Speaking Out

Visibility of Graduate Students

Previous plans for the area soon to become Sansom Common were described on the back cover of the June 17 issue of Almanac. According to that article, Penn was considering building a Graduate Center in 1969, with dining areas, lounges, study halls and recreation areas. A center devoted to the needs of graduate student life. That year was referred to as "a time when graduate and undergraduate activities were more sharply divided," implying that graduate and undergraduate activities are less divided in 1997.

One wonders which University Almanac is referring to in this statement. Certainly not my university. How often do you see graduate students at fraternity and sorority parties at Penn (except for the graduate students earning cash for monitoring the alcohol at these parties)? How often do you see graduate students hanging out at Chats, paying for meals with their PennCard, amidst the cafeteria atmosphere? How often will you see graduate students at the new "late night eatery" on campus, with its graduate student friendly location enclosed within the freshman residence? How often do you see graduate students stand up for the singing of "The Red and The Blue" at a Penn varsity game or a Glee Club performance and actually know the words to the song? There are 10,000 graduate students at Penn, and the answer to these questions is "basically never." The only significant activity that graduate students share with undergraduates involves the graduate student as the teacher and the undergraduate as the student.

Without any disrespect for undergraduates, most graduate students have very little interest in hanging out with undergraduates and removing the division between their activities. Graduate students have already experienced undergraduate activities when they were undergraduates themselves. For this reason, graduate and undergraduate activities will always be, and should be, very divided. However, the university administration focuses its planning around undergraduates and, with a quaint "why can't we all get along" mentality, expects graduate students to fit the same mold. By focusing solely on the needs of undergraduate students in this way, Penn's administration is ignoring the needs of its 10,000 graduate students. Effectively, the administration is able to justify massive "brick and mortar" expenditures such as the Perelman Quad and now our third hotel in recent memory, by simply forgetting that our campus has a more diverse student body. If these projects have any student mission, then they are invariably designed solely for undergraduate activities, while graduate students are 'welcome' to the fringe benefits. As a result, Penn has become a place where 10,000 graduate students are an invisible part of campus life. And the administration uses this very lack of visibility to justify their lack of planning for future graduate student space and activities.

Instead of trying to get 27-year-old Ph.D. candidates to hang out with the 19-year-old undergraduates that they teach or tutor, why not encourage M.D.s to hang out with J.D.s, M.B.A.s and Ph.D.s? Penn should be looking for ways to have its graduate schools less divided, rather than removing the division between graduate and undergraduate activities. Otherwise, maybe Penn should aim for the next lofty and unachievable goal; a time when graduate and faculty activities are less divided.

-- Surya Ghosh,
Ph.D. Candidate School of Arts and Sciences


Volume 44 Number 1
July 15, 1997

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