Graduate workers circulated a petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for 75% of vision and dental premiums to be covered by the university.
More than 45 Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United (VGWU) organizers, other graduate students and advocates for Dignity Obrera (Workers’ Dignity) — an organization that advocates for economic justice in Nashville — gathered at Alumni Lawn on Sept. 9 for a town hall and protest. They asked Vanderbilt to offset the cost of vision and dental insurance for graduate students.
Vision and dental are currently listed as top-ups for graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan (BOAT), which means that students must pay an additional premium to receive coverage. VGWU requires the university to cover 75% of vision and dental premiums for graduate students on the SHIP plan. Fourth-Year Graduate Student and Graduate Student Council (CGC) Secretary Michael Reynolds quoted inflation and the cost of living increase in Nashville as reasons why affordable dental and vision coverage is a pressing issue.
During the protest, participants carried signs with messages such as “We must see”, “Assure me!” and “Nerds need glasses!” VGWU petitionwhich details their demands, has 1,085 signatures of graduate students, faculty and community members listed on the document at press time.
Third-year graduate student and VGWU communications chair Nick Goodell said he was unable to afford the wisdom tooth extraction surgery he needed. Freshman graduate student Kieren Coffey said he couldn’t afford regular teeth cleaning or access to preventative care such as dental x-rays. Sixth-year graduate student Katrina Ngo described choosing to get married and declare herself dependent on her partner’s insurance to pay for her wisdom tooth extraction surgery and eye exams in because of the high cost of SHIP’s vision and dental insurance premiums.
“My boyfriend at the time said to me ‘Let’s get married just so you can have my insurance. So life-hack, you can just get married,'” Ngo said, receiving laughter from the crowd. , I’m on his confidence now, but it sucks that we had to rush that decision.”
In a press release for the event sent to The Hustler, VGWU claimed that Vanderbilt has sufficient financial resources to provide graduate student grants, highlighting the size of the university’s endowment. In 2021, Vanderbilt returned 57.1% increase in the school’s endowment, totaling $10.9 billion.
VGWU said Vanderbilt should implement coverage-related reforms to stay competitive in the graduate student market. Several of Vanderbilt’s peer institutions offer graduate student insurance grants. Universities offering some of the most comprehensive benefit packages include brown university and Columbia University, which offer a 100% and 75% dental insurance premium subsidy for doctoral students, respectively, and access to a vision discount program. Georgetown University also covers 100% of the doctoral student’s dental insurance premium but does not subsidize vision insurance. Harvard University, duke university and tulane university are among other peer institutions that The Hustler has been able to confirm provide at least partial dental and/or vision grants to graduate students.
“Vanderbilt claims to be a top university. How are we going to attract talent without decent health insurance? Eighth-year graduate student and VGWU secretary Alex Korsunsky said in the press release. “If we have a potential recruit with a competing offer from Brown or Georgetown, I couldn’t in good faith tell them to come here.”
Coffey said maintaining graduate student health would have a positive impact on student performance and productivity, thereby benefiting the university.
“I think it makes a lot of sense to take care of the people who work for you,” Coffey said. “You have a bunch of graduate students, and you’re not paying for them to take eye exams while we read for a living.”
The students also shared resources for graduate students looking for additional financial aid. Third-year graduate student and VGWU co-chair Maxwell Hamilton explained that students working in biological and medical science departments affiliated with the Bureau of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) can be reimbursed for fees. dental and vision insurance, but the opportunity is only available to students whose counselor is willing and able to pay using their grant. Similarly, Reynolds described how he managed to apply for financial aid after receiving care from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). Assistance is granted on a case-by-case basis to people with no or few insurance benefits.
Although Hamilton seeks to educate other graduate students about their healthcare options, he took issue with the fact that the university has a “patchwork” of resources rather than a grant for all graduate students, regardless of their department or laboratory affiliation.
“Having your insurance depend on which lab you join is completely ridiculous. You have to have an awkward conversation with your counselor, and he might say no,” Hamilton said. “Really, everyone should get it. [coverage] unconditionally.
Other recent graduate student pleas around this issue include a March 22 open letter of BRET graduate students who described lack of vision and dental coverage as an exacerbating factor in an alleged graduate student mental health crisis. On May 9, Christie-Mizell sent an email to graduate students, which detailed new financial and mental health resources for graduate students, but did not include changes to insurance subsidies.
After sharing testimonies and speeches, the town hall attendees went to the Hall of Elders, the location of the office of the Dean of the André Christie-Mizell graduate school, to deliver a copy of their petition to him. According to third-year graduate student and VGWU treasurer Patrick Reilly, the dean was not present when the graduate students entered his office, and an administrative assistant refused to deliver the petition to Christie-Mizell or allow the students put it in his mailbox. Reilly said the group left the petition in a “visible and open area” of the office.
In a Sept. 9 message to The Hustler, a university representative said the university is engaging with GSC, “the official organization representing Vanderbilt graduate students,” to discuss “questions and concerns” regarding current hedging options.
“We are reviewing the feedback we have heard and are working with our plan administrator on future options,” the university said. “A group of students who are not the recognized representative body of graduate students at the university organized today’s protest.”
According to GSC President and third-year graduate student Miguel Moravec, the GSC met with Christie-Mizell and Dean of Students GL Black on July 9 to advocate for a subsidy of 75% or more of vision and dental bonuses. by the university.
“The GSC recognizes all of our graduate student groups, including VGWU, as important campus stakeholders and partners,” Moravec said. “The GSC unanimously approved the sharing of the dental/vision petition.”
CORRECTION: This article was corrected on September 12, 2022. It previously stated that Brown University covers 75% of doctoral student dental insurance premiums, but has been updated to state that Brown University covers 100% of these. premiums.