Student Initiatives
13 May 2020

Solidarity that Started with Students

The Graduate Institute Student Association (GISA) has a number of student-led initiatives that give students an opportunity to exchange with one another outside of the academic arena.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has required the Graduate Institute to close its physical campus, two students came up with a novel way to unite the student body. 

The Solidarity Initiative was created by Alexa-Rae Burk, founder and President of the Parents’ Initiative and newly elected GISA President, and Elizabeth Nakielny, President of the Welfare Committee, as a mutual aid system, where students are paired together based on their location in Geneva in order to assist one another. To date, 33 matches have been made with over 100 volunteers and everyone is encouraged to participate, challenging the Graduate Institute’s community to come up with their own creative solutions.  

 “The initiative has grown beyond our sharing economy and into a constellation of other community sustaining initiatives”, said Elizabeth, master candidate in International Affairs. “GISA bought emergency supplies for people in the Picciotto Student House, for example, and students have mobilised to share resources about the best online yoga live streams, local volunteering opportunities with the Red Cross, podcasts, recipes, screenings of award winning documentaries and much more”. 

In addition, students may run errands for their peers, pick up groceries or provide digital support through WhatsApp to share uplifting messages. Some students have even offered to teach a new language, such as French or Mandarin.

For Alexa and Elizabeth, despite organisational challenges at the outset, the peer-to-peer system now runs smoothly. 

“I am very happy with this sharing economy and mutual aid network”, said Alexa, a PhD candidate in International History. “I think the most meaningful impact has been that students have felt less lonely knowing that they have this structure to lean on if they ever need it. This crisis is far from over, and we look forward to following up on new ways to encourage community under the same ethos.”