Episode No. 3

Episode No. 3: Worker Solidarity in the Grad School Hunger Games

For this special episode, we talk to three grads from the Graduate School of Education. Our guests are facing a situation shared by many around the country: after COVID delayed or derailed their research, the clock is running out on their funding.

About the Episode

For this special episode, we talk to three grads from the Graduate School of Education. Our guests are facing a situation shared by many around the country: after COVID delayed or derailed their research, the clock is running out on their funding. Last year, Rutgers did provide one year grad funding extensions to some grads whose progress had been delayed, but this applied only to those who were already out of funding. Many grads who had funding then, but were still delayed in their progress, are running out of funding now. Up to 200 Rutgers grads will run out of funding on June 30, but the administration has washed their hands of this, instead leaving it to individual departments to fend for themselves. The Graduate School of Education (GSE) is just one case. For this episode’s guests, that has meant that seven 5th-year grads were told they all had to compete for one fellowship. Join us as we hear from them about how they rejected this Hunger Games-style competition and chose to fight together and demand a more equitable solution for each other.

Further Reading & Listening

Read the more about the grad funding issue in Inside Higher Ed, NJ.com, and the Daily Targum.

Read the bargaining update from the session where our unions’ proposals on grad funding were raised, but not addressed by the administration. Click here for updates from all of the weekly bargaining sessions.

Read  the university’s audited 2020–21 financial statement showing that the administration is sitting on “unrestricted reserves” —which the Chief Financial Officer has acknowledged could be used for emergencies—that grew massively during the pandemic emergency in 2020–21 to over $800 million.


Our Guests this Episode are:
Ajua Kouadio
Robin Roscigno
Juliane Bilotta

This Episode of Ru Listening? is hosted by:
Ihsan Al-Zouabi
Heather Pierce
Danyel Ferrari
Dylan Simpson

Produced and edited by:
Jade Stepeney
Danyel Ferrari

Our Research, Production & Publicity Team:
Heather Pierce
Bridget Purcell
Dylan Simpson
Mi-Hyun Yoon

Website & Graphic Design by:
Heather Pierce

Music is from Blue Dot Sessions:
Boston Landing
Cigar Singles
Furano Line
Walking Shoes

A special thanks to the RU-AAUP/AFT for their support.


{intro music up}

Robin: What did they call it? Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss. That should be the GSE’s new motto –

Julianne: Right? “Advancing Gaslight, gatekeeping and girl bossing in education.”

Ajua: for you to make me feel like I have my hand out for you. Trifling,

Ihsan: Hello, hello everyone. My name is Ihsan; I am one of your hosts and this is a special episode of, RU Listening? Mich is away. Hopefully relaxing after passing their quals. And I am joined by the lovely Danyel Ferrari. Danyel take it away.

{music down}

Danyel: Hi, I’m Danyel, I’m a fifth year PhD in Media Studies in School of Communication and Information, and usually editing behind the scenes

Ihsan: Dylan is also joining us. Dylan Simpson, please introduce yourself.

Dylan: Hi, I’m Dylan. I’m also usually behind the scenes editing and researching, and I’m a PhD student in Ecology and Evolution

Danyel: We gotta introduce you, HP. If you’re gonna talk, we have to introduce you, HP. You’ve been on the podcast before and you are our amazing website, graphic design creator. Um, can you, can you say more?

Heather: I’m HP and I’m an adjunct professor of Political Science.

Danyel: And our amazing, amazing member of the pod team. Don’t forget.

Heather: sure.

Ihsan: So. Disclaimer of sorts before we start, we didn’t initially plan for this episode. The episode in the works is centered on our demands: what our demands are, how we get them… but the folks at the graduate school of education, they were just so incredible to talk to. They offered us so many lessons about solidarity, about collectively shouldering risk. It was just too good to cut, you know?

Danyel: (record scratch) so, wait, wait, wait, we should probably back up and explain the situation a little bit more because people might not know what we’re talking about.

Ihsan: The funding problem, the funding problem.

