New group aims to foster graduate community

    When Britt Godchaux came to Portland State University for the anthropology program, she was surprised that there was no community for graduate students at PSU.

    Last spring, after Goddchaux met Joe Lotz and Erin Lotz, the three Portland State graduate students formed Graduate Student Life, a group created to help build community within PSU graduate programs.

    "There’s not a whole lot of camaraderie here," Godchaux said of the PSU graduate program. Godchaux said the university told her that between 5,000 and 9,000 graduate students attend Portland State. She said it was not comforting to learn that her new university was not even sure how many graduate students there are.

    At the University of Michigan, Godchaux said the graduate students often worked hand in hand with the undergraduate students.

    At Portland State, there is no graduate student orientation like the undergraduate orientation, which Godchaux said leaves some new graduate students uncertain about resources available on campus.

    Erin said that because graduate students pay the same fees that undergraduate students pay, they should know what their money is paying for and what they can get from it. Erin said that by coming together from different departments, she, Joe and Godchaux hope to help bring other graduate students closer together.

    "We all came from different departments, and we all knew little pieces of information," Lotz said.

    The members of Graduate Student Life plan to change graduate life by building an interdisciplinary community for networking and socializing. Godchaux said that many of the graduate student programs at PSU are geared towards working adults. Most of the students in the PSU graduate program have part-time jobs to help make ends meet.

    "Being a grad student tends to be more splintered," Joe said. Graduate students are present at PSU in smaller numbers, tend to be older, and did not have a group to advocate for them until this one formed last spring.

    The group said that they are aiming to address problems unique to graduate students. They said a graduate student can be working on a research project for a term, which would require a similar workload to undergraduate classes, but may mean the graduate student does not have enough credit hours to get certain student benefits like health insurance.

    "We do what students need us to do," said Joe. He said this includes keeping graduate students informed of what resources, benefits, and opportunities are available.

    The group had a table out in Party in the Park, gathering names for their contact list. Sitting beneath the trees, they talked about the goals of Graduate Student Life.

    Erin said the group’s low-key approach was a necessity born from the hectic hours of school and work. They usually meet over beer every two weeks to discuss pertinent issues and to unwind.

    "Recognition is the biggest hurdle," Erin said. "The bigger we get the bigger the voice we have."

    Right now the group is trying to gather useful information in order to get it to students. According to the PSU graduate studies and research website, over 1,500 degrees were awarded in 2005, but Godchaux said there is no mass email list, and no way to contact all of the students.

    Godchaux said that, if PSU wants to be seen as a respected research institute, the university must unite and support graduate students, who do much of the research work. Graduate students, she said, should also be looked on as resources for undergraduates.

    Graduate Student Life meetings double as a social outlet for members. There, they can talk about their work.

    "It’s nice to be able to have an intelligent conversation with other students," Erin said.

    On Thursday October 5, Graduate Student Life will be hosting a "pub crawl" to meet new people and network that all graduate students are invited to attend. More information about the pub crawl and the group can be found on