The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

SHIP to include dental and vision coverage starting this fall

The insurance plan now includes one annual eye exam for all SHIP-enrolled students, though dental insurance is covered only for graduate, international and post-doctoral students.
Emily Gonçalves
Zerfoss Student Health Center, as photographed on Sept. 25, 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

This fall, Vanderbilt will add dental and vision coverage to the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). For the past two years, graduate students have petitioned for both of these forms of coverage.

The plan offers full dental insurance and discounted vision coverage for graduate, international and post-doctoral students. One annual eye exam is included for all students enrolled in SHIP, and undergraduates can opt into dental coverage for an additional fee. Overall, the cost of Vanderbilt’s health insurance has increased over the past year for all students.

The university’s initial announcement about the proposed changes to SHIP stated that they were still awaiting approval from the state government. According to the SHIP website, the changes have been now approved and implemented. 

Vice Provost for Graduate Education André Christie-Mizell and Vice Provost for Student Affairs G.L. Black cited a July 2021 meeting with the Graduate Student Council and a Fall 2021 listening tour as partial motivation for these changes. They shared that they spoke with student organization leaders, including those from GSC and the Organization of Black Graduate and Professional Students, when deciding whether to make the additions. Furthermore, a university representative said a committee was created with students, faculty and administrators to address student health insurance needs and informed the changes. 

“The [SHIP] Committee’s recommended enhancements to SHIP were made after careful consideration of the varying needs of our diverse student population,” a university representative said in a July 28 email to The Hustler.

Students were required to agree to confidentiality of the meetings and their participants as a condition to join due to plans requiring approval before being publicly shared; hence, The Hustler was unable to contact participants. Black told The Hustler that the involved parties were students in GSC, Vanderbilt Student Government and the International Student Council. 

“The members of the Student Health Insurance Plan Committee, which includes students, faculty, and staff, are instructed to maintain confidentiality because the plan design and rates must be approved by the Board of Trust and State of Tennessee before the information can be shared with the wider University community,” Black said in an email to The Hustler.

GSC Treasurer Bill Smith,  a third-year Ph.D student, added that GSC was invited to participate in the next contract negotiation for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic years and was granted a second SHIP committee seat by Black after requesting it. Smith said the GSC made this request due to the expected complications of introducing dental and vision to SHIP contract negotiations.

GSC Secretary Mike Reynolds, a fifth-year Ph.D student, also said he believes efforts by the Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United helped spur the changes to SHIP. In Spring 2022, VGWU circulated a petition calling for dental and vision coverage for graduate students, and GSC voted in Summer 2022 to share the petition with the graduate student body. The university did not mention these efforts as motivation for the changes and declined to comment on them. 

“The petition started by VGWU already had hundreds of signatures when it was brought to [our attention], so it was obvious to the general body that this issue was the one we should immediately focus on,” Reynolds said.

VGWU President Kelly Cunningham said VGWU first considered the idea of the petition over the course of several open meetings in late March and early April of 2022. 

“It became clear through these meetings and conversations with our co-workers that all graduate students were greatly impacted by the lack of dental and vision insurance in our health plan,” Cunningham said. “Those who attended VGWU meetings voted to write and circulate a petition, the first draft of which was written by myself and two other graduate students.”

Cunningham also shared that she believes the petition’s efficiency was due to how it increased awareness of financial hardships faced by graduate students. She said the petition’s circulation helped to remind graduate students that they are not alone in their financial struggles. 

“I have heard GSC referred to as ‘the voice of the graduate student body,’ but we think of ourselves more as the megaphone than the voice,” Smith said. “This issue is a perfect example of how change can and does happen when graduate students work together, collect and share experiences and organize across departments.”

Katrina Ngo (Ph.D ‘23) expressed appreciation for the added coverage.

“I am very happy that graduate students were able to win dental coverage and, thus, have one less financial burden,” Ngo said. “However, there is still more work to be done as grad students fight for more fair wages, and I hope that fight is equally successful.”

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About the Contributor
Emily Gonçalves
Emily Gonçalves, Former Multimedia Director
Emily Gonçalves (‘20) was the Multimedia Director of the Vanderbilt Hustler. She majored in Mathematics and Economics and minored in Latin American Studies. When she’s not taking photos, you can catch this Jersey girl making puns, singing, advocating for girls’ education and drinking lots of chocolate milk and espresso!
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