New graduate representative for the NAA Board hopes to advocate student demands


Courtesy of Florencia Son

Graduate student Florencia Son. Son was appointed as the TGS representative on the NAA’s Board of Directors in August.

Emma Rosenbaum, Reporter

Florencia Son, a third-year chemistry doctoral student, is the messenger between over 13,000 students in The Graduate School and the Northwestern Alumni Association Board of Directors. Appointed in August as the graduate student director for the NAA, Son represents all TGS students and their needs.

Son’s appointment comes at an pivotal time for the TGS student community, as it seeks to select a dean amid the pandemic as well as a months-long effort to reform the administration.

In March, Coalition NU, a TGS student group representing students of marginalized identities, published a petition with 11 demands to prioritize diversity and inclusion as well as replace former TGS dean Teresa Woodruff, who has since become provost at Michigan State University.

Northwestern University Graduate Workers also launched a petition to grant a universal one-year extension of graduate funding. While TGS students received extensions on graduation requirement deadlines, they have not received increased funding.

Son’s job is to communicate student perspectives at each NAA board meeting.

“When I was asked to join, I thought it’d be a really great opportunity to find additional ways to really improve the quality of life for current students and help translate that over to young alumni,” Son said.

Son also currently serves as the president of the Graduate Student Association, an organization focused on improving student life.

Zoha Syed, a third-year chemistry doctoral student and a friend of Son’s, said graduate students are generally most aware of the issues that directly impact them since each department is in its own “bubble.” Syed said COVID-19 and issues around diversity and inclusion directly affect Son, which gives her insight as she assumes the position.

“Having someone like (Son) in this particular role comes at a really good time,” Syed said. “She brings the perspective of being a female minority in a field like chemistry, where that’s incredibly underrepresented.”

Apoorva Shivaram, a third-year cognitive psychology doctoral student and fellow member of GSA, said Son was “one of the best candidates for the position.”

Shivaram said Son has a history of steering GSA in a more inclusive direction. She added when GSA was planning a virtual concert last year, Son pushed for a more diverse group of artists to perform.

“With every event that we organize, with every goal that we’re trying to fulfill, she’s always kept the entire graduate student body at the back of (her) mind,” Shivaram said.

In the process of bringing about change, Son said her role is to be an advocate for TGS.

Still, she said she does think alumni can be “powerful” supporters of current students, especially since the board has a strong relationship with the administration. The alumni, she said, are interested in student affairs and her perspective.

“It can be quite daunting with several dozen real adults in this meeting,” Son said, addressing her initial fear of being a student in the role. “But everyone does appreciate what you contribute.”

Son said she is still learning how to best fulfill her role. The first NAA board meeting in August focused on diversity and inclusion. Son sent Larry Irving, the current NAA board president, information on diversity issues specific to TGS. For her second NAA meeting on Nov. 12, Son plans to bring up TGS students’ demands for more funding due to COVID-19-related research setbacks.

“Although there might be pressure, it’s mostly self-imposed pressure,” Son said. “I try to just do my best to facilitate the conversations that are necessary to see change happen.”

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