More than 20 graduate and undergraduate students sat in Rice Hall Thursday morning to press administrators to meet with organizers aiming to start a graduate student union.
The sit-in was part of a push to demand that officials switch their opposition to a graduate union that students said would grant them more affordable health care and better pay. After an hour-long sit-in, graduate students said they were granted a meeting with Provost Forrest Maltzman Thursday afternoon.
Jackie Bolduan, one of the graduate students present at the sit-in, said the meeting will be a productive way to discuss recognizing graduate students as a labor union.
“The goal of the meeting is not just to talk to us as graduate students but as representatives of our labor union,” she said. “We made our point without engaging in other behaviors, which was our goal.”
During the sit-in, Bolduan taught a discussion section for Freedom in American Thought and Popular Culture in the lobby of Rice Hall to about 15 students. Other students, joined by three members of Georgetown University’s graduate student union, sat in the eighth floor lobby outside Maltzman’s office.
The push began earlier this academic year, when graduate students wrote a letter to officials demanding more affordable health insurance and higher pay for teaching and research assistants. But Maltzman responded to the letter refusing to meet, saying graduate students’ relationship with the University is educational, not professional.
Earlier this month, a group of graduate students delivered a box of more than 160 letters to University President Thomas LeBlanc, demanding better health care benefits and pay. The students said they also held protests throughout April at Inside GW events – events when prospective students can visit the University.
Michael Horka, a graduate student who sat in Rice Hall Thursday, said graduate students have been waiting to meet with administrators all year and the latest strides demonstrate that graduate students are “indeed workers, working” – not just students.
“This was the latest in a long series of communications,” he said.
Graduate students at Georgetown University were granted an election earlier this month to determine whether or not they can unionize, after officials initially rejected the proposal.
While graduate students at GW can still submit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to present a case for unionization, the board has historically opposed student labor unions under Republican presidential administrations.
Undergraduate students also attended the demonstration and said the University has been hypocritical to not support graduate students because they struggle with similar issues, like food insecurity, as undergraduates and deserve to be paid a living wage. The students present were mostly enrolled in discussions or labs taught by graduate students.
Junior Izzy Moody said graduate students do most of the “leg work” as teaching assistants, but aren’t provided with adequate benefits in recognition of those services.
“They are not just here as students, they are here as educators and they deserve to be paid as such,” she said. “Right now, they’re not receiving living wages, which is outrageous.”
Parth Kotak and Johnny Morreale contributed reporting.