Graduate students exercised their right to protest Thursday on Abele Quad.
The Duke Graduate Students Union held yoga classes on the quad, while collecting signatures for a petition against the revocation of free gym access for fourth and fifth-year graduate students. In Fall 2015, the Graduate School decided to no longer cover gym fees for students after their third year because of rising student health insurance premiums.
“A lot of us were told when we came in that we would have access to the Duke gyms as part of our package through our fifth year,” said Jess Issacharoff, a fifth-year graduate student in the literature department. “Then we were told that was no longer the case and that it was only going to go through our third year. So, a lot of us either lost access to the gym entirely or had to pay a fee, and since we make $21,000 a year, that’s not really doable for a lot of us.”
Previously, graduate students could “opt-in” for the access to the gyms and not have to pay a fee. Now, there is still an opt-in program, but graduate students who want to use Wilson Recreation Center or Brodie Recreation Center have to pay a $130 fee every six months.
Issacharoff explained that she did not know exactly how much the fee was because she could not afford any extra expenses and did not pay it.
Some departments continue to cover the fee for their students through the fourth and fifth year, she claimed.
"The University has been working with the Graduate and Professional Student Council on this issue for some time, and we’re optimistic that we will have a satisfactory resolution soon," wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations in an email.
Many research studies have shown the benefits of exercise, noted Hamza Ghadyali, a sixth-year mathematics graduate student. He signed the petition, noting that Duke should financially support gym access for all graduate students.
Alex DeForge, a fourth-year graduate student in philosophy, penned a guest column in The Chronicle Thursday, calling for Duke to publicly commit to covering the fees for the duration of graduate students' studies.
"Failing to provide access to gym facilities undermines Duke’s support for its graduate students and is inconsistent with the University’s mission," DeForge wrote.
Issacharoff said that they had gathered approximately 280 signatures for their petition, which requests “that the administration of Duke University reinstate the coverage of gym fees for doctoral students without delay.”
Behind the table where the petition was being signed, approximately a dozen graduate students sprawled across the grass in yoga poses. The students took part in three yoga classes the union planned for the sunny afternoon.
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The lack of complimentary gym access is part of a larger frustration many graduate students share about their health care coverage. Issacharoff noted that graduate students are on the same health plan as undergraduates, instead of on the Duke employees’ plan. This limits students' access to certain health services such as dental care, she said.
“This is part of our effort to get better health care for graduate students, since access to the gym is really important for our mental and physical wellbeing—especially for those of us who might not have access to some of the health services that we want or need,” Issacharoff said.
Going forward, Issacharoff plans to present the petition to the graduate schools to demonstrate that it is an issue “that people feel very strongly about.”
“For some of us, access to the gym is crucial to our health and part of the reason that we came to Duke in the first place,” she said.