UMass grad student workers demand more support, plan Sunday drive-in protest  

  • UMass Amherst campus. Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2020 5:19:17 PM

AMHERST — A graduate student worker coalition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is organizing a drive-in protest outside of Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s residence on Sunday as the group petitions for increased support amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the demands are rent relief packages for students without funding, lease flexibility for university housing, a moratorium on evictions, summer funding for all students, and accessible mental and physical health care. 

With many spring contracts about to end for graduate students, “a lot of people are just accepting the fact that in a few weeks they will not have a way to pay rent or to pay for food,” said Anna-Claire Steffen, a Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) representative and doctoral student at UMass. And with travel restrictions and business closures implemented in response to the pandemic, many graduate students no longer have access to their usual sources of summer income or housing, Steffen said.

While there would already be competition for temporary jobs in the area, many businesses that would typically employ graduate students seasonally, such as restaurants, are closed, she added.

Graduate students who live in North Village and Lincoln apartments are also concerned about housing insecurity, Steffen said. The apartments are set to be demolished later this year, and students must leave by May 31 and June 30, respectively. But Steffen says that many of these residents are concerned that the pandemic has made it “nearly impossible” to find a place to rent and worry they will be evicted.

UMass could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon. According to the local GEO chapter, the university’s response to the union’s demand so far was to offer 25% of earned vacation pay to some graduate instructors, which works out to a $75-$150 payout.

The drive-by protest is set to take place at noon on Sunday outside Subbaswamy’s residence on Chancellor’s Drive. Participants plan to honk car horns and hold up signs. 

While UMass depends on around 6,000 graduate students to establish itself as a robust research institution, Steffen said, it risks losing this reputation if it does not support its graduate student workers.

“If graduate students can’t survive here this summer, they’re not going to be able to return in the fall,” Steffen said. “You’re going to have a lot of research that’s going to be lost.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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