We are the graduate students of this university. You know us as your teaching assistants and research assistants. We love what we research, and we love sharing our knowledge with you in the classroom. Given the choice, we wouldn’t do anything different, except, we struggle to survive our education.
We are not given waivers for fees, so for most of us a tenth of our paycheck goes right back to the university at the beginning of each semester.. Our programs may be generous enough to offer us tuition waivers and stipends, but those stipends are middling at best and thousands beneath poverty level at worse.
If you compare our stipends to other state universities you might say they are somewhat comparable, depending on the major, but Gainesville, for example, is not nearly as expensive as Boca Raton to live in. In Gainesville they even have health insurance, but we are not even given subsidized healthcare through the university, and ACA (ObamaCare) coverage is expensive, insufficient, or often inaccessible.
We live at a time when student loan debt is oppressive. Our generation has been shackled by the weight of our debts for an education that our current economy now requires of us, especially if we want to progress in our fields. We fear carving ourselves into deeper holes of debt to get our degrees.
To avoid this, we often work other jobs, sometimes as many as three jobs including our assigned university positions. This leaves us working well in excess of 40 hours a week, all on top of the time spent in class alone. Ask any one of us when the last time was that we slept well.
These conditions are only possible for those of us who are citizens. The circumstances are worse when we are international students and can’t legally get a job outside of the university.
Our education should be a pursuit of academic excellence, not a relative prison sentence. For some of us international students, that becomes the case as life happens and situations change in our country of origin. FAU requires proof of being able to afford the degree before coming, through demonstrating sufficient cash assets in an account before acceptance.
With global unrest, those funds cannot be guaranteed for some of us, and we are left living on pittance, barred from working by our visa status, sometimes left living in overcrowded apartments, cut off from home – all in the name of our degrees. It’s unconscionable to think that people who work so hard for an education would be forced to live lives of relative poverty.
We are not asking for more to enrich ourselves. We are asking for enough to alleviate our pain. Working up to 3 jobs on top of our academic pursuits, living 3 to a 1 bedroom apartment, forgoing trips to see our family, missing milestones and always pushing back our graduation deadline for lack of time – these are the kinds of pain that we live as graduate students.
Our research and labor enrich this university; without us, FAU could not be the #1 university in the state. We believe we should not live in a state of oppression when our work is so important to this school. We stand together as the graduate students of our school to demand better working conditions. After a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in 2015, we are fully considered employees of the university. We call for our working standards to be brought up to conditions at other state universities. If we are supposedly #1, we should have labor conditions that reflect that.
We have outlined our grievances in a business plan that we have already given to the university, and while we have gotten kindness from the administration, emails of verbal support, and suggestions to apply for more scholarships – to which, any chase for a scholarship is more time and labor on a gamble – we have not been guaranteed change.
While we may demand improvements immediately, we know our work will most improve the lives of incoming graduate students, who without the benefits we are trying to procure, will be in the same situation as us.
With better stipends and benefits, we will attract more talent to drive our school’s mission into fruition. We will have undergraduate classes better supported by teaching assistants with ample time to devote to their posts. We will have academic research that upholds the rigor and quality of a world class institution. The better we are treated, the better our school can be represented at the national level. If any of you are considering FAU for your graduate pursuits, it would be wise to help yourself by helping us.
This is why we come to you to explain our situation and ask for your support of our cause. We aren’t asking for much – just what every other university in the state has: a decent annual stipend sufficient for the local area, healthcare provided, fees waived and more representation in student government.
So we ask 2 things of you:
- Sign our Petition. You can find the link on our Facebook page, where you can also see our business plan in detail.
- Come join us for an awareness campaign this Saturday, October 29th, at the FAU Homecoming Football Game. We will be meeting at Sanson Patio at 12:30, wearing white shirts with the phrase #FAUStarvingGrads.