Advocacy Committee Meeting Minutes 6/28/19

Advocacy Meeting Minutes

Date: June 27, 2019


  • Phillip Helms
  • John Thompson
  • Yuping Huang
  • Charles Guan
  • Nikita Kanraj
  • Sean Pike
  • Peishi Cheng


  • Introductions
  • Describe the role of the advocacy committee
  • Define central issues/goals/plans for the year

Role of Advocacy Committee:

  • Administrative roles:
    • Annual GSC Survey: Create it, analyze results, report and advocate for changes based on report.
    • Workshops - taxes (spring), healthcare (fall)
    • Thanksgiving
    • Organizing and following up on Town Halls
  • General Advocacy Efforts:
    • Health Care
    • Housing
    • Work-Life Balance
    • Advisor-Student Relations
    • Stipend Increases
    • Professional Development
    • Graduate Student Parents

Discussion Concerning Central Issues/Goals/Plans for the next year:

  • Health insurance:
    • Cost/Options/etc.
    • John - How do we decide what options are available to students, why don’t we do a specific health care related survey (one was done previously).
    • Peishi - Results are around for previous healthcare survey, it was used by advocacy chair to change some policies, though this might not have been entirely transparent to all students.
  • Anonymity with GSC Survey:
    • Some may be concerned with anonymity issues with the GSC survey because of the size of Caltech. In particular, advisor relation issues are a difficult area and many may not feel comfortable reporting on this when it is not anonymous. (Downside of non-anonymous survey is one person may vote multiple times to influence the average).
    • An anonymous “Suggestion Box” could be created, where students might be able to anonymously submit suggestions to the advocacy committee (or GSC/Graduate Studies Office) about problems they are having and resources that are available.
  • Housing:
    • Many people: Enormous issue and this is not being resolved.
    • Previous efforts - Last year’s committee worked on either increasing the average stipend or increasing the availability of Caltech housing. This was the primary driving factor for the increase in the minimum stipend last year.
    • John - Initial rent: $400 in cats, with stipend of $30,000/year:
      • We should compare growth in housing costs (in cats, in Pasadena in general, in family housing) with the growth in the minimum stipend.
      • Also could compare the proposed budgets prepared by the graduate studies office.
      • Also could compare lottery acceptance rates as a means of seeing how interest has changed in Caltech housing.
  • Stipend:
    • Nikita - We should not have to fight yearly for stipend increases. We should advocate for automatic, cost-of-living based increases, determined by inflation rates, to prevent this from being a constant battle.
  • Advocacy Methods:
    • We seem to need more effective ways to elucidate changes at Caltech. If the administration is generally slow to make changes or adjust priorities to meet what graduate students request, perhaps there is a better approach than occasional meetings.
  • Racism/Misogyny:
    • Multiple individuals mentioned experiences they had heard of where racism and/or misogyny was apparent. Mentioned that while there are efforts to recruit underrepresented minorities to attend Caltech, these are nullified when those individuals have terrible experience from members of the community.
    • Why is there no mandatory training for diversity for faculty/staff?
  • Town Halls:
    • Nikita - Frustration that, while town halls were well attended and many of the issues discussed today were brought up there, there has been little to no reporting on progress made in the following months.
    • We should use the successful town halls (GPS) as models for other town halls.
    • Access to the minutes of the meetings should be given to all in the department, if possible.
  • Topical Advocacy committee meetings:
    • Encourage attendance for those interested in particular issues, then use them to form plans and gauge interests.
    • Held somewhere public to improve attendance.
  • Grad student communication suggestions:
    • Graduate Student Slack creation
    • Use physical posting of flyers for GSC events to improve attendance
    • Lift two time email limit so people are aware of events. (some resistance because it might become excessive).
    • Peishi suggested in Slack just after meeting: Send an email to grad students annually to remind students of their rights (two weeks off, institute holidays, adviser expectations, etc.). Use to increase legitimacy of GSC and provide link to feedback form.
  • Suggestions from those not in attendance:
    • Lealia Xiong: Student-Advisor Relationships
    • Aida Behmard: Chair of diversity committee, wants to work together when possible
    • Riley Galton: Student Parent Issues, Difficulties with housing office.
    • Mia de los Reyes

Resulting Suggestions & Goals:

  • Creation of an anonymous suggestion box.
  • Further research housing costs vs. minimum stipend increases over past few years.
  • Advocate for automatic yearly cost of living increases.
  • Advocate for mandatory diversity training for the entire Caltech community.
  • Follow up with Town Hall leaders - make sure they report to respective divisions and we create a general report. (Phillip)
  • Schedule topical advocacy committee meetings. (Phillip)
  • Discuss creation of Grad student slack with steering committee (Phillip & John)
  • Email at start of school year reminding students of rights - accompanied by link to the anonymous suggestion box.