SUGSE changed its name—what was once Stand Up for Graduate Students is now Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees. We’d like the chance to tell you why, and to tell you our story.
Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees is an anti-racist, feminist, labor organization that advocates for grad worker rights and protections at Brown University. We got our start in spring 2014, when the Dissertation Completion Proposal process was grossly mishandled. Graduate students roared to life in protests outside the President’s house, wore red to work-ins at the Campus Center, and pinned on “5+” buttons at graduation, where the numbers pinned to our gowns made visible the real-life amount of time and funding it takes us, and took our mentors, to obtain Ph.Ds.
So we didn’t tack on the “E”; we just grew bold enough to remove the reservations that kept it hidden from view all along. At the Quality of Life Rally last fall, we told of the unavailability of health care to 7th years, the exorbitant costs in auxiliary housing, and the insufficiency of the childcare subsidy. We also supported other workers at Brown like the library staff, who renegotiated their contracts in the face of significant resistance from the university.
Later, we called out the administration for their failure to recruit and support grads and faculty of color or to offer a clear, meaningful path to students faced with harassment or assault and discrimination. On the Main Green, playing the game of Grad Life, we invited everyone to explore the numerous ways that we could be arbitrarily and repeatedly set back in our careers simply by having full lives, with the usual complexities which adults face: health problems, financial setbacks, the vagaries of publication and feedback models, and having families with needs.
In the spring, we staged the Brush In: we brushed our teeth on the steps of Faunce and marched to deliver bouquets of toothbrushes to the administration. With the efforts of other graduate organizations, we won dental only because we made it harder to deny than it was to provide it. But no matter what Provost Locke says now, the status of dental care remains precarious so long as it is not a permanent part of our funding package.
We know we have a lot of supporters and we are grateful to them. But we need more from our friends who agree with us. We need hands and bodies on the steps, in halls, in lectures, across the campus. We are keenly aware that many feel their status here is too provisional and precarious to rock the boat. Power dynamics are real enough; fear of retribution or a gradual slide out of favor silences many who would ask for smaller sections or more time for their own work. But at SUGSE, we take courage from our history; we have shown that through mutual aid and the anonymity of collective action, we can accomplish together what we cannot alone. We are not a homogenous gaggle of young, or single, or hetero, or childless, or wealthy, or white, individuals. Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees with us!