Danyel: Right. So grads at Rutgers, not just the graduate school of education who we’re talking to here and actually all across the country are all facing this problem where, because of archive closings, because people couldn’t get into research sites for ethnographic research, because people couldn’t travel, because people were sick, because of all of the many things that were happening during COVID everybody’s research timeline was slowed down and grads, unfortunately, are not being supported in being able to be funded to complete their degrees.

Ihsan: Right. Even like before the pandemic hit, we were, there was already like rumblings about, how we fund grad students, the trajectory of their programs, what sort of supports they receive, right. And then the pandemic hits and much like in all other social spaces, all the issues that were kind of under the surface bubbled up to the top.

Danyel: I don’t know about your departments, but most of most departments have like a flat level of funding. Some aren’t funded at all

Heather: my path to, to being an adjunct actually started in graduate school with not receiving enough funding. I spent the last several years of graduate school trying to like get by. I already had publications at that point, but I, I was so like down to the dollar, right? Like trying to survive that I didn’t have time to actually build a, a CV that would’ve been competitive for the, very few tenure-track jobs that still still exist.

Danyel: Yeah. The, the unfunded grad student to PTL pipeline is real and it’s something that we’re talking about a lot in the union right now.

Heather: Exactly. And so once I was on that track, I, you know, I teach a, a bigger load than anybody else, there’s no getting back onto it, unless I’m somehow producing research in my sleep. But it, it started in graduate school with not being funded.

Ihsan: so we are now in this space where a lot of graduate workers across the United States have not been able to do their research for the reasons you mentioned Danyel, but nothing is being done to support them. And while this is occurring on a macro level, we are kind of zeroing in, we are giving you guys a case study of one today with the GSE. They’re going to tell us about their cohorts experience throughout these last couple of years. Dealing with COVID, dealing with the university abandoning them, and how they are going to wade through this together.

Danyel: Can you guys introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about what’s going on for you at the graduate school of education?

Juliane: I am Juliane Bilotta I am a fifth-year student at the GSE. I am in the Language Education Department.

Ajua: Hi, my name is Ajua and I am a Doctoral Candidate in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. And I study the history of policing, punishment, and surveillance in public schooling.

Robin: my name is Robin Roscigno. I’m a fifth-year PhD Candidate at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. and we’re here because we are currently in a, push, fight, however you want to put it, um, to, uh, have our funding extended an additional year.

Ihsan: Thank you for those introductions starting from the beginning, take us, take us on a ride. Tell us how this all began.

{music up}

Ajua: Yeah, back in January, we got an email from our grad program director, who’s also my advisor and it was about two sentences long. It looked almost like someone like a lawyer wrote, like said, this is all you can say and it was basically like, we promised you five years of funding back when you were admitted, this is the fifth year. And that is it. You know, good luck and Godspeed.

{audio from the GSE tour video: Welcome to the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. A nationally recognized school of education that consistently ranks among the country’s best…All of us at the graduate school of education are here to support and assist your educational journey}

Juliane: So it was the day after, my proposal defense, January 19th, because my defense was January 18th. And I remember that very clearly because it was the most emotional whiplash that I’ve ever experienced of being like very excited that I finished and then being told, you know, that you’re not going to get funding next year.  

{audio from the GSE tour video: Once again, all of us at the graduate school of education are here to support and assist your educational journey…}

Ajua: Honestly, my initial reaction, I was like on the street, I think I was like walking to the train or something and I was on my phone and I like busted out laughing because I thought it was a joke, like, surely, this cannot be real! Um, not only that, that’s the case that there’s no other information, like a follow up email that says, “Hey, we had to send you that official email, but here’s some information on how you can still get funding.” No, that was it. And that’s everything. Um, and I kind of thought it was like, not a joke, but it was hilarious how ridiculous it was that it was super cold in tone, but also that the proposition itself is absurd. like the last two years didn’t happen. Like, oh, we told you five years, it’s the fifth year as if everything has been normal…

Robin: And we all were like, “uh, what?” so we started meeting with our advisors individually and all of us were kind of told something different. there were seem to be, you know, which is the way of our department is it everything is like a cloak and dagger routine. Like who knows what, who gets what? And none of it is on the up and up. Some of us were told, don’t worry, you’ll be fine. some of us were told, yeah, don’t count on it. So, you know, we all kind of were like holding our breath. I was told that, you know, they were waiting to see how many Dean’s Fellowships they could get. and that they were, you know, cautiously optimistic that they would have enough lines for the fifth years who needed it. So, I didn’t stress then. And so, we get an email on April 28th that says, hello everyone. We have one line, one fellowship, for all of you to compete for and we would like for all of you to send us an essay stating why you should get it.

