April 18, 2001:
Graduate students move onto undergraduate turf for a year
Graduate students were
excited this semester to hear the decision by the university Board
of Trustees to increase funding for incoming students and to provide
summer funding for all students in the humanities and social sciences.
While most students were pleasantly surprised by the increase in
stipend levels, they are still concerned about several issues related
to student life at Princeton. Last month, the Graduate Student Government
(GSG) and the Graduate U-Council submitted a comprehensive report
that covered matters such as health care, housing, post-enrollment,
and graduate alumni trustees. A copy of the report, which was presented
by GSG Chair Lauren Hale at the March meeting of the Council of
the Princeton University Community (CPUC), can be found at http://www.
One of the most pressing
issues covered in the report is the acute shortage of graduate student
housing. Official estimates by the Housing Office place the shortfall
at 160 to 200 student units. When student protesters and members
of the Graduate U-Council first brought up the issue of housing
shortages in December, the university created a short-term housing
committee to address the problem. That committee, which includes
four graduate students, made several recommendations in February
to increase the number of available student beds until new housing
units can be built. One of the recommendations of the committee
that the university accepted was to postpone renovations in Lockhart
Hall and to allow 74 graduate students to live there next year.
The decision to house
graduate students in Lockhart is an interesting one, given the prior
existence of Lockhart Co-Op, a nonresidential vegetarian cooperative
that used to attract both graduate and undergraduate students. Indeed,
Lockhart provided me my first opportunity to become friends with
undergraduates at Princeton; I joined the co-op in January 1997.
Prior to becoming a member
of the co-op, I thought of undergraduates in much the same way that
most other graduate students did as a bunch of privileged
kids who didnt care much for people other than themselves.
However, once I actually got to know undergrads, I realized that
many of them were not as superficial or selfish as I had presumed.
And the undergrads loved the fact that graduate students were part
of the organization. Whenever there were openings available, they
encouraged their former preceptors to join the co-op. To all of
us, Lockhart was an intimate space where we could step beyond the
stereotypical images of undergrads as mindless pre-professionals
and grad students as soulless preceptors.
Although Lockhart Co-Op
was a model of social integration between undergrads and grad students,
the latter were never officially part of the organization. Initially,
the university tried to prohibit graduate students from participating
in the co-op by denying them keys to the dormitory. However, undergraduate
members of the cooperative soon got around these restrictions, helping
grad students gain access by losing their keys and getting
replacements. By 1998, however, the university became more effective
in restricting graduate student access, implementing proximity cards
that allow only undergraduates to access dormitory spaces and residential
colleges. Soon after the introduction of the cards, interest in
the co-op waned and the organization disbanded.
Now, three years and
several protests later, graduate students will be able to cook in
the Lockhart kitchen once again, and will actually be able to live
in the dormitory itself. Those who choose to live and eat in Lockhart
will most likely be those graduate students who are similar in age
and outlook to undergraduates. Given this congruence of populations,
one can hope that the residents of Lockhart will make a special
effort next year to reach out to the rest of central campus, and
that undergraduates will not shy away from the dormitory. Indeed,
one can even hope for a resurrection of Lockhart Co-Op if there
is sufficient interest among graduate students, independent juniors,
The decision to allow
graduate students to live in Lockhart next year will not fully solve
the housing problem, nor will it address the other issues covered
in the Graduate Student Life Initiative. At the same time, Lockhart
Hall has the potential to integrate the social lives of undergraduate
and graduate students once again. This kind of integration will,
over the long term, strengthen the university and increase the extent
to which graduate student needs are incorporated into the governance
of its institutions.
S. Karthick Ramakrishnan
is a fourth-year graduate student in the politics department and
an executive member of the CPUC. For more student opinion, see www.princeton.edu/~paw.