The tactics and language of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization all too often seem to say, “Either you are with us, or you’re against us.” Given that stark choice, we, like many undergraduates, have seen little option but to choose the second category.
That is a shame, because GESO’s message, if not its medium, may be worth our attention. Granted, we disagree with GESO’s central platform that graduate students should unionize. But we also believe the organization has at times raised legitimate concerns about how Yale operates. GESO is right, for example, to say it is embarrassing that Yale’s tenured faculty includes only one black female professor. The group (like Yale’s administration) has admirably spoken out against the disgraceful visa policies that limit the ability of foreign students to study in the United States. And GESO has common cause with undergraduates frequently unsatisfied with a TA system that serves neither graduate students nor us as well as it should.
But GESO’s approach — and principally, its insistence on portraying the University and its defenders as greedy reactionaries — has done little but alienate many in the Yale community who might otherwise be sympathetic to its grievances. Through tactics like street theater and sensationalistic protest, GESO often appears to simplify complex problems into a black-and-white battle between the forces of progress and backwards Yale. And when this lens is applied to every issue, whether it be Yale’s relationship to New Haven or its policy on child care, it becomes hard to take any of GESO’s concerns seriously.
We have been sympathetic to past grievances raised by Yale’s established unions, and we believe that students should have an active voice — free from intimidation — in pushing for positive changes on campus. But as undergraduates, we find the constant demonization of Yale hard to stomach — in large part because we assume that graduate students, like us, decided to apply for much-coveted spots at this University both freely and consciously. If GESO’s grim portrayal of Yale graduate student life were entirely accurate, we couldn’t imagine why anyone would come to New Haven in the first place. Especially given the apparent unwillingness of many of GESO’s peers — particularly in the sciences — to ally themselves with the group’s agenda, GESO’s characterization of Yale comes across as disingenuous.
The unfortunate thing is that graduate student life here, like in the rest of American higher education, has plenty of room for improvement. We are as frustrated as GESO to see, for example, sections where the TAs are poorly trained in the subject they are expected to teach. But the lack of diversity among tenured faculty nationwide or the weak job market for Ph.Ds in many subjects are challenges without simple solutions or easy culprits. And for GESO to suggest otherwise accomplishes little, wasting any opportunity to build a consensus for making Yale better.
Time after time, the noise GESO creates has drowned out anything productive the group has to say. That’s why GESO should not be surprised when we are disinclined to listen.