Julianne: And no personal sentiment…

Robin: Yeah, no, it can’t be personal. We don’t want to know how you’ve suffered personally, just how your research was impacted. And I was told in a private conversation it’s because they never promised to make our lives easy. They only promised to help us with our research.

{audio from the GSE tour video: Once again, all of us at the graduate school of education are here to support and assist your educational journey…}

Robin: I was like, oh, that’s well, heartwarming. Thank you. And they also wanted, this essay to be no longer than 250 words, because how dare I burden them with having to read about our struggles…

Juliane: an abstract, if you will…

Robin: an abstract, we were calling it now it’s time to abstract for your life.

{Rupaul: and now it’s time to lipsync for your life. Good luck. And don’t *bleep* it up…}

Ihsan: Okay, so let’s back up a bit. As y’all know we and folks across the nation, across the globe really have spoken at length about the sort of obstacles that grads have faced since the beginning of the pandemic. But there’s more context to consider? Those impacts, they’ve been, they’ve been varied though, right? Funding lines are different between stem and the social sciences. Uh, you have one dean that’s willing to go to bat versus another one that isn’t, there are discrepancies to consider, but there’s also childcare, there is loss of employment of a partner, there is loss of loved ones, there’s so much to consider. And the folks over at GSE, they’re going to tell us a little more about what their cohort have been dealing with. .

Robin: COVID obviously made inequities just so much more visible. I am a parent I’m disabled. I have a disabled child. I was homeschooling my disabled child for the last two years. Which took up a lot of my time. Right. I still managed to get some pubs out. I still managed to do some presentations, but I, I was busy. It was my daughter’s kindergarten, first and second grade years. Like, I mean, those are big years. It’s not like I could be like, you know, go hang out by yourself. She was five. So she was on top of me. So, like, what do you want me to do? The other thing is that I do archival research. The archives were closed. I cannot go inside of them. , so how was I supposed to do this research when the space that I need to do it was physically closed? How, when I’m homeschooling an autistic five-year-old and the archives are closed, am I supposed to finish on time? Please explain.

Juliane: For me. I do ethnographic research in schools. I wrote, and I know this, like takes away people’s breath. I wrote two dissertation proposals before I wrote a third one that I actually had pass. Because two of the projects, the first project that I was on was a grant with the DOE and that fell through because the program wasn’t running during COVID. The second one, was it just, it didn’t work out because they couldn’t get into the schools and I couldn’t get approval. Um, it was gonna take too long. And then the third one, I ended up not even working in a K-12 settings, so completely changing all of the research that I’ve done in the last five years. Everything that I, like, did my qualifying exams on everything, changed it to do research at the university that I, uh, adjunct at. How was I supposed to, be in schools for two years, doing ethnographic research; I do linguistics. And then now that I’ve had to change my research, it’s going to obviously take more time and I’m not going to have publications because I had to changed my research three times. Right? It’s not going to happen. I don’t have data. I don’t have anything to, I’m not, I don’t do like theoretical work, I do qualitative research. How was I supposed to get that done in two years? And the, you know, idea that like, “well, you should’ve thought…” Like, what should I have thought about what should, how could I have anticipated that? How could I have fixed that when there literally weren’t schools open. And, you know, people have said to me, “well, you could have done a different dissertation or done one that’s theory based”… That’s not going to get me the job I want. So no, I can’t do that. Thank god, the advisor that I work with and the people that I work with have guided me to a dissertation that I love and I’m really passionate about, but it took a long-ass time to get there -um, because the schools weren’t open.

