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UNR graduate students push for livable wages and affordable housing

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 11:48 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - For a while now, graduate students at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), have been dealing with limited state-funded housing stipends and an affordable housing crisis.

In an effort to relieve a big financial burden, graduate student associations at UNR and UNLV have joined forces to draft a proposal and apply for American Rescue Plan funds.

“Specifically it was in the total amount of 112 million dollars, split between the University of Nevada and UNLV,” said Matthew Hawn, president of UNR Graduate Student Association (GSA). “From $56 million going to each university, $6 million is focused on the development and understanding the infrastructure of what we need for graduate student housing, and the other $50 million to help build that particular building.”

Hundreds of graduate students at these colleges are part of what’s called a graduate assistantship, a position that covers a portion of tuition and provides a monthly stipend.

“Graduate students haven’t received a stipend increase, here at the University of Nevada Reno since 2018,” said Hawn.

The stipends can range from $1,200 to 1,900 before taxes, depending if the student is doing a master’s or Ph.D.

With housing increases throughout the years and students also having to add utilities, food, books, childcare, and everyday living expenses, many are looking at hundreds of dollars in deficit.

“We are struggling to make ends meet,” said international graduate student, Kingkini Sengupta who is familiar with these challenges.

Her rent is $665 a month, while her stipend is just a little more than $1,000.

“My mom, she makes barely a thousand dollars a month,” said Sengupta. “I don’t have a father, we lost him in 2017 to a sudden brain stroke so I cannot ask for money from home.”

Because of her visa, she can only work at the university and not more than 20 hours a week, which leaves her in a difficult situation every month.

To save money, Segunpta walks to school and curtail grocery shopping.

“UNR is a R1 Carnegie institution and president Sandoval wants to maintain it that way, but I’m fearful of the fact that if this is the way we continue, students won’t be able to, and we are doing everything,” said Sengupta. “We teach students of our professors because we are also teaching assistants, we are doing research... so after doing all of these, if I have to still be thinking about money and making ends meet then it becomes very, very difficult for a person to be able to continue their studies.”

R1 universities are those that meet benchmarks in research activity and expenditures as measured by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

The proposal for ARPA funds was made through Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office, and whether it will be taken up by the state is still unclear.

Despite comments and testimonies from students, the Nevada Board of Regents recently passed a proposed fee increase for graduate student housing at UNR.

We submitted a request to speak with the board, but have not heard back.

Ultimately, these students want to bring awareness and start a conversation around these concerns.

Kingkini Sengupta who is also a student reporter, wrote a two-part series about the challenges students have been facing:

STORY 1- https://www.ourtownreno.com/our-stories-1/2021/12/9/from-unhoused-to-hemorrhaging-finances-students-fight-back-on-housing

STORY 2- http://www.ourtownreno.com/our-stories-1/2022/1/3/graduate-students-in-reno-lead-statewide-push-to-get-housing-help

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