Amid COVID-19 outbreak, NU Graduate Workers demand adequate protections in petition


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Rebecca Crown Center, home of The Graduate School. Northwestern University Graduate Workers published a petition urging the University to protect TGS students and workers.

Yunkyo Kim, Reporter

Northwestern University Graduate Workers released a March 28 statement urging the University to provide adequate protections for graduate workers in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The petition is addressed to University President Morton Schapiro, The Graduate School Dean Teresa Woodruff, Provost Jonathan Holloway, the Board of Trustees, and other University administrators. Included in the specified protections are demands to prioritize equitable institutional change for underrepresented graduate students, extending adequate funding and timelines for graduate research and instituting a pass/fail grading system for Spring Quarter, among other relief measures.

The petition added the University has “fallen short of its duty” in protecting members of the Northwestern community by not acting efficiently enough to close all “non-essential” activities on campus and STEM laboratories, which violates social distancing guidelines. The University announced on March 20 that it will close offices not vital to Northwestern’s operations after graduate students and researchers urged the University.

The letter further stated that an event such as a global pandemic will increase harm to Northwestern’s community members of marginalized identities.

“TGS has perpetuated harm against underrepresented and underserved graduate workers on campus,” the petition read. “We know that such patterns of harm will continue and worsen during this time of crisis unless the university takes action.”

In a Sunday email addressed to Members of the Graduate Student Community, Associate Provost Kathleen Hagerty said the University understands that graduate students, along with the rest of the world and University community, are likely experiencing uncertainty and anxiety.

The Graduate School is working quickly to create a comprehensive set of “guidance” for its students, Graduate School Dean Teresa Woodruff said in a Sunday email to The Daily.

“Our quarter system provided time to adjust our systems during the spring break pause, but we, like other institutions, are still rolling out the new strategies for our traditional systems,” Woodruff said. “This is in part due to the fact that circumstances are changing daily, and we want to have the best data upon which we act.”

On top of this, the petition added the University must grant financial protections to all workers, such as dining hall workers, employees and student workers.

“[The University] has already fallen short of its duty to protect its students and employees from the pandemic’s fallout,” the petition read.

The University announced March 30 it is partnering with Compass Group, its food service provider, to ensure all hourly food service workers receive benefits and compensation equal to their current full-time status for the entire Spring Quarter.

NUGW also emphasized in the petition that graduate workers are integral to University operations in their contributions to TGS and the undergraduate community.

By offering waivers of Spring Quarter activities fee, granting stipends, providing full COVID-19 testing, adopting a non-retaliation policy to supervisors and more, the University should take care of its own community, the petition read.

“The University works because we do and Northwestern has a material, financial, and moral responsibility to take care of all of its workers in return,” NUGW organizers wrote. “Graduate workers, many of whom were already suffering from inadequate support, have been hit hard in the last few weeks as they struggle to keep up with their work, serve their students, and care for themselves and their families.”

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