As graduate students, we’ve chosen a long and difficult path to stable employment in academia, but we should not accept living in poverty along the way. Unfortunately, issues of diversity and inclusion continue to underlie our compliance with this narrative of suffering for one’s career. Through the lens of class inequality, common tropes about low wages and starvation can be seen to strike a painful chord for many students—especially those disproportionately affected by the financial strain of higher education.
In this talk, I seek to illuminate these issues by sharing my experience as a union organizer at the University of Michigan, focusing on an ongoing campaign toward higher fraction calculations for graduate employees at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). First, I share the story of the event that motivated me to commit to the work of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO). I then detail the fight for pay parity at SMTD, describing past conversations with administration, recent attempts to alter GEO contract language, and plans to continue to pursue equality in the performing arts. Finally, I consider the unjust power dynamic causing the mistreatment of contingent employees.
My work with GEO has taught me valuable lessons about allyship and intersections of race, ethnicity, and class in academia. We must strive for equitable working conditions for all because many of the issues facing early academics today can be distilled into one simple truth: not everyone can equally afford the exorbitant expenses incurred while pursuing a terminal degree.