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Matthew Lee (left) and Greg Callaghan (right). (Photos from Matthew Lee, by Mira Shetty)

Four members have resigned from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly executive board, prompting a special election to fill the empty positions on Wednesday evening.

The resignations placed an unexpected burden on other members of the GAPSA executive board, said GAPSA Vice President Matthew Lee, who is also a fourth-year Nursing Ph.D. candidate. The group planned to fill three positions on Wednesday night, but leaders announced a fourth resignation to members at the special election. One of the three positions up for election was not filled because the students nominated needed more time to think about whether they wanted the position.

Another special election will take place two weeks from now to fill the remaining two of four vacant spots. The GAPSA exec board has 14 positions, according to the organization's website

The elected Chair for Equity and Access, Penn Law student B.J. Courville, resigned within a week of being elected in April. She said the main reason for her resignation was a disagreement she had with Penn's administration, which she said pushed back on her initiative for a pilot program to provide free menstrual products across campus.

Courville said the administration was not cooperating with her on the project, and that the Equity and Access Chair should have a good relationship with administrators.

“After the election and the dust began to settle, I really realized that the administration was such a vital and necessary ally for this position, and they had explicitly told many people that they had no interest in working with me," she said. "I didn’t think it was fair to equity or access or me or my personal mental health to try to buck up against them for another entire year."

The Equity and Access Chair position was not filled on Wednesday night.

Fifth-year sociology Ph.D. candidate Haley Pilgrim said she resigned from her position as Chair of External Affairs last week so she could work on her dissertation in hopes of graduating in six years. Pilgrim served as GAPSA President during the last school year.

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Ph.D. candidate Christian Tabedzki, the former Research Council Chair, wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that he formally stepped down in September because he accepted a fellowship in France for the fall semester. He agreed to stay on board throughout the summer so he could review summer travel grants and relieve other members of his duties before his position was filled.

Dental Medicine doctoral candidate Jose de la Guerra stepped down from the Student Programs Chair in June because of issues with his "work-life balance," Lee wrote in an email to the DP. 

Lee said he believes de la Guerra may have accepted the position because of his previous role as deputy chair of the committee last year, but did not feel he could adequately fulfill the position alongside the demands of his final year of dental school. Guerra did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In April, plans to find an interim chair for the Equity and Access position fell through, Lee said, so he had to split the position's duties between himself and GASPA President Greg Callaghan, who is a fifth-year Ancient History Ph.D. candidate. During July and August, he and Callaghan had to manage the position and reach out to graduate students to fill spots on committees. 

“Since Equity and Access is the committee that generally fills up University Council seats, Trustee committee seats, and other seats on committees that we have that are not just on GASPA itself, it became a little difficult,” Lee said.

Lee said he and Callaghan had to attend additional meetings with administrators and address concerns from students while they collectively filled the Equity and Access Chair position.

Last board, two members of the executive board resigned – the External Affairs Chair and the Operations Chair. 

Despite the number of chairs dropping out this year, Lee attributes these changes to the variety of stresses in the lives of graduate students. 

“I don’t think there’s anything systemic about it or that people just tend to drop out. Things happen in peoples’ lives,” Lee said.

The first special election took place Wednesday evening and was attended by 96 general assembly voters, Lee said. At the end of the night, fifth-year Linguistics Ph.D. student Hong Zhang was elected as the new Chair of Student Programs, and Cell and Molecular Biology Ph.D. student Chris Choe was elected as Research Council Chair. Another special election will take place on Oct. 16 and voters will be electing a new Equity and Access Chair and a new External Affairs Chair.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Greg Callaghan’s first name. The DP regrets the error.

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