Graduate-Students Host “Thinking Constellationally” Event about Student Healthcare Pricing


Courtesy of Courtney Hale, Getty Images

College student receives medical care from a nurse.

Julia Burke, Staff Writer

Should universities cover healthcare costs for graduate students and assistants? On Feb. 1, a group of graduate students gathered to share their hardships in the form of personal testimony. As COVID-19 has posed additional risks to already struggling students who are largely required to perform duties in person, they are now fighting for change. The event, “Thinking Constellationally,” has sparked outrage amongst the community. 

“The purpose of our event with Hunger and Homelessness Week was to highlight how there are graduate students on our campus in desperate situations because of lack of access to affordable, high-quality healthcare,” said Jennifer Wang, graduate student and event co-host. “These students are also professors, lab instructors, teaching assistants, researchers. It’s a situation we hope to rectify.”

Testimonies conveyed struggles to cover healthcare costs even while receiving university stipends. One student had to walk one and a half miles to the hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He could not afford the ambulance costs. 

Another student said he was made to feel guilty for going to the emergency room upon contacting the Financial Aid Office for help. Many are struggling with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression but feel unsupported by the University, despite numerous affordable options for in-person and telemedicine visits. While the University offers pre-arrival testing, these students argue that this measure is inadequate. 

These graduate students are asking to be viewed as employees and for the University to bring their doctoral student benefits up to par with other major Catholic universities.

“Villanova’s comparison Catholic universities, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Fordham, Boston College and Loyola Chicago, all provide doctoral students with low cost or free high-quality healthcare,” Wang said.

While some pointed out off-campus care options, such as the Catholic Worker Clinic offering free care in crisis situations, many event-goers found the personal testimonies outrageous. 

“It is the opposite of Caritas, Unitas and Veritas to flood them with graduate students whose needs could be served by a community governed by Augustinian values” says an anonymous event attendee. “And this is precisely what happens when students cannot afford specialist visits, imaging and medications on the stipend.”

Simon Brooks, an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering major, felt “heartbroken” after hearing the stories of “ignorance and apathy that Villanova has taken towards the most financially vulnerable workers on campus.” He feels that “graduate students deserve affordable quality healthcare.” Long term, Brooks would like to see graduate students classified as employees or allowed to work full time elsewhere. 

Stan Horowitz, who works at a neighboring university where the graduate students unionized, attended the session to learn more about healthcare disparities. Horowitz was shocked by the testimonies. He feels that the University can do better. 

“More importantly, so should our state and country,” he said.

Despite the struggles faced by graduate students and employees, they continue to teach and conduct research. 

“We’re all here despite the financial precarity that going to school for six more years after undergrad will put us in because we love what we do–teaching and research,” Wang said.

On a positive note, the University is providing a 3% GA stipend increase for the fiscal year 2021.