Roughly 100 undergraduates and members of graduate student union Local 33 marched from the Hall of Graduate Studies to the Office of Financial Aid on Thursday evening, calling on Yale to eliminate the student income contribution and negotiate with Local 33. 

Hosted by undergraduate activist group Students Unite Now, the rally was the group’s first public demonstration after launching its For an Academy That’s Ours campaign this fall. The renewed and broadened mission calls for both negotiations with Local 33 and the elimination of the student income contribution. Students Unite Now members argue that the student income contribution, which totals $5,950 for most undergraduates on financial aid, forces many students into jobs that prevent them from focusing on academic and extracurricular life at Yale. And the protesters at Thursday’s rally claimed that Yale’s refusal to negotiate with Local 33 similarly places graduate students at an economic disadvantage that reinforces existing racial and socioeconomic inequalities.

“The importance of working together with Local 33 is that Yale puts up a lot of barriers for low income students, students of color, students from different backgrounds,” said Students Unite Now leader Julia Salseda ’19. “The student income contribution is obviously one of those barriers, but there are lots of barriers that graduate teachers face as well. … Yale needs to be a place where students feel like they are at equal footing.”

Founded in 2012, Students Unite Now has long advocated for the elimination of the student income contribution. Last October, nearly 1,200 students signed a Students Unite Now petition calling for the elimination of the student income contribution. Despite continued pressure over the years, University President Peter Salovey has expressed reluctance to sit down for a meeting with members of the group. 

Students Unite Now also has ties to Unite Here, the umbrella organization that sponsors blue- and pink-collar unions Local 34 and Local 35, as well as Local 33.

“We see over and over again that the University has refused to invest in including and retaining a diverse student body as well as graduates and graduate students and faculty,” said Local 33 member Lena Eckert-Erdheim GRD ’19 to the protesters outside the Hall of Graduate Studies. “Yale hasn’t been paying its graduate teachers at the moment when we’re vulnerable at the University and on the job market.”

Eckert-Erdheim is a graduate student in the history department, one of the eight departments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences that voted to unionize and formally join Local 33 last February. But since last year, the University has questioned the legal basis of the union’s departmental elections. The National Labor Relations Board is currently considering appeals by Yale that challenge Local 33’s right to unionize in eight academic departments.

As protesters stopped briefly outside Woodbridge Hall on Thursday, Hannah Lee ’20, a member of Students Unite Now, described how her grandmother was sexually harassed by co-workers in South Korea in the 1960s. Her grandmother was forced into silence, she said, like many graduate students who face harassment by an advisor. A union could provide graduate students with a reporting procedure and protections allowing them to report incidents, Lee said.

At each of three stops along the March, Students Unite Now left posters that displayed some of the 540 responses it solicited from students over the summer that express support for Local 33 and call for the elimination of the student income contribution.

During the march, student protesters argued that Yale could accommodate the elimination of the student effort by reaching into its $27.2 billion endowment. But, in an interview with the News last year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said endowment income supported just over half of the institutional scholarships given to undergraduates in the 2015–16 year. Although it seems that many see the endowment as an unlimited supply of money, it is made up of hundreds of smaller funds, many of which have unbreakable indentures, Quinlan and Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said. According to Quinlan, eliminating the student income contribution could be harmful for the University — for example, the University might have to pursue a need-aware admissions policy or reconsider its parental contribution calculations..

Nika Zarazvand ’20, who spoke outside the Office of Financial Aid, said she is funding her student effort requirements through income she earned as a tutor over the summer. She said she recently had an unexpected relapse in her mental health, adding that if she relapsed last year, she would not have been able to fulfill the contribution.

Naomi D’Arbell ’21, who also spoke at the march, said although she received a scholarship from her hometown, she still has to work a student job to support herself.

Students Unite Now members expressed hope for the future of their campaign.

“When Yale eliminates the student income contribution and when Yale negotiates with Local 33, it will be because of students like you all who believe that a Yale that’s ours is a better Yale,” Salseda said.

The estimated cost of attending Yale College is $70,570 in 2017–18.

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu

Correction, Nov. 17: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story said that only eight students voted to unionize. In fact, eight departments voted to unionize.