April 18, 2001: On the Campus

Living in Lockhart
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. princeton.edu/~gradcpuc.

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 didn’t 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, and seniors.

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.

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