I'M GOING ON STRIKE.
When I chose to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign around this time last year, I never envisioned that I'd be fighting for what was once the most important consideration of my graduate school decision: a guaranteed tuition waiver.
At first, the possibility of striking was incredibly daunting. Sitting in my shared office, I'd stare out the window toward the quad, endless questions fighting for attention in my head: Should I strike? Should I not? Who else is going to? Is my building getting picketed? If it gets picketed, will I be able to go to my courses? What if the strike last longer than a week, two weeks, a month? How am I supposed to support myself? What about my students or my progress towards my M.A.?
After a little while, and repeated questions to the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), I became...not comfortable but accepting about the need to strike.
Let me be blunt: TAs are f*cking poor!
A few short months ago, graduate students across the USA were outraged at the idea that Congress would even consider taxing tuition waivers as income. It was ridiculous because, to many of us, tuition waivers do no constitute "money" but rather represent an exchange of labor for opportunity. How can you tax us for money we never see? was the argument and while the proposal was eventually dropped, the fear still lingers in the back of my mind. What would I do if I didn't have this waiver tomorrow?
I've worked to damn hard to get where I am to let anyone take it away from me now.
And if I am being completely honest, I don't understand why there is even a question about whether waivers should be guaranteed or not. The university wants to claim that they want flexibility, to be able to adapt to the needs of the future, but I call bullsh*t on that. What about our value? As both teachers and students? In terms of stipend, we get paid significantly below the US poverty level. We don't complain about it because we all know we couldn't afford going to graduate school otherwise. We are told we shouldn't work more than what is required by our TA/GA contract, but come on! Teachers have been working overtime since the beginning of the profession for good reason. We want our students to succeed and sometimes that means extra planning and grading, unexpected emails and student meetings. Its inevitable. Ultimately, replacing us would cost the university so much more than just giving us the guaranteed funding. WHY IS THIS MATH DIFFICULT?
Another thing that has been on my mind a lot lately as the strike approaches:
The world is watching and waiting for the domino effect.
We've seen time and again, especially in the last decade, how prone to repeated tragedy and inaction the USA is. Whether it is the needlessly violent killings of innocent black men by law enforcement or the mass shooting incidents happening in places we once deemed scared (schools, concerts, you name it), it is not far-fetched to believe that the verdict of the GEO contract will undoubtedly impact many universities across the country. I don't want other students to ever have to experience the level of uncertainty and stress the last few weeks have brought.
That being said, it hasn't been all bad. The solidarity of this movement has brought so many of us TA/GAs closer. Knowing my office-mates and many of my friends within the TESOL program are going to be standing beside me come Monday morning feels like draping a warm fleece blanket over myself on a freezing winter morning. I'm also setting an example for my ESL students, many of whom intend to go on to become TAs themselves, that they have the right to make their voices heard.
Some pictures of me and some of the places I've seen! I'm not a professional photographer so don't expect anything grandiose!