Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Graduate School News and Events

Student Organizations Provide Opportunities for
Creativity, Outreach and Connection

Although graduate students are serious people, busy with classes, qualifying exams, teaching, and research, many of them find time to participate in extra-curricular activities.

Among other things, they sing, dance, play sports, promote the culture of their home country, take part in religious activities, volunteer in the community, educate the public, and engage in political advocacy. Through these activities, students create supportive communities, make friends outside their departments, grow as indivudals, and enjoy themselves. Years ago it was virtually unheard of for graduate students to have their own clubs. Now there are dozens of student organizations, formal and informal, and more are launched every year.

There is no way to give an exhaustive accounting of all the clubs, associations, societies, and interest groups in one article. Herewith is a sampling that suggests the rich variety of options open to students who want to take a break from their work.

About one-third of the students at the Graduate School are international, and many of these students who are far from home want to explore and celebrate their heritage together and share it with others. The Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale (ACSSY) is the largest of these groups. It is a non-political organization that promotes social, intellectual, and cultural activities for the many Chinese students and scholars on campus and for the Yale community. Other cultural groups include the Italian Society of Yale Students and Affiliates, the Mexican Student Association, SAGA (South Asian Graduate/ Professional Association), and the YANIS/Russian Club of Yale Students.

One of the newest such associations is the Turkish Society of Yale Graduate Students and Scholars (TYGS), established in October 2011. When a powerful earthquake struck Turkey only two days after TYGS was formed, the group organized its first event in the form of a fundraiser. The gathering in GPSCY that December drew over 200 people and raised more than $1500, which was donated to the Red Crescent to help victims of the quake.

Founders created the society “to foster a sense of community among Turkish graduates and post-graduates studying at Yale,” says co-president Baran Sarac (Engineering & Applied Science). The group already boasts 60 members. “Our objectives are to represent the rights of current Yale graduate and post-graduate students, voice the concerns of our community to Yale administration, establish a bridge with Yale Turkish undergraduates, strengthen the connections with Yale alumni in Turkey, and reach out to the larger Yale community.”

Later this semester TYGS will screen a recent documentary titled The Turkish Passport about diplomats posted to Turkish embassies and consulates in Europe who saved Jews during the Second World War. In April it has planned a “Turkish Weekend” – a festival of Turkish culture, language, and cuisine.

A highlight of the Turkish fundraiser at GPSCY was a performance by the Yale Belly Dance Society. Founded in 2003, this group includes graduate and professional students, undergraduates, and members of the Yale faculty and staff. This fall it delivered workshops, danced at the Collegiate Middle Eastern Dance Conference at Columbia University, and gave a recital on campus called “Pop, Lock, and Shimmy.” The spring schedule includes a Women's Day workshop at OISS and the fifth-annual “Hips Against Hunger” – a fundraiser for DESK (Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen) – on March 30 and 31 at 8 pm in Harkness Auditorium.

“Something we all really love about this dance form is that it allows us to bond with other wonderful girls at Yale, says association secretary Nicole McNeer (MD/PhD, Biomedical Engineering). “Also, dancing is a great way to stay healthy and fit and happy, which makes me more productive in general.”

According to Nicole, “Belly dance evolved from Middle Eastern folk dances that people would do (and still do) at joyous occasions and parties. The name 'belly dance' was actually coined by the American event promoter Sol Bloom, when he was trying to stir up public interest in seeing the Streets of Cairo exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. While modern belly dance mostly evolved in Turkey and Egypt, with heavy influences from the film industry in the twentieth century, belly dance took on a life of its own in the United States with the American cabaret, American tribal, tribal fusion, and theatrical styles of belly dance. Our troupe performs in a variety of styles: for example, our next show will include Turkish Roma, Egyptian Ghawazee, tribal fusion with swords, American cabaret, theatrical, hip-hop fusion styles, and more.”

“I think the dance is a way of growing into womanhood,” adds the group's president and artistic director Jing Wang (Chemistry). “Many of us have a background in other dance forms, including ballet. I've been told over and over that because ballet is very elongated and precise, it was great for their childhood years. However, when dancers started noticing growth in other parts of the body such as the hips, belly dance really allowed them to embrace those amazing features and wear them proudly.” 

