After a year of grievances, petitions and failed negotiations, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization took to the streets one last time on Tuesday before the summer.
At noon, a crowd of roughly 300 GESO members and supporters marched from the end of Hillhouse Avenue to the Provost’s Office, carrying signs and holding a petition bearing over 1,100 graduate student signatures. The petition calls on Yale to provide more secure funding for graduate students in their upper years, address issues of race and gender equity, and reform mental health coverage for graduate students. GESO members interviewed at the march said they saw the event as the culmination of months of conversations among graduate students about the issues that the petition addresses.
The six GESO members who spoke on the steps of Warner House were joined by members of Local 34 and Local 35 — the University’s unions — and of New Haven Rising, a grass-roots labor organization.
“There will not be true labor peace on this campus until [Yale] recognizes GESO,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said.
The signatures, collected by GESO organizers from members who teach in many departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, were printed on a 200-foot banner. A similar petition was delivered to Woodbridge Hall in April 2014.
This spring, GESO was able to reach 60 percent public membership among graduate students, said GESO Co-Chair Robin Canavan GRD ’18.
As the crowd descended on Warner House, several GESO members spoke about why they personally support the union, and why they want the Yale administration to negotiate with GESO. GESO member Claire Dickey GRD ’20 said she struggles to conduct research in astronomy due to the lack of women in her department, adding that if she continues to study in her field she will never have a female advisor.
“A union will allow us to make substantive change on Science Hill,” Dickey said.
Yale’s Mental Health and Counseling services were also listed as an issue for graduate students. Tif Shen GRD ’18, who recently sought help for his depression, told the crowd that the nearly month and a half he waited to meet with a therapist made him feel alienated and alone, furthering his depression.
GESO member Adom Getachew GRD ’15, who was a grievant in an April 23 presentation of grievances to University Provost Benjamin Polak, criticized the lack of diversity in her department, citing the fact that only 16 percent of all ladder faculty at Yale are people of color.
Getachew and Dickey cited a 2006 faculty diversity initiative that set University hiring goals, requiring the addition of more women and minorities to the FAS by June 2013, saying that Yale had failed to make good on this promise in the past decade.
GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said that his positive vision of academia sometimes differs from the reality of studying and teaching at Yale, adding that a recognized union would allow students to negotiate issues and improve the quality of their time at Yale.
Greenberg said that until students are given a fair election, followed by the negotiation of a contract, GESO members would continue to advocate for University recognition.
GESO seeks to follow in the footsteps of student unions at New York University and the University of Connecticut, both of which formed contract agreements with their graduate students.
Although both current Ward 1 alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 and aldermanic candidate Fish Stark ’17 participated in the protest, both said their presence had nothing to do with their campaigns.
“I don’t think [GESO’s march] is particularly relevant to city politics,” Stark said. “I’m just here as a student to show my support.”
Eidelson, who works in graphic design and communications for Local 34 — the union of clerical and technical workers at Yale — said she did not participate in the protest as Ward 1 alder.
Roughly 10 other undergraduates showed their support for GESO by joining in the march. Students Unite Now organizer Avani Mehta ’15 said she thinks undergraduates, who are often taught by graduate student teaching fellows, should be concerned with the same issues as GESO.
“Our learning conditions are their working conditions,” Mehta said.
Yale Police closed all vehicle access to the intersection of Hillhouse Ave and Trumbull Street to allow the march to process safely.