Eight graduate students piled into the cramped Graduate Student Employees Union office in The Commons on Valentine’s Day to write Valentine’s Day cards to President Satish Tripathi and Provost A. Scott Weber.
The cards — which were made out of cut-out hearts and red glitter — were emblazoned with various iterations of graduate students explaining what they said was their need for, not want of, a living wage.
One card addressed to Tripathi read, “You don’t work 40 times harder than us,” referencing the difference in salary. Another card read, “You take my breath, every single day, partly because I can’t afford full-time heating and my apartment is freezing.”
Delivering Valentine’s Day Cards to Tripathi has been an annual GSEU tradition for at least “four or five years,” according to Lawrence Mullen, the organization’s president.
While GSEU has won several small battles in recent years, including raising doctoral student stipends, GSEU leadership says those changes are still not enough. Members call for universal $22,000 stipends and the elimination of broad-based fees.
Courtney Fitzgerald, a Ph.D. candidate in the physics department, says the consequences of not providing a stipend or fee elimination are hurtful to her department.
“The big issue in my department is that TA lines are being cut from full-time, where you get full tuition and benefits, to part-time,” Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Spectrum. “Basically, you get maybe a third of the pay and at least half the work… About 50 to 60% of my department are international students, they can’t just get another job because of visa requirements. So, if they get stuck with a part-time job they are bringing home [at most] $10,000 a year. That’s not enough to pay rent, let alone every other expense.”
The Spectrum could not verify these claims.
Michelle Williams, a Ph.D. student in sociology who told The Spectrum that they started using food stamps this semester, wrote cards to Tripathi pleading for stipends to be even across all disciplines.
“I think it is unfair that just because [sociology] is in the College of Arts and Sciences, I am getting paid more than graduate workers in other departments,” Williams said.
In total, Mullen estimated that the union delivered Tripathi and Weber roughly 100 cards from 35 graduate students who trickled in and out throughout the day.
GSEU intended to hand-deliver the cards but when they arrived at Tripathi’s office, he was “unavailable,” the students say they were told.
Tripathi was seen in his office when four GSEU students arrived at the reception desk, but disappeared into a meeting room almost immediately. When Mullen informed the receptionist they were delivering Valentine’s Day cards to Tripathi, the receptionist disappeared into the president’s office for nearly ten minutes before Tripathi’s assistant emerged to collect the cards.
Shantam Goyal, a Ph.D. candidate in English, says Tripathi always seems to be in meetings when GSEU advocates for equal stipends and fee eliminations.
Julie Frey is a senior/news features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Frey is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum. She is a political science and environmental studies double major. She enjoys theorizing about Taylor Swift, the color yellow and reading books that make her cry. She can be found on Twitter @juliannefrey.