Ajua: I’m not going to be like, “this is how it impacted me logistically, but not personally” as if those are two separate things, *bleep* off. I seriously reject that idea. Right? It’s like, no, this thing impacted all of us, including you person asking me this ridiculous question, including you Dean, including you, Jonathan Holloway. Right? And like what you need to do, I think as a matter of integrity, is stop and acknowledge that. For real!  This is profound. I really want to keep reiterating that because I’m like a million people in this nation alone have died. We are in a pandemic, in a pandemic. If everyone would have taken pause from the roota to, the toota top to bottom, and said, “yeah, we’re still in this.” Right, then we wouldn’t have to be fighting for our lives here in terms of like finishing these, these degrees like that. To me, the notion of that, I’m like, you need to be reminded. I remember when a hundred thousand people died and the New York times and publish that big front-page thing, I have that right on my desk. And I’m like, no, we’ve hit a million people over a million people. And people are pretending like, things are normal. This is not normal. You had nothing like this happened when you were in graduate school or undergrad or elementary school or high school…all of these kinds of multiplying, like pandemics, essentially: police violence, racism, Trumpism, MAGA-ism. It’s like all of this stuff is one thing and then the threat to your life from an invisible virus, right? It’s like, no, actually I just reject this idea that my academic self is separate from any other self I’m oneself, one person

That’s why I just keep being like, no, everybody stop for a second. Like, you want the terms of the discussion to be about logistics and I’m like, *bleep* you. You can’t talk about like, “well, were the archives closed?” Well, the archives were closed and then they were open, but I didn’t have a vaccine. I wasn’t able to get a vaccine yet. I wasn’t allowed to get it yet. So am I supposed to get on a train or a bus or a plane and go to Boston or go to Wisconsin and just like risk it all? Like, what are you saying? What is the suggestion?

 {music up}

Ihsan: So having come to this point, we asked them, “how did y’all handle this?”

Robin: So we are really close and, all of us are activists in our real lives and we like our group texts was like…

Juliane: It was, it was, so it was so quick. We were on the phone as soon as all of us got the email, it was a a state kind of agreement of what was gonna happen and how we were going to deal with it because we were all so incensed. We all had this moment where we were like, okay, “are we gonna do this?; I don’t wanna do this; this sucks that I have to do this.” And then it was immediately like, “we’re not doing this.” It was a very quick switch, like in unison, we all at the same time were like, “we’re not doing this.”

Robin: So, we talked about it; we decided that we would write something collectively, basically telling them why we’re not writing it. So we worked together, we wrote this letter, outlining one, why this was ridiculous, heartless, cruel. You know, all of the things that we think it is. And then also highlighting, as a cohort, how accomplished we are, how much we’ve actually done during COVID right. We have this, it’s like, we’ve been busy, busy, busy, busy. We’ve been publishing, we’ve been presenting, we’ve been doing like all kinds of like grant funded research. I mean, we’ve been really like doing stuff. It’s not like we’ve just been hanging out for three years, you know?

Ajua: We worked. And it didn’t just mean grading papers. It didn’t just mean like showing up to the zoom class. It meant turning your home into an office, into a classroom. It meant having people see into your home (laughs). What work is has really changed. and I’m very clear that I do my part and I pull my weight so for you to make me have to make a case for myself, that is ridiculous. Or for you to make me feel like I have my hand out for you. And I’m like, no, we are keeping this place afloat! Graduate students! I am very clear, right? If I just think about how many undergrads I’m teaching, mentoring, graduate students, I’m walking through a, B and C. We are keeping the university afloat. I am so clear on that. There is not this idea that I need to beg you for something that I’ve already worked for. So, I think for us as a group, we all know what we’ve experienced, right? It’s not, it’s not kind of the, mum’s the word that’s like kind of wall of shame, graduate students have where it’s like, “oh, I actually did all of this transcribing for this person for free and I’m going to keep that to myself.” We’re always kind of like in the group chat complaining about whatever and somebody else in there was like, “this is an injustice…” So I think we were all really clear about what our labor, our person, our presence in the GSE means to the GSE. Even if that labor is invisible to a lot of people, I know that it exists. I know that I’ve done it. And so, I think so many of us were like that. We’re like, we’re not, we’re not doing this.

Robin: So we put together this, this, you know, kind of strongly worded letter and we all sent it. We schedule sent it at the same time. We just put in the email body, please see my, application attached below. So they would get the pleasure of opening, like the same letter, six times.

Juliane: We also copied like faculty members on it so that they would receive it as well.

