Graduate students speak out at meeting

Florida A&M University’s Student Government Association collaborated with the university’s graduate students Tuesday to discuss many of the concerns the graduate students have.

The meeting took place in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield auditorium in the new pharmacy building.

The panel was issued questions from graduate students through moderator Malik C. Littles, 26, a graduate business administration student from West Palm Beach, who serves as secretary of graduate affairs for SGA.

FAMU’s lack of healthcare for graduate students, cutting of funds for graduate level programs, lack of cohesion with its graduate students, almost non-existent graduate curriculum in some programs and lack of SGA participation with graduate students were some of the issues raised at the meeting.

Chanta Haywood, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research, said he strongly believes all schools of the university should work cooperatively to seek outside funding to make up for the limited funds.

“We have a (Graduate Record Examination) preparation class that is free of charge for current students, the Outstanding Graduate Assistant award that offers four cash awards of $500 and the Gant program that provides up to $30,000 a year and travel expenses anywhere in the world for graduates participating in research,” Haywood said.

Many of the students were upset FAMU provided a healthcare package for undergraduate students and not graduate students.

Schools like Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida are among the many schools that offer a healthcare package for its graduate students.

“Research dollars from graduate student’s studies are a major part of university funding, yet we don’t even offer health plans for grad students who have children or families,” said Yasmeon Barnes-Nkrumah, 26, a doctoral pharmaceutical sciences student from Denver.

Haywood replied, “We are currently speaking to a healthcare provider, and are going over the logistics of the type of plan we will offer.”

Many questioned why the difference between earning credit for an undergraduate and graduate class was writing an extra paper. Not only do some graduate students have the same teacher they had as undergraduates, they attend classes filled with mostly undergraduate students.

“I don’t feel the university should be charging grad students three times the cost to take the same classes undergrads are taking,” said Kori Scott, 23, graduate business administration student from Columbia, Md. “There needs to be some type of audit system to enhance the curriculum.”

Haywood is the chair of the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools, which will be going through process of enhancing many schools’ graduate level courses for accreditation purposes.

Jason Harris, 28, a fifth-year business administration student, shared the same concerns as his peers, but was focused more on graduate students’ participation in SGA.

But Makola Abdullah, associate vice president of research at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, was on the students’ side, saying, “I expect my students to be busy. I give them a workload to keep them busy.”

Some students said they have tried to be active in SGA, but their school work and the level of competition for cabinet positions limits them.

“We can’t compete against super seniors who are not true graduate students in programs like those in the School of Business and Industry and also have a large number of friends who will vote for them in an election,” said Zackia Williams, 28, a sixth-year pharmacy doctoral student .

“We as graduate students must take multiple swings with a hammer to break down a large rock of obstacles. But we are making progress,” Harris said.

Alston assured the students that they could bring up these same issues in at Board of Trustees meeting June 28.

“I am one of just many voices on the Board of Trustees and happen to be the youngest. But I am a bulldog and will fight for what is right,” Alston said.

Contact Donnell Jean at