Belly dancers

Current members of the Yale Belly Dance Society, including President Jing Wang (front row, third from the right), gather in Beinecke Plaza. Photo credit: Steve Crosseto of SRC Imaging.

For those who do not want to bare their midriffs, there is the Yale Swing and Blues Graduate Chapter, the Ya-yue Chinese Dance Troupe (dedicated to bringing Chinese folk dance to campus), and the Yale Tango Club, founded by a graduate student almost ten years ago and still going strong.

Not everybody dances, of course. Some students prefer to play their favorite sport or learn a new one. Examples include the Graduate Student Rugby Football Club and the Graduate Learn to Play Hockey Club. A hardy few join the Triathlon Club, which coordinates weekly practice sessions and participates in local multisport races; others tie on sneakers and take to the streets with the New Haven Road Runners.

Some graduate students lift their voices in song. The Citations sang at Matriculation this fall, as they have for the past several years, and the women of Academia Nuts also give regular performances. And for those who like percussion, the Pan Jam & Line Steel Band group can teach you to play.

It is quieter when the Book Club assembles for monthly discussions. Bianca Mercado (History), a McDougal Arts and Culture Student Life Fellow, launched the group this past September. “I've always loved to read fiction, and once I passed my orals, I was able to start doing it again. Re-entering the land of fiction and nonfiction for pleasure was a delight, and I thought maybe other grad students would be interested in getting together once a month and discussing a non-academic book with students from different backgrounds.”

She was right. Book-lovers from political science, chemistry, microbiology, FES, and the Law School are regulars, and new people show up when they are interested in the book under discussion. Bianca tosses out a question to get the conversation going, and then everyone pitches in. So far, they have read Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta, and Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. This month, they are reading Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, a true story about three American survivors of a plane crash in Dutch New Guinea in 1945.

“Graduate students need outlets,” she says. “Our lives can't revolve around work 24/7 or else we'll go crazy. Reading for pleasure is a great way to relax while still learning new things. Having the opportunity to discuss the books with people from different backgrounds is an added bonus.”

Some organizations are based on students’ desire to share their academic interests with the general public. The Yale Student Science Diplomats run “Science in the News,” a series of free, public lectures at the New Haven Free Public Library on topics like addiction, climate change, and artificial intelligence. Diplomats also go into New Haven's public high schools to talk about controversial topics such as the safety of vaccines, genetically modified food, and other newsworthy science issues. The diplomats are not only scientists in their own right, but also advocates for public policy based on good science.

“We are all passionate about science, community outreach, and effecting change on the government and policy level by promoting evidence-based decision making,” says Elizabeth Winograd-Cort (MCDB). To advance that goal, they take an annual Science Policy Careers Field Trip to Washington, DC, where they can “see first-hand the myriad opportunities there are for science PhDs to pursue a career in public service,” she says.

Zwick Winograd-Cort Ramesh

Science diplomats Rachel Zwick (BBS), Elizabeth Winograd-Cort (MCDB) and Sneha Ramesh (Cell Biology) review an advertisement for the spring line-up of the "Science in the News" lectures.

The Healthcare Ecosystem group, International Medical Relief of Children, and other groups strives to promote good public policy relating to scientific issues and provide resources to underserved populations.

Cross-disciplinary groups also thrive at the Graduate School and provide intellectual community and pre-professional activities for their members. The Graduate Consulting SIG caters to non-MBA students interested in careers in management consulting, while WISAY and the Yale Healthcare and Life Sciences Club serve the needs of students working towards careers in the sciences. Finally, a host of religious groups provide spiritual support and fellowship for graduate students in association with the Yale chaplaincy.

When students step out of the library or the lab and seek the company of other intelligent people who wish to pursue similar activities, there are many offerings from which to choose. If a student does not find exactly the club or association he or she wants, there is always the option to create a new one. The McDougal Graduate Student Life office registers, advises, and offers support to new and existing grad student groups.

Above: The Turkish Society held a fundraiser in October to support relief efforts to victims of a devastating earthquake in Turkey last fall.

Below: Yale Belly Dancers Nicole McNeer (MD/PhD), Margaret Gorlin (Management) and Kayla Wright (Nursing) perform at the Collegiate Middle Eastern Dance Conference at Columbia Univeristy. (Photo credit: Xiaoyin Chen)