Robin: So, it went out to like a small group of faculty members first. The ones who were either our advisors or we had had as teachers; we kind of sent it to like the people we knew first and the people who have decision-making power. Then, we started meeting with the union. The union was very supportive. We got a couple of very supportive responses, from some of the faculty. And then our PhD Director who is also my advisor, emailed us back and basically said, “I’m away on vacation, but we’re going to put this on pause until I get back, so I can meet with the Dean and talk about it.”

Juliane: “This has been planned for six months, so we’ll talk about it when I get back…”

Robin: Yeah. I was like, we love, we love, we love boundaries, enjoy. Um, but when you get back, it’s on. So some of the things that we were thinking of is like going up against a powerful institution, there’s not a lot of things that we have that they want, right. We’re were frankly kind of disposable to them. But some of the things they do care about are their public image, being annoyed, and having to open all of these emails. But primarily they care about how it makes them look. Not actually like, you know, us as human beings.

Juliane: Especially the GSE whose tagline is…

{audio form the GSE tour video: “advancing excellence and equity and education”}

Juliane:  this move of making a bunch of like multiply marginalized, different students that are disabled students that are first gen college students… it’s not a good look for equity.

Robin: And even with this funding thing, we found out that other people were told “don’t even bother writing the essay, cause you’ll be fine. And guess who it was, you want to take a guess?”

Juliane: What do you think that demographic was?

Robin: What demographic. Do you think the one person who was?

Juliane: Gimme a character profile.

{record scratch}

Dylan: Spoiler. It was a white guy.

Ihsan: That explicitly though, like that in your face?

Juliane: Yeah, the one person that they were like, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I think Robin was like, boy, you’re a good old boy. Yeah. He was the one that was promised funding and then a Black student and a Latine student did not receive the email at all.

{music up}

Ajua: I personally, have a disdain for the idea that me as a Black woman, as a graduate student, as someone who lives in urban center, um, who grew up without many resources, like, I just really reject the idea that I need to be begging and pathetic to be deserving. I reject that idea. This is something that is owed to us. We have survived this madness. This university has a $4 billion budget just for next year. They can fund us. They’re not paying us CEO salaries anyway. If any of you have any kind of integrity, right, you’re not getting people off their health insurance, you’re not putting people in a position to try to pay to finish. It’s just despicable. So it’s like you have it, just do it. There’s an acknowledgement, right? That research has interrupted that progress can be interrupted because these faculty members can get tenure clock extensions. Now we’re telling you very specifically, as a group of employees, essentially, fellows, TA’s, GAs, et cetera, that we also need more time and you all are telling us to figure it out. I’m like, what kind of practice is that, right, for one group of employees to get the benefit that you feel they’ve earned and the other group to not get the benefit, even though it’s the same thing. Um, so yeah, it’s embarrassing and it’s shameful. Um, and like, it really shouldn’t take all of this argument and, and back and forth, to get something like funding extensions done, it’s really despicable of the university. Despicable.

{music down}

Robin: So we, the things we chose to do are really mounting around kind of, political, and public pressure, keeping that on so they are aware that we have reach and that this is going to reflect negatively on them, that people are going to know that when they’re talking about “advancing equity in education,” it means everybody but us. So, these are the things that we’re doing right now. We plan this town hall, we also created a petition, to student and faculty inside the GSE. So that was the first thing we did. We’re trying to kind of escalate the pressure, right. So we kind of were like, you know, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go as big as we’re going to probably have to, but I’ll give you a chance.

We sent this petition internally to all of the faculty and all of the PhD students. We have, I think like 80 signatures on it, including a lot of the full-time faculty that are supporting us, internally. We sent that around to everybody, to the Dean, for them to kind of see that, like, this is not popular even internally. Right?  A lot of the faculty were like, we had no idea that this is how this was handled and we’re horrified like…

Juliane: yeah, we had a couple of faculty members, that have been so supportive of us and kind of showed us the ropes of what to do with the GSE, so we’re super grateful for them because they are, they, they immediately were copying the Dean on emails, saying how proud of us they were and how much they support us. And that petition seemed to be the moment where things kind of flipped because then we got some pushback from some faculty as well. And that was the moment when people are like, “wow, you guys are getting really loud,” right? Like that was the moment when people actually started to, because it wasn’t just a cute letter anymore, right? Now it was like a petition. And they could see that when we said we will escalate this to whatever means necessary, we meant it.

