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The Rackham Graduate School hosted their second annual State of the Graduate School event on Monday over Zoom. The event had more than 200 people in virtual attendance. 

Rackham Dean Michael J. Solomon commenced the meeting by acknowledging the Graduate Employees’ Organization strike, which started on Sept. 7 in response to the University’s fall reopening plans. 

“I respect the vigorous advocacy of Rackham students, as well as their agency to make a personal decision as to how to pursue activism,” Solomon said. “I value the multiple and vital roles they play at the University as students, researchers, instructors and scholars.”

Solomon highlighted the ways in which Rackham is prepared to address issues such as student mental health and wellness, antiracism goals, support for international students and student-mentoring relationships. 

In their ongoing response to student and faculty needs, Rackham has recently adjusted their grading policy for Winter 2020, extended graduation requirement deadlines and provided summer grants to provide opportunities for summer employment, especially for international students. Solomon highlighted the initiatives and goals for next year while also stating the need for redefining what it means to pursue a graduate education.

“It needs to be student-centered, faculty-led and Rackham-supported,” Solomon said.

Solomon referenced the formation of the graduate Mental Health Task Force in 2019 to monitor the mental well-being of graduate students and learn how to provide additional support to their students. The task force, which consisted of faculty, graduate students and mental health professionals, submitted a list of 10 recommendations to Solomon that he then accepted. 

Additionally, Solomon mentioned the creation of the Graduate Student Mental Health Advocates, consisting of individuals with the proper tools and knowledge needed to assist graduate students and faculty during stressful times. 

“These advocates working within programs can provide local sources of expertise and experience that can connect graduate faculty with the broader array of University resources,” Solomon said. 

Solomon said the Faculty Allies program serves to produce a critical understanding of the role of race in determining expertise, knowledge production and providing allies with the tools to more effectively support Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives within their individual programs. 

Solomon referenced an ongoing review to explore the possibility of eliminating the graduate record exam in admissions. 

“Rackham has already made important revisions to the applications for admissions for fall 2021 in order to promote access and opportunity for prospective students who may have been impacted by the criminal justice system,” Solomon said. 

Changes in federal policy prompted new challenges for international students, which hindered many students from applying and renewing their visas and thus deferring their admissions, Rackham student Yixuan Chen said. 

In addition to these issues, international students have encountered financial burdens during COVID-19 as well since they are only allowed to work when campus is still in session. The early closure last March left many international students without a source of income, Chen said. Chen shared his perspective on how international students were impacted in the last couple of months.

“Most international students do not qualify for stimulus checks by the government. Also, we are not eligible for the CARES Act because of citizenship, on top of that there is a $500 international student fee per term,” Chen said. 

Solomon emphasized Rackham’s commitment to becoming more accessible for international students. 

“We’ve made arrangements to allow many dozens of incoming international doctoral students to start their programs remotely from their home countries with fellowship support,” Solomon said.

LSA professor Patrice Beddor said the mentor-student relationship may be different as a result of the pandemic. 

“The idea is to have guided conversations about what priorities are as scholars and as human beings when the world feels to many as though it is exploding,” Beddor said.

Daily Staff Reporter Shehrez Chaudhri can be reached at shehrez@umich.edu.

 

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