Breaking bread and grading exams: Academic student employees show solidarity at campus grade-in

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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Cups of coffee and piles of paper lay at the feet of more than 150 academic student employees who gathered in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union on Tuesday to display their labor to the campus community.

The UC Student-Workers Union hosted grade-ins today across UC campuses, and other grade-ins took place at Boston College, Cornell University and New York University. The event was meant to display the work of graduate student instructors, or GSIs, readers, graders and tutors to the campus in a way that makes grading less isolating, according to Maggie Downey, UC Berkeley graduate student and campus chair of the UAW 2865, a union representing UC student workers.

“We want our fellow coworkers and students to know that our working conditions are their learning conditions,” said Head Steward of the UC Student-Workers Union Kavitha Iyengar. “It is important for quality education that we have the capacity to give meaningful feedback and have meaningful interactions with students.”

The UC Student-Workers Union began planning the grade-in back in October, but its efforts were amplified after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which would consider tuition waivers taxable income.

“It was coincidental in a sense with the GOP tax plan, but we acknowledged whenever we planned or talked about our goals that we’re doing this in an era of a Trump administration that’s anti-immigrant, anti-woman as well as anti-worker,” Downey said. “The GOP tax plan really undermines student workers by making it harder and harder to afford to stay in higher education.”

In addition to showcasing the labor of student workers, the grade-in also allowed participants to vote on a set of demands, which they will present to the University of California in January.

Currently, the UC Student-Workers Union is in the process of ratifying its initial demands across the state, according to Iyengar. She added that the union hopes to have a majority of its members vote to ratify its demands before they are given to the university. Negotiations will begin in March, according to Alex Bush, head steward of the UC Student-Workers Union.

“We need the administration to step up. … We know there’s the capacity to make it happen, but we need to see it happen,” Downey said. “We need systemic solutions to something like the GOP tax plan. … Today we focus on that and we have all this grading to do.”

Ella Jensen is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ellajensen_dc.