Robin: We’re not, we’re not, we’re not playing, what do we have to lose? Even if we lose, we’ll be exactly where we started.

Juliane: Right. For a lot of us, it’s like, I literally have an income and health insurance to lose. What could you possibly take away from me? Other than that?

Robin: We’re already losing it.

{Audio from the Hunger Games: If you think for one second that the capital will ever treat us fairly, you are lying to yourself. Because we know who they are and what they do. This is what they do. And we must fight back. I have a message for president snow. You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground. But do you see that fire is catching? And if we burn you burn with us.}

Robin: We got to just do what we got to do. I grew up poor, I’ll figure it out, but I’m never ever going to replace the relationships that I have with my cohort. Ever. Um, and there’s nothing I would do that would sacrifice that, these will be like lifelong connections of mine and friends of mine and to fight my friends for like this, for what 20K? Like get outta here.

Juliane: I think the moment that we switched as we first, we thought about like, what if we don’t get it right, the essay thing, what if we don’t get it? And then we were like, “what if we do?” And I think that was to us a little, a little more of the turning point, because to me, I was like, what if I don’t get it? And that’s a panic moment, but what if I do? Then that means that my colleague who has like, literally supported me when the institution has failed me, the people that have rallied around me in the worst moments of my life at the GSE, I mean, I’ve had horrible things happen in the last five years that include family loss and chronic illness and surgery and emergencies. And the people that were there and the people that supported me were the four people that they were asking me to essentially take food and health insurance away from if I won it. And I think the winning part for me was like, oh no, this is gross. I can’t do that. Nope, not today. Not today, tomorrow the next day.

Robin: Nope, never. So the next thing we did is the town hall you know, so we, we escalated it in, within the department and we haven’t gotten a response. And so, we escalated it out of the department. And so now , we’re kind of escalating it outside of Rutgers because this is honestly embarrassing for them. I’m a very like. Watch what they do, not what they say. This is a watch. What they do moment. Do you care about this for real, for real? Or is this a chip that grants you kind of academic and social capital, that you can market yourself with? If you truly care about equity, then let’s see it.

Juliane: I think also it’s, a condemnation of how academia works in general and I think. Making that visible, hopefully, that mobilizes other graduate students that feel disenfranchised because a lot of times, like we’re burnt out and we’re tired and we’re already dealing with the impact of the weight of the things that happened to us in academia. Our labor is being exploited and we’re tired and burnt out and they rely on that so that we don’t make a fuss. And I think it’s important to see that, you can make a fuss and it takes solidarity with your other graduate students, more than anything, graduate students when they’re loud, make noise…

Robin: They want us to be a bucket of crabs. They want us to pull each other back into that bucket so nobody gets out, because they can’t get out of each other’s way. And they can’t realize that, like we can all get out of this. We actually could, if we just work together, the idea that we’re all competing for these scarce resources. I mean, yes, but also, we don’t do the same kind of research. we’re not all competing for the same job. there’s more than enough money to fund all of us.

{Audio from the Hunger Games-Haymitch: Remember who the real enemy is!}

Ajua: We’re not going to fight each other and we’re not going to sit here and act like we’re shaking a tin cup at you.

{music up)

Ajua: So it’s not just that, like we have to fight over a crumb. There is no crumb, there is a whole loaf of bread over here.

Juliane: the idea of, we did it that way, so they should do it that way doesn’t fly with us. And I think that’s a really important point for graduate students, especially in their first and second years to realize is that you do not have to suffer because somebody else suffered. That’s not a thing.

{music down}

You should be constantly trying to advance and, make your situation better because it’s a domino effect. There are students behind me that are going to need help and to think about them having to do this fight too, is something that bothers me because it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not just a matter of me not being disillusioned. It’s a matter of other people not being disillusioned so that they can change things, permanently. So that it’s not this old guard sentiment that you can never change anything in academia. Well, you can, you can. And that’s okay. It’s okay. You have to be loud and you have to be willing to be called mouthy and bossy, and to have people question your… everything and make you feel like you are in a position of having no power. And graduate students don’t have a lot of power. It’s true. But one thing that you do have is the ability to organize with other grad students and yell, like that’s the one thing that you do have.

