It’s a strange time in academia. The few jobs that once were available have evaporated into the mist of the Covid-19 pandemic, instructors are regularly facing threats to their health and well-being, and our work seems ever more disconnected from the endless series of global crises in the news. As a graduate worker, it can be hard to understand what our role is in the university and how we can fight to make the systems of higher education more just and equitable for ourselves and those who will follow us. But I believe the organizing of Solidarity Tulane offers one path forward.
Looking back at my time at Tulane, my organizing with Solidarity Tulane was certainly one of the highlights. Through that group, I found meaningful community with other graduate workers, even in the isolation of the pandemic, and participated in a struggle that connected me to other graduate workers across the country as well as to workers of all types here in New Orleans. Solidarity Tulane’s work makes clear that the exploitation of graduate workers is intimately connected to other economic policies: universities’ failure to pay a living wage to all their employees, the ways in which their decisions around health and healthcare affect the larger community, and how such decisions serve to further alienate and exclude marginalized groups, such as students of color and international students.
I’m proud of the Solidarity Tulane campaign I helped develop: fully-funded healthcare for all graduate workers. The university should be ashamed that 4 years after that effort was first launched, and nearly 2 years into a pandemic that reveals the stakes of protecting the community’s health, they have yet to meet that demand. But I do believe that our organizing has resulted in tangible improvements for graduate workers. The elimination of the health center fee and installment fee (a fine levied if grad workers could not pay their entire health premium up front) were significant victories. I also believe our organizing played a real role in the emergency Covid-19 fund that was created for international students in Summer 2020, the School of Liberal Arts’ recent stipend increases, and the guaranteed stipends implemented for our doctoral colleagues in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine this year.
Successful organizing creates a positive political climate and productive results—even if the university refuses to address our core demand directly.
Looking forward, I hope that Solidarity Tulane continues to grow and to be the hub of community that they were for me. I hope, of course, that Solidarity Tulane finally wins their healthcare demand, and, ultimately, are recognized as an official graduate student union. Think of how much we could accomplish if graduate workers had a legitimate seat at the table!
Good luck to all the organizers who continue to push forward this vision and solidarity with all the workers at Tulane.