we can [to come],” Hsu said.

Sam Bydlon PhD ‘17, a former financial officer for the GSC, says that the GSC takes a three-pronged approach to graduate student issues on campus. According to Bydlon, these three areas include internal programming, working to support Volunteer Student Organizations (VSOs) and advocacy in areas such as reforming Stanford’s sexual assault prevention education.

Examples of the events that GSC holds to fulfill its internal programming goal include the Welcome Back Party, Grad Formal and stress relaxation events throughout the year, Bydlon said. A new event added recently to the roster was a “speed-friending” event, based on the success of past events that more closely resembled speed-dating.

 “[We thought that] maybe some graduate students that don’t feel comfortable just showing up to a 200-person event might like something like that,” Bydlon said.   

Bydlon encourages graduate students to attend these events and become involved. If someone feels that there are not events that appeal to them, Bydlon encourages them to talk to GSC representatives.

“Letting their representatives know or just having general conversations with their representatives would be awesome,” Bydlon said. “We would love to increase communication between graduate students and representatives.”

When asked what advice he would give to a graduate student looking to get more involved in social activities, Hsu notes that there are hundreds of graduate student organizations and resources available to graduate students. In particular, he encourages students to look at programs organized by the Vice Provost of Graduate Education, which he recommends as a way to meet people from different schools in the context of mutual interests.

“Get involved in something outside of your department, get involved in martial arts, get involved in a Be Well Program, get involved in one of the VPGE workshops, get involved in doing something outside of your department,” Hsu said.

“My experience so far has been that they definitely make activities [and] social outings available to people that want to get to know other people on campus,” Garrett Hara ‘16 said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of vice provost Ken Hsu as ‘Tsu’. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’

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