The Yale College Republicans held a picnic on Beinecke Plaza on Friday, just feet from the eight graduate students who are fasting in protest of Yale’s refusal to begin bargaining with graduate student union Local 33.
The picnic, which was advertised on Facebook as a tongue-in-cheek response to the ongoing hunger strike, has prompted widespread debate on social media, where some have described the event as “mean-spirited” or “sick” while others have hailed it as a clever counter-demonstration to the controversial fast.
In an interview with the News on Saturday afternoon, Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said the fasting students — who met with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., on Saturday — ignored the YCR picnic.
“We weren’t focused on it,” Greenberg said. “We’re really focused on making sure we’re drinking enough water and getting enough rest. We’re focused on getting the University’s attention.”
The eight students — Greenberg, co-chair Robin Canavan GRD ’19, Camille Cole GRD ’20, Charles Decker GRD ’18, Lukas Moe GRD ’19, Julia Powers GRD ’19, Emily Sessions GRD ’19 and Jifeng Shen GRD ’18 — began the fast on Tuesday night, and have congregated each day in a large tent across from University President Peter Salovey’s office in Woodbridge Hall. They plan to trade places with other graduate students if their health significantly deteriorates in the coming days.
On Friday afternoon, members of the YCR and other undergraduates gathered on Beinecke Plaza to dine on baked beans, corn and barbecued beef, according to the New Haven Register.
“Just a friendly BBQ in support of Local 33,” one participant wrote on the Facebook event page. “For solidarity purposes, we will be in their immediate vicinity.”
The Yale College Republicans did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Local 33 won federally sanctioned elections in six academic departments in February, and added another two departments to that total earlier this month after reaching an agreement with Yale over contested ballots. But the University has refused to open contract negotiations with Local 33 because it still has appeals pending with the National Labor Relations Board.
According to University spokesman Tom Conroy, Local 33 never received permission from Yale to erect a tent structure on Beinecke Plaza. In a statement to the News on Thursday, Conroy said the the union’s “continuing presence and the structure do not comply with University policies on free expression.”
But asked whether Yale would remove the tent, Conroy declined to elaborate on the University’s plans. Greenberg said Yale has not set a deadline for the removal of the tent, adding that the union “has every intention of staying here for the duration of the fast.”
The YCR is not the only undergraduate group to have taken an interest in the Local 33 hunger strike. On Saturday, as students gathered on Old Campus for Spring ling, Students Unite Now — which advocates for the complete elimination of the student-income contribution and is affiliated with Local 33’s umbrella organization UNITE HERE — circulated a petition expressing support for the union.
“We stand with our graduate teachers who are waiting without eating,” the petition stated. “We stand with them as they fight for mental health care, race and gender equity, a fair grievance procedure and the right to negotiate.”