{music up}

Ajua: I think that it’s coming a lot from people who have, job security. They do not understand the weight of what it means to be in a precarious economic situation. So, I’m like, no, just listen to what we’re saying. What we’re saying is you need to fund everyone who would like to continue. That’s not a radical idea. It’s not offensive. It’s not an insane prospect. That makes sense. You have the means to do it. You lack the will.

Danyel: Yeah.

Ajua: Triflin…

Danyel: the university made they’re like our endowment is bigger, now, than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. They are fine.

Ajua: I think what they want to happen is for all of us to not need the money, but still finish. Like not receive the money and to just like scratch and survive and struggle and like drag our bleeding carcasses over the finish line on our own.

Danyel: And not talk about it.

Ajua: Grin and bear it. And I’m like, no, y’all are dead ass wrong. This is straight up labor exploitation. There’s no other way for you to get this experience. Expertise credential. You got to make a deal with the devil. There’s no other way to do it, right. I don’t have to buy into the legitimacy of the place. I don’t have to do that in order to go here and get a degree. and I venture to say, no one has to do that. Not a dean, not a grad program director, not a tenured professor. Right? You can use the resources of the university to make progress in a field to contribute something to humanity, but you don’t have to believe that the university is a just institution. It’s not.

And you can understand the ways that injustice manifests and do what you can to block, stop, run interference on that. And that’s kinda my call to everybody involved.

{music up}

Ajua:  these universities are built on stolen land. They exploit the labor of graduate students of low-wage workers. All of that stuff is true. So when you have an opportunity to do right by a constituency, do it. Like what can you do within that institution to help people survive it, to help people thrive in it. That’s a request we’re essentially making a people of Jonathan Holloway of our deans of our grad program director is how are you going to run interference on that?

{music down}

Juliane: The other thing that I think is really important is to like, if your school doesn’t have a union push to get, to get a union and go to schools that have unions. I chose Rutgers because it had a union because of my master’s program and the horrifying, I mean, I could talk for hours about the horrifying abuse that I saw for graduate students, in a Southern, public college public university. And it’s unchecked, students with children on food stamps, living in like four to a one-bedroom apartment because they make $11,000 a year. That was my salary in my master’s program was 11,000 a year. I also think it’s an important point that the union is, definitely helping us in ways that probably, if we weren’t unionized, it wouldn’t be available.

Robin: It’s important for us all to stand together. But I also don’t want to make the point that this is the only way or that everyone needs to shoulder risk, equally. There are people among us that can’t take on the risk that we can. So, we do have folks in here who are, immigrants who have visas who were like, “we’ll stand with you!” And we were like, “okay, hold on. Let’s think about this. Do we need that? And let’s make sure you’re safe first.” In the true collective, right, it’s that we balance who can take on what risk. And who’s going to stand in front and who are we protecting? And that has to be a kind of fluid conversation. You know, I’m a citizen here, I’m white. I’m married, I have health insurance, so I can push harder in some ways than other folks can, and I’m okay with that. And then they do other stuff.

 {Audio from the Hunger Games: I volunteer as tribute. I believe we have a volunteer. You need to get out of here. You need to get out of here.}

Juliane: And we’ve constantly been checking each other on that too. Like, are you okay with your name being on this thing? Do you want to be part of this? Because we recognize that we have different points of privilege and different points of access.

Robin: We’ve also been really trying to make sure that, we don’t ever send an email from one individual. Like we needed to send the petition. And we were like, “who’s going to send it?” Because we don’t want to give them an opportunity to pick one of us off. So, whoever sends the email they may be like “you’re subject to disciplinary action. Ha, ha.” Um, right. So we really trust each other to protect each other. And so we came up with another solution. We got a faculty member who’s retired to send it for us.

