The University of Maryland’s GSG voted Wednesday to boost the amount of money available for funding legislative advocacy efforts, and passed a resolution supporting transgender-inclusive policies on the campus.
Graduate Student Government representatives voted unanimously to devote $1,955 of their budget for a letter-writing campaign and an in-person advocacy day for graduate students over legislation that could affect their work, research or quality of life.
The money will be used to set up a letter-writing day for graduate students to write to their representatives, as well as an event where the GSG will take students to Annapolis to lobby and the hiring of a student to coordinate “advocacy days.”
Brian Sarginger, who stood in as a proxy for a history department representative, said the bill was especially important considering recent personnel turnovers at this university and the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
“I think it would be really useful for us to actually have some kind of coordinating efforts to arrange what our response is going to be at the capitol when changes that need to be made are made,” said Sarginger, a history doctoral student.
Provost Mary Ann Rankin, who recently slammed the board for its handling of the investigation into this university’s football program, was scheduled to appear at the meeting as a guest speaker.
But she cancelled because she said she had a conflicting meeting, GSG legislative affairs vice president Roozbeh Bakhshi said.
Anthropology department representative Valerie Hall said the money the bill set aside should also be used to offset travel expenses for graduate students carpooling to lobby at Annapolis.
“Face-to-face meetings really make an impact,” the doctoral student said. “So I think it’s important to have an ability to offset some of those travel costs so people who are already taking time out of a busy day have more of an incentive to make it all the way to the house and the senate.”
In November 2017, graduate students mobilized against a portion of a tax reform bill that would have designated graduate assistants’ tuition waivers — money that the government provides for their education — as taxable income. This part of the bill was eventually removed before it passed.
Government affairs vice president Rachel Lamb, who authored the bill, said the new funding will be used to help graduate students build relationships with their representatives. She hopes it’ll support similar wins in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.
Representatives also voted 18-6, with 6 abstentions, to increase the honoraria awarded to current GSG executives from $1,334 per semester to $1,495 per semester. In October, they voted for the same increase in honoraria for the next fiscal year, which begins July 2019.
The new honoraria level is in line with the minimum wage for Prince George’s County — $11.50 per hour.
The group also voted 27-1 to pass a resolution urging the university and the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct to “continue upholding their stance that someone’s sex and gender are not determined at birth.”
While the resolution didn’t make any specific recommendations, it reaffirmed GSG's support for the current campus policies toward transgender students.
OCRSM defines gender identity and expression as a protected class, and university policy allows students to change their gender markers in school records — policies the resolution expressed support for.
“Those who identify with the trans community are some of the most vulnerable on campus,” the resolution read. “This university has a responsibility to uphold a safe environment for everyone.”
Sociology department representative Han Kleman, the resolution’s author, said its approval was especially important in light of reports that the Trump administration is considering changing the legal definition of sex under Title IX to be immutable and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.
This move would essentially erase federal recognition of transgender people, rolling back the protections they gained under federal civil rights laws during the Obama administration.
“Maryland standing right there with their trans students is important,” said Klemen, a sociology doctoral student.