Graduate students walk out to rally for rights
Eric Scott from Coalition of Graduate Workers: “A few personnel changes do not change the fundamental problems of this university.”
Nov. 10, 2015
The MU Grad Rights rally began with a reminder from Coalition of Graduate Workers Co-Chairman Eric Scott that there have been “tremendous shake-ups” on MU’s campus. The announcement of the resignation of both former UM System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin was met with applause from attendees in Traditions Plaza on Nov. 10.
“A few personnel changes do not change the fundamental problems of this university,” Scott said. “Tomorrow, we need to wake up and we need to keep working.”
Scott’s sentiment was echoed by graduate student speakers at the rally, who each had something to add to the ongoing conversation about graduate rights, diversity and inclusion on campus.
Speaker Sarah Senff, a graduate student, encouraged students to continue to speak out against discrimination and exploitation of graduate student workers on campus, even after both Wolfe and Loftin have left office.
“On his way out, President Wolfe said that we stopped listening to one another, but I think we know who stopped listening,” Senff said. “As graduate students, we are in a unique position to continue to create change on this campus.”
While addressing diversity, speakers expressed both admiration and relief for Jonathan Butler, a member of Concerned Student 1950 who recently ended his hunger strike after Wolfe’s resignation.
During his speech, graduate student Timothy Love read aloud a letter of solidarity from the English Graduate Student Association to Concerned Student 1950 that was written before Wolfe’s resignation. Love said the topics in the letter were still relevant.
“President Wolfe’s words are indicative of a larger problem,” Love said. “Systematic oppression exists. Systemic racism exists. They exist in America and on campus.”
Love also proposed MU introduce courses into the curriculum that address racial and sexual injustice.
Speaker and Coalition of Graduate Workers Co-Chairman Connor Lewis then took the stage in support of unionizing graduate workers and providing a contract that ensures better working conditions and dignified work.
“A union can continue to work in solidarity with activists on campus,” Lewis said. “We cannot let the resignation of two administrators let us think that reform will come from higher up.”
The final official speaker was Maxwell Little, one of the original members of Concerned Student 1950, who expressed his appreciation for the graduate rights movement and the group’s part in movements across campus.
“We have something unique,” Little said. “We have unity. That is rare. We must continue this unity for all students on campus.”
Members of the graduate rights movement also received inspiration from Concerned Student 1950.
“Before we even started school we had our insurance taken away,” Busselle said. “I tended to wait to see what my department said before I took any action, but when it came to Concerned Student 1950, I felt the need to move on that very quickly because racism is something that shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.”
The rally concluded with a walk of silent protest from Traditions Plaza through Jesse Hall and to the Columns on Francis Quadrangle.
In the aftermath of Wolfe and Loftin’s resignations, graduate students are looking for improved leadership at MU.
“We are looking for someone who understands the experience of marginalized students, staff, and faculty on this campus,” Senff said. “We are committed to making sure that marginalized staff, students and faculty are involved in the search and hire process.”
Graduate students also said that they do not want a leader who will not focus on business aspects of leading a university as much as diversity and other initiatives.
“Tim Wolfe had no experience in education, he was a businessman, he was brought in to run the university system like a business,” Scott said. “We want an educator, we want someone who when asked the question ‘Do you know what systematic oppression is?’ will have a good answer to it. We want someone who understands the unique culture of colleges and who can actually run them not in a way to monetize it like a startup, but to appreciate it like the public good like it is.”
However, graduate students such as Lewis said they realize that changes to the system may not occur quickly.
“What we need to keep in mind moving forward is that the tide is turning,” Lewis said. “But we know that while the tide is turning, joy comes in the morning.”