Georgetown University’s graduate student union held two separate rallies last week as part of an ongoing campaign demanding the university guarantee health and economic protections for graduate student workers, an effort which union members say has gradually yielded policy changes from the university.
Last Friday, members of the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees held a socially distanced in-person rally outside University President John J. DeGioia’s (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) gated community in the Burleith neighborhood. Members hung posters on the fence near DeGioia’s home highlighting the plights of various graduate workers after the rally finished.
Later in the day, GAGE, joined by members of the Georgetown University Student Association, held a virtual rally over Zoom. The virtual rally featured speakers from both organizations in an attempt to display student solidarity across degree levels to compel the university to action.
“We’re united by a common vision: that Georgetown protects the health, safety and livelihoods of our community when the university is accountable to its workers and its students,” GAGE Vice President Daniel Solomon said at the event.
Advocacy efforts outside of bargaining, such as rallies, will only serve to help GAGE’s current advocacy efforts, as evidenced by GAGE’s first contract negotiations, according to Hailey Huget (COL ’10), one of the founding members of GAGE who spoke at the rally.
“They were really scared of us any time we were able to demonstrate that we held power in numbers,” Huget said. “What can we learn from the election fight today, and what does that fight tell us about how you can make Georgetown feel the heat now so that you can move them to put pandemic protections in writing? The answer is simple. The most important thing that you can do is organize.”
The rallies come after the university and GAGE have held multiple bargaining sessions over graduate workers’ protections for the fall semester. While GAGE has brought several proposals to the university to draft a letter of agreement, the university has reportedly failed to bring any counterproposals to any meetings or negotiate in good faith, according to GAGE.
University representatives claim to have discussed all issues brought forward by the graduate student bargaining team during recent meetings with GAGE and their affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, and have begun adjusting leave, health and other policies accordingly.
“In recent weeks, we have adjusted several policies following consultation with GAGE-AFT,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our changes to these policies reflect a good faith effort to address the issues that GAGE-AFT members have expressed in sessions over the last few weeks. We value and respect GAGE-AFT’s views on these issues, which is reflected in the number of changes that we have made to these policies.”
The university has committed to more flexible leave policies, allowing graduate students to defer university funding for their research to another semester if they feel unsafe returning to campus, according to Solomon. The university has also committed to transitioning international doctoral students from institutional to external funding sources should legal complications prevent them from completing their research, Solomon added.
However, the unclear way in which the university has gone about implementing these changes has created stress and confusion among graduate workers, Solomon claims.
“The administration has publicized neither of these policies, leading to significant uncertainty among members of our bargaining unit and graduate students writ large,” Solomon wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Additionally, it is important to note that these policy changes are empty promises to graduate workers unless they occur in the context of good-faith bargaining towards an agreement with GAGE, a premise which the administration has explicitly rejected to this point.”
The union has reported that many graduate workers are running into unresolved work complications as the semester begins. Some master’s students had their work positions canceled at the last minute, according to Solomon. Some international graduate workers who had been scheduled to teach during the fall semester had been removed from their course’s Canvas page without prior notification from the university only weeks before the start of the semester, GAGE members said during the rally.
While GAGE recognizes their actions are impacting the administration’s response, members are frustrated that the organization has had to go to such great lengths to provoke change, according to GAGE President and doctoral candidate Jewel Tomasula.
“While we know our direct actions are moving the Administration to adjust their policies for the better, it is frustrating that we have to resort to these actions to make them consider our concerns for job security and health protections,” Tomasula wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We expected better of an institution with the motto ‘Cura Personalis.’”