Campus was filled with the cries of graduate students who felt short-changed by Binghamton University administrators Wednesday afternoon, citing their dissatisfaction with assistant wages and working hours.
About 40 students, mostly graduate assistants and teaching assistants, protested in front of the Library Tower before marching toward the Couper Administration Building, holding up sheets with a mock loan for BU President Harvey Stenger to co-sign.
The protesters called for higher pay, more funding and an end to overwork and mandatory fees, many wearing shirts that said “SUNY Works Because We Do” on the front and “Living Wages Now” on the back.
With chants like “Union busting is disgusting,” “I need food and a home, co-sign my loan” and “Whose campus? Our campus. Whose school? