Graduate students to deliver roughly 300 Valentine’s Day cards to UB President Tripathi
Students send cards as part of Living Stipend Movement
Graduate students protesting their stipends will send 300 Valentine’s Day cards to UB President Satish Tripathi’s home on Feb. 15, according to Ph.D. student Willis McCumber, the media coordinator for the Living Stipend Movement.
Graduate students said the cards contain messages about what they could afford to do if UB paid them "living stipends."
Each card starts with the message “We love our campus and the work we do, but we’re heartbroken that the university doesn’t love us back. On average, you make graduate employees pay back 10% of our hard-earned salaries to the university for fees.”
The cards go on to say, “If you eliminated my fees and paid me a living wage I would ... ” and includes fill-in-the-blank lines for students to write their thoughts.
The students wrote what they would do if they had a "living wage," including being able to “focus on research,” “pay for health bills,” “quit the two other jobs I work” and “be proud when forced to identify with UB in my research.”
Other SUNY schools, including University at Albany and Stony Brook University, are also participating in the campaign, and sending Valentine’s Day cards to their school presidents.
The card campaign is a part of the LSM, which is an organized effort by graduate students to raise graduate TA stipends.
“It began because of the day-to-day experiences of graduate students living with insufficient funds to just break even, I’m talking about a subsistence level, not about saving money,” said McCumber.
McCumber said LSM disagrees with the upper-level administration’s argument that stipend raises should be addressed at a departmental level.
“That is one of our major fundamental disagreements. What that effectively does is that it translates to a kind of threat to departments,” McCumber said.
Ph.D. student Melanie Lacan, from the anthropology department, said she thought the Valentine’s Day campaign was “great” and the decision to send the cards to Tripathi’s home address made it more “personal” to administration, just as the stipends made the movement “personal” to graduate students.
“To us, it’s completely personal. The university does not work if we're not there. And it's impacting our lives,” Lacan said.
“Mobilizers,” students who are a part of the Graduate Student Employment Union and are “advocating for the needs and rights” of fellow graduate students, are collecting the cards, according to Hannah Stokes-Ramos, a Ph.D. student in the geography department.
Stokes-Ramos said being a mobilizer also allowed her to understand “how it affects [her] fellow TAs not to have a livable stipend,” and that she hopes to receive Valentine’s Day cards from all the TAs in her department.
Mobilizers will be collecting the Valentine’s Day cards from their departments and then sending them to Tripathi’s home address, rather than having TAs do it themselves, according to McCumber.
McCumber said he hadn’t yet written his own Valentine’s Day card, but had a pretty good idea of what it was going to say.
“It would probably say, ‘I wouldn't be in the living stipend campaign, I wouldn't be spending all this effort doing this political work,’” McCumber said.
McCumber said he believes this particular campaign alone will not change graduate stipends.
“This kind of thing alone is not going to make President Tripathi do the right thing, but we just have to keep trying everything we can,” McCumber said.
McCumber still said he’s happy with recent developments in the raising of stipends. He said he felt encouraged by the resolution introduced in the Faculty Senate meeting on Feb. 6, which stipulated that 11 million dollars be raised in order to increase graduate stipends.
Tanveen Vohra is the co-senior news editor and can be reached at email@example.com