The old joke goes that graduate students are “paid to read.” It’s true, we read. A lot. But reading is not only what we are paid to do: we are paid to teach and mentor undergraduates; to conduct research for faculty; and to conduct our own research in order to write journal articles, papers for presentations at academic conferences, and, finally, a book-length dissertation. The work we do isn’t just meant to advance our own careers in an increasingly brutal academic job market. Our teaching and mentorship helps Brown make good on its promise of delivering a rigorous, engaged, and collaborative undergraduate education. And our academic work burnishes Brown’s reputation as a prestigious research institution. Far from just getting “paid to read,” graduate students perform much of the intellectual labor that goes on at Brown. We represent a crucial motor that keeps this community running.
But despite all the intellectual labor we do in and for Brown, a question persists: are we workers or are we students? The Graduate School certainly treats us like workers when it requires our labor. But it insists we are students when we demand workplace protections and an institutional voice. We live in a precarious in-between space here at Brown–not quite students and not quite workers–and this insecure position makes us vulnerable to reduced wages and benefits, with little recourse for sexual harassment and assault, and subject to a broader invisibility on campus. We at SUGS, Stand Up for Grad Students, are committed to exposing the increasingly precarious position of grad students at Brown. We argue that the vulnerability we face threatens to impoverish the integrity of workplace democracy, academic freedom, and racial and gender equity within the larger Brown community.
In order to bring graduate education in line with Brown’s stated commitment to “educational leadership and academic excellence” SUGS is launching a multi-pronged campaign devoted to improving grad students’ access to housing, childcare, and healthcare; transforming the ideal of racial and gender equity into a lived reality at Brown; reducing the culture of competition among grad students, exacerbated by the Graduate School’s new measures to push funding burdens onto cash-strapped departments; and delivering transparent, responsible sexual harassment and assault adjudication for grad students on campus. These issues, we believe, are not just important to grad students. They are crucial to making the Brown a healthier and more just community for all who participate and work in it.
We urge you to stand with SUGS and our efforts to make Brown a better place to learn, work, and live for everyone by supporting these demands:
Access to affordable housing, childcare, healthcare, and dental insurance to ensure that all enrolled graduate students are able to research, teach, and contribute without need. Healthy bodies and families are essential for a healthy Brown.
Institutional structures that increase faculty of color recruitment and mentoring for both graduate students and faculty of color. Diversity at Brown should be more than just a buzzword – it needs to be a lived reality on campus.
The Graduate School must abandon its unrealistic five-year model for doctoral degrees and provide all students in good standing advanced funding in order to preserve the noncompetitive ethos at Brown that is so attractive to prospective and current students. It takes between 6 and 8 years to complete a PhD program in the Humanities and Social Sciences, but Brown is increasingly pushing students onto a five-year funding clock despite the fact that our peer institutions regularly allow grads to work for funding beyond their fifth year. Last fall, Yale formally acknowledged the importance of rejecting the time-to-degree speedup by guaranteeing all students six years of funding. We urge Brown to model Yale’s funding structure, in order to foster community, not competition, on campus.
Responsible, transparent sexual harassment and assault protection, training, and adjudication. Sexual protection for grad students makes everyone on campus safer. Tip the balance of power in order to protect graduate students.
SUGS is kicking off the Spring Campaign with a Rally on Housing and Healthcare February 2 (on the Main Green), and will be at the GSC-sponsored Open Forum on Sexual Assault on February 4. We hope you will come to these and future events, and stand with SUGS in our efforts to make Brown a more democratic, fair, and equitable place to live, work, and learn.