Graduate students will have free access to recreational facilities during their first five years at Duke.

Paula McClain, dean of the Graduate School, noted the change in an email to graduate students Friday. Previously, the Graduate School did not cover gym fees for students after their third year because of rising student health insurance premiums.

The Duke Graduate Students Union held a protest Thursday, arguing that fourth and fifth year students should also have free access to gyms. The students held yoga classes on Abele Quadrangle and circulated a petition.

“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,” said Jess Issacharoff, a fifth-year graduate student in the literature department, at the protest.

She noted Thursday 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.”

McClain's email also explained that graduate students will have a longer accommodation period for childbirth or adoption. Primary caregivers will receive nine weeks, and non-primary caregivers will receive two weeks.

Previously, primary caregivers were only eligible for seven weeks, and non-primary caregivers received one week.

In addition, graduate students will be eligible to receive up to $5,000 per calendar year for supplemental TA or RA assignments and up to $5,000 per calendar year for other supplemental work from their respective departments.

"Building and maintaining the community of support for Duke graduate students is a complex endeavor requiring people and resources from across campus, and we are thankful for their commitment to our students," McClain wrote.

She thanked Marcus Benning, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, Trinity '14 and a student at the School of Law, for his work in advocating for graduate students during the process of changing these policies.