a new voice
At Fordham, graduate students don't just get a voice — they get a vote.
Zachary Smith sits on three different councils at Fordham University. Every year, he speaks at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ orientation. His name appears on the first page of the Graduate Student Handbook.
Zach Smith is not a professor. He is not a dean. He is not even a Fordham employee. He is a doctoral student in theology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA).
Smith arrived at Fordham in the fall of 2008. Within a few months, he decided he wanted to help create more opportunities for GSAS students and ran for president of GSA. He’s been working on behalf of students ever since.
Fordham’s GSA was founded sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Reuben Robbins, a past president of GSA, believes GSA was started “more as an organization to promote socializing.” It was when the association made changes to orientation, a few years before Robbins arrived on campus, that “things started to change.”
Today, the GSA council is made up of a president, a vice president, and a representative from each GSAS program or department. Every student enrolled in a graduate degree program at Fordham is automatically a member of the organization.
Though records from the group’s endeavors during their founding years are scarce, the association has clearly made an impact in the last two decades—and it’s not just council members who are being heard.
“The student voice is heard at some of the highest levels of the administration now,” Smith said. “GSA really empowers the GSAS student community. The GSA council and officers are able to hear specific student complaints, extrapolate what the structural problems with the university are and then find substantial solutions to those problems.”
And those opportunities Smith wanted to create? One big initiative has been developing the GSA travel grant, which sends students to conferences around the world to present original research. The grant was recently expanded to allow students to attend conferences in their field.
“It’s an opportunity for professional socialization,” Smith said. “We have more than one hundred students every year from GSAS out there presenting research and attending conferences. Through GSA, we have Fordham’s name in the broader academic community.”
As Smith describes it, GSA exists to “step in and fill in the gaps.” Because of GSA’s problem-solving attitude—something Smith stresses in his description of monthly council meetings— there is a real sense of collaboration between GSAS students and the administration.
“Whenever we address a problem we see in the larger university community, we try to approach it from the idea of cura personalis. If Fordham’s mission is to care for the whole person, in what ways can the University care for the GSAS population, and what ideas can the Graduate Student Association bring to the table to help the university fulfill that Jesuit mission?”
By acting on this vision, Smith and his fellow GSA members are benefitting not just their GSAS peers, but the entire Fordham community.
Can You Help?
A Call for Memories and Information
The Graduate Student Association (GSA) would love to have more records from its founding years, but information is scarce.
What do you know about GSA’s founding?
What are your favorite GSA memories?
We’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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