When Sudipta Saha, the graduate council representative for the Graduate Student Association (GSA), first joined USC's graduate school in 2015, GSA didn't have much of a presence in the graduate student body.
In the last few years, however, GSA has made an effort to lift the voices of graduate students at USC.
"That's one of my main motivation to work in GSA, to kind of benefit [myself] and also benefit my other grad students," Saha said. "When I came here, I kind of found that, as a grad student, as a freshman grad student, I found that I don't have a representation in the school."
GSA is an organization that helps with the development of graduate and professional students. Like its undergraduate counterpart, Student Government, GSA organizes social events and town halls and communicates with the administration and staff at USC.
"We had a welcoming event. That was an event where we welcomed everyone back to school, continuing student and new student, and then just to get them to know more about GSA and opportunities [that are] presented to them," Maxwell Akonde, vice president of GSA, said. "We also had a bowling game that ... was more like an activity for social meet-up."
GSA President Maggie Carson said she joined the organization because she wanted to be involved. In high school, she was student body president, and at Presbyterian College, she was senior class vice president.
"It's something that I like to do — be a leader and help students have a good experience, and I have a lot of thoughts and opinions myself about things," Carson said. "Just making sure that graduate students have a voice and are having the best experience that they have possible, that's something I'm interested in."
In GSA, officers serve in cabinet positions "at the president's advice," GSA treasurer Christopher Eddy said.
Eddy served as secretary of legislative affairs last year. His primary responsibility was organizing a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., where they met the South Carolina delegation and advocated on behalf of graduate students.
"There's a lot of variation in what we may be doing, whether you're an exec member or whether you're a cabinet member. Some cabinet members, by their nature, are just way more involved than others," Eddy said.
GSA serves on many university committees and is involved with the Department of Student Life.
"I serve as one of the two students on the Future Planning Group with Issy Rushton, the student body president, which is the big group that, sort of, like, is planning and making all the decisions for the coronavirus for the coming year," Carson said.
The GSA officers visited President Bob Caslen's house in late May to discuss students' safety when they return in the fall, prioritizing graduate student mental health and new community-building plans for the upcoming semester.
"We discussed how GSA could be involved and how graduate students, in general, can help lead the way, in terms of serving as educators and being peers to some of the public sector and public health information that are needed to ensure that we return back to school safely and still are able to continue with the academic activities," Akonde said.
While GSA has accomplished a lot for graduate students in recent years, the officers recognize that there is still a lot to be done as an organization.
"There is a huge communication gap between the school offices and the students," Saha said. "Even though we have resources, the people who are managing the resources, they are not aware that they have to look into the graduate students differently."
The officers are working on increasing turnout and involvement from graduate students. Eddy said one way is through the town halls GSA hosts.
"Graduate students are very busy, and a lot of times they have difficulty finding the time to come out to every event," Eddy said. "These [town halls] just provide an outlet and an opportunity for graduate students to come and voice any concerns."