Rashmi Joglekar, a third-year Ph.D. student in the Nicholas School for the Environment, was recently elected president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council. Joglekar, whose one-year term begins at the end of this academic year, is a student in the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program and is current vice president of GPSC. The Chronicle's Likhitha Butchireddygari spoke with Joglekar about her goals, as well as issues facing graduates students at Duke.

The Chronicle: Why did you decide to run for this position?

Rashmi Joglekar: I was the vice president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council. I worked very closely with the [current] president, Marcus Benning. He really inspired me to prepare for this role. I was very inspired by his advocacy for graduate students. Through meeting administrators, working closely with the general assembly and working closely with the executive board, I became really passionate about the work, and I decided to take it to the next level and try to advocate for graduate students.

TC: What do you hope to accomplish in your term?

RJ: I have three major platforms that I ran on. The first is unification. It's really important to unify the graduate student body. Right now, we are in a post-union environment, which comes with its challenges because the belief of the relationship between students and administrators is very disparate right now across campus. Last year, we were very focused on task-oriented issues, but this year it's going to be more about changing the environment of graduate and professional students and their relationship with administrators. This will be part of unification, so trying to bring together those groups that feel differently about administrators by working together to voice their concerns. 

I also want to be sure that advocacy plays a huge role in this next year. That doesn't just mean executive members advocating to administrators—that also means general assembly members advocating to administrators and the regular students advocating to administrators. All three of those levels. So, it's going to be an important interplay between advocating on the different levels of students—student leaders, student representatives or actual students—and then administrators. 

The third thing is to empower the graduate and professional students. Right now, this kind of leads into unification. They don't feel as if they much of a say on campus. So, we have plans to fund individuals to go make a difference on campus. We are incentivizing them through competition. We also want to have chances for students in the assembly and outside the assembly to meet with administrators and voice their concerns in more of a town hall setting. Those are just some of the ideas we want to bring forth next year.

TC: What are some of the greatest issues facing graduate and professional students on campus?

RJ: Right now, the greatest concern for graduate students is that they feel like their voice is not heard by administrators. They feel like their liberties are being taken away—the gym membership, not having dental insurance, not having wages guaranteed over the summer. What's interesting is that the issues of the graduate students and the professional students are very different in nature. I'm a graduate student, so I understood the whole union movement. I was part of the voting body. In terms of professional student issues, they are very different. They're more like financial aid—they have student loans and housing is an issue. Importantly this year, to address the student concerns in the general assembly of the student council, we are going to split. We are going to have subcommittees—one for professional student concerns and one for graduate student concerns—because they are so different in nature. But I think across the broad, especially for graduate students, it's feeling like their voice is not being heard.

TC: What are some projects that GPSC has worked on this year?

RJ: The biggest thing that we did this year was establishing the OneDuke Access Fund, and that was spearheaded by Marcus Benning. The OneDuke Access Fund is a financial aid program that's run and funded by graduate students. This takes money from the graduate student fee and gives back to graduate students who are in need. This year, we've allocated $10,000 for the fund. That means that $10,000 will be given away in $200 awards throughout the year to applicants who need money for travel, for wardrobe, for interviews, for school supplies if they are in need. It's a really incredible program. It was incredibly exciting to see it from the beginning stages, and then come to fruition. I think $6,000 has already been awarded this year successfully. We've received a lot of really good feedback. I think that's our biggest accomplishment this year.

TC: What do you think is the role of graduate and professional students in the broader campus community?

RJ: Graduate and professional students play a very important role on campus. They bring in research money, and they're the next generation of scientists, doctors and scholars. In terms of their interactions with faculty and staff, I think it's critical for their development in education. In terms of their relationship with undergraduates, I think it's very separated. There's not very much interaction between the undergraduate and graduate student population in terms of activities or interests because I feel like we are at very different walks of life. But I do think that graduate and professional students are critical to driving the University. We bring in a lot of money. We are the innovators essentially. I think it's a really exciting position to be in.

TC: How do you think the University can better serve graduate students?

RJ: I think the union movement started for a reason, and that's because graduate students felt that their liberties were being taken away. They felt like they didn't really have a voice when it came to administrators catering to their needs. I think because graduate students are so essential to the University, it's essential for them to feel valued by administrators, and that will be one of our top priorities this year.

TC: What do you mean by "they feel like their liberties are being taken away"?

RJ: I think that graduate students felt that some of things that they were promised weren't exactly being upheld. I personally have never experienced this, so I feel uncomfortable talking about it. But, I do know that some people have voiced those concerns. I think the common thread throughout all this is that certain things that graduate students have wanted for many years haven't really been pushed to fruition—such as dental insurance and access to the gym—all throughout their five years or whatever their tenure is at Duke. I think that not being able to have those needs met after many years of effort is a signal that their efforts are not worthwhile in a sense. To be met with resistance for many years in a row is what is leading them to develop this opinion that administrators are not listening to them. So, it's essential for representatives and leaders to take on this role and try to advocate for these issues. But, I think the most important lesson that we learned last year is that the students do want to have a voice and they do want to build this relationship with administrators to a point where if they ask for things, they're actually heard and listened to.