Student Voices Nov. 13 2018

Stepping Up With Student Government

Over the summer, one of the benches near my house in a residential neighborhood in Bangalore, India, got scratched-up pretty badly one night. Next morning, the neighborhood discussion thread on Whatsapp was bustling with conspiracy theories. Without much evidence, one man blamed the security guard with certainty, while another pointedly mentioned to the group that he saw his neighbor’s car pull up well past midnight. Fed up with the unnecessary speculation, someone finally suggested checking the security tapes to identify the vandal and put the gossip to bed. The solution seemed straight-forward and obvious, but it was three days before anyone came forward to do it.

Why am I telling you this? As small and seemingly inconsequential as this personal anecdote may be, I find that it mirrors larger realities fairly well. The hardest part about making a difference is taking ownership, even though the solutions are sometimes staring us right in the face.

On that note, when the call for Graduate Student Association elections came out at Columbia Mailman, I didn’t give it much thought. Between being a first-year student and navigating the core, and the ever-present hope to actually get out and explore New York, I didn’t think I’d be left with much time for student government. Deep down though, I knew it was an excuse and that I wanted to get involved. Coming with leadership experience and an interest in student governance, I felt almost as if it would be a shame if I had chosen to sit back and ignore this opportunity.

A month later, my decision to participate has led me to take the role of GSA president. I strongly feel that the best way to actually bring about change is to get involved and get your hands dirty. I am excited to work towards making a positive impact on the student experience at Columbia Mailman with a team of vibrant and dynamic classmates who are passionate about making a difference for our community. We credit the previous GSA team with re-birthing the association and setting up systems from which we can now benefit. Similarly, the present team hopes that when the time comes for us to hand over our roles, we will have added something to help everyone.

Each of us brings our own vision for what we would like to achieve in this one year, but realistically, we know that we can’t focus on everything. Personally, I am interested in improving interschool collaboration and providing platforms for international students to connect. I know that the other members have their own goals of making the school a more inclusive space, building better alumni networks and improving departmental programming. After intense discussions, the GSA this year has decided to work on three key areas. First, we hope to push student engagement and collaboration across different schools within Columbia. Secondly, we intend to create spaces (both physical and virtual) that serve as platforms and systems of support for students with common interests such as international students and commuters. Lastly, we would like to improve existing communication channels and set up new ones based on need.

We are a small group of graduate students hoping to be the representative voice of the larger student body. To make this an effective exercise, we need to actually incorporate as many views and experiences as possible. In order to facilitate this, the GSA will be holding this year’s first Community Forum on November 15th from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. at Hammer LL103 A/B. We hope to hear from more students on how best we can further our goals for the year, along with any other suggestions and feedback, including but not limited to topics such as scheduling, the organization of the core and other coursework, and the programming.

I believe it is important to contribute. There are many ways to get involved, and you don’t necessarily have to be a part of the GSA or hold a title to leave an impact.

On a final note, you must be wondering who the culprit behind the scratched bench was in Bangalore. The “vandal” was not the watchman or the neighbor who wasn’t very well liked. It was a stray dog who had wandered in late at night, silently done the deed, and left before anyone had even noticed anything. Had we looked at the tapes before pointing fingers, we may have done less damage.

2018 - 2019 Graduate Student Association Officers

Name GSA Position 
Aditi RaoPresident
Mushfeqa HoqueVice President of Operations and Treasury
Xiaoyue MaVice President of Affairs
Allison KrugmanExternal Affairs Chair
Guojing WuInterschool Chair
Ashley GreyDiversity and Inclusion Chair
Norma GonzalezCommunity Engagement Chair
Ibrahim KonateCareer and Alumni Chair 
Chu YuBiostatistics Department Representative
Amelia ZhaoEpidemiology Department Representative
Stavros FanourakisEnvironmental Health Sciences Department Representative
Natalie MarcusHealth Policy and Management Department Representative
Antonina CaudillSociomedical Sciences Department Representative
Devin NaglePopulation & Family Health Department Representative
Angel Garcia de la GarzaBiostatistics Doctoral Council Representative
Trena MukherjeeEpidemiology Doctoral Council Representative
Nicole ComfortEnvironmental Health Sciences Doctoral Council Representative
Caitlin McMahonSociomedical Sciences Doctoral Council Representative


























RSVP (not required) for the Nov. 15th GSA Community Forum here.


Aditi Rao is a first-year MPH student in Health Policy & Management. She received a Bachelor's degree in Economics from Christ University and a Master's degree in Development from Azim Premji University, both in Bangalore, India. 

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