Juliane: The baddest, the baddest baddy that ever badded. We love her…

Robin: snaps for her. When you’re organizing with people trust and safety are something I think we don’t talk about enough in organizing because it’s not glamorous. Right. We all want to be like, “can you hear the people sing,” but also maybe that’s not your role to be the person waving the flag, right? Maybe your role is to be kind of in the background, just making sure that everybody is safe and, like, hydrated, Just because you can’t shoulder a certain amount of risk doesn’t mean that your role is not extremely important.

Everyone thinks organizing is just like yelling about stuff on social media. And like, that’s not what organizing is. It actually is a deeply, like, intimate and kind of spiritual process of like making sure that everybody is okay. And making sure that the risk that we’re shouldering is distributed, in a way that makes sense in a way that is best for the collective, but also affirming the identities and concerns of everybody who’s in it. Um, and that’s something that takes a lot of like talk and negotiation and, and, you know, that’s not glamorous, right. But it’s the constant like checking with each other so we know that none of us are gonna get picked off. Like none of us are going to cave. Right. We’ll come to each other first.

Juliane: And that’s a testament to just the five of us having worked together for so long and being in solidarity with one another and being friends in real life, like helps, you know, because we know each other’s different struggles and points of strength. Um, so I think that’s important. And I think like, just, uh, just to like wax poetic, they throw us into the dark and forgot that when people are in the dark, they adapt and they, and we found each other, right.

Like we found each other and we banded together. So you could throw us to the dark but the part you forgot is that people adapt to the dark and they come back stronger.

Ajua: Part of our solidarity, was just being very clear about who we are in the university. And, and I know that everybody doesn’t have access to that because part of the process of graduate school unfortunately, is to grind you to dust, right? To get you to think about every insecurity that you have: “I’m not moving fast enough. I didn’t publish enough.” And to kind of get you to psych yourself out, we definitely had people who were like, “oh, I’m not included. Or like, oh, that doesn’t involve me.” And I’m like, “are you a graduate student that needs more time to finish?” Then it includes you.

All of these narratives that people say, well, we never promise to help you. First of all, I’m not even dealing with you as an individual. This isn’t your money. It’s not your money, it’s not your call. Right. And so don’t tell me what the university told me it was going to do. There’s no other way for me to get this credential. And so, it’s, they are obliged to, to get me to the finish line. We kind of had a stronger sense of place, like what we were to that place. And it was a, it’s a fight to not fall into the trap of like, you know, “I’m not good enough. I didn’t produce enough. I’m not the star person. I didn’t get the outside funding. I got rejected from these grants. I got rejected from this conference.”

The interesting thing is every grad student says that. Somebody else needs it more. Somebody else needs it more. Somebody else needs it more. I really wished that more people, more graduate students could see all of that, grinding you down. And that, like, that kind of process is really just about labor exploitation. If you feel bad enough about yourself, you’ll work harder. If you feel bad enough about yourself, you’re not gonna be in solidarity with other people because you’re too embarrassed about what they’re doing better than you or what you perceive them to do better than you. It’s really an issue of esteem. I’m really lucky to have this crew of friends who’s also a crew of activists who is also a crew of scholars who are just like, this is ridiculous. I’m really happy to have that, understand that that’s a real resource, a real blessing. And I really want other people to have it too and if they don’t have it in their departments, then they can just join our crew.

{music up}

Robin: This is like a mirage. That’s what they don’t want us to know. And for people that are listening to this, that aren’t at Rutgers, or maybe, aren’t, connected to this particular issue. I think the point still stands is that collectivity is the way out. This individual fight to the death, it’s a tactic of, of institutions, of white supremacy that they use to isolate and scare you, that you can’t fight back. The fighting back is actually, in connection with other people. That’s where the true strength lies.

Ihsan: All right, folks, that is our show. Thank you so much for trusting us with your time. Please visit our website or email us to learn more about how to get involved.

You can also subscribe to, are you listening wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was hosted by me. Ihsan al-Zouabi. Danyel Ferrari and Dylan Simpson, as well as Heather Pierce. Shout out to Mich. We hope you are having a fantastic time in Italy.

We are incredibly, incredibly humbled to be in camaraderie and in kinship with the people that you guys heard in this episode today. We have experienced the hard few years and the only way out of this is together. Love one another furiously, and please join us for our episode next time. Thank you.