COVID-19 committee facilitates collaboration between TGS students and administration for pandemic relief


Photo courtesy of Eva Morgun

Members of Northwestern University COVID-19 Committee. The committee has worked with administrators since the start of the pandemic to provide relief and information to the TGS community.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

Since the beginning of the pandemic, student representatives of graduate organizations have regularly met with Northwestern and The Graduate School administrators to communicate needs unique to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. 

Through this joint effort, the Northwestern University COVID-19 Committee advocated for and provided assistance to members of the TGS community, Ph.D. candidate Eva Morgun said. 

“We don’t have a president or a chair. We really have many students who all ended up having their specialties. And each person brings their own expertise to the table,” Morgun said. “It’s really a collaborative environment with a lot of very great hard-working individuals.”

This collaboration fueled efforts like Chicago Graduate Student Association, Graduate Student Association and Graduate Leadership & Advocacy Council as well as Women in Science and Engineering Research among others. The committee operates with at least five administrators and 12 active members who are graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. 

Ph.D. candidate and GLAC acting president Jacob Kupferberg said the committee’s key initiatives focused on communication and support. In a time when many students are isolated, he said, it’s important to disseminate information that may not always reach students. 

The committee has been negotiating proper lab safety protocols with the University as well appropriate testing and assistance with transportation and parking fees. It has also hosted town halls and is now informing the community about a rapid vaccine rollout. 

“And we found that (administrators) were incredibly receptive because they wanted to know what graduate students needed, what our worries were, but they had no idea how to contact us,” Kupferberg said.

One of these discussions with administration resulted in a mask drive, according to WISER vice president and Ph.D. candidate Zoha Syed. Starting in the fall, committee members found N95 mask distributors and subsidized costs to TGS and post-doctorate communities, ultimately providing over 3,400 masks. 

The committee, particularly spearheaded by CGSA, also started conducting anonymous surveys at the end of last year to gauge community needs and interests. These recurring surveys and reports were shared with TGS members and the University. 

“Our major goal as the committee from the get-go was to make students feel comfortable,” Syed said. “‘That’s why we are publishing those reports and sharing them with the administration.” 

The committee released its first report on COVID-19 safety and policy adherence, administered by CGSA in September and October. A second survey on the same topics was conducted in December. The committee also published a survey conducted by CGSA and GLAC solely focused on transportation. 

The committee hopes to publish the results of another installment of the safety survey conducted in January, and is currently working to administer a survey for education workers to communicate vaccine prioritization to administrators. 

As NU community members get vaccinated and the weather gets warmer, committee members said they hope to concentrate on the shifting needs of the TGS community, including adapting to in-person activities. 

The meetings with University leadership have been productive, Syed said, and she hopes the transparency between students and administrators will continue. 

“Once those two groups of individuals work together, a lot of big positive change can happen on campus,” Syed said. “I just hope this drive and momentum that we created as a committee for catalyzing change continues after we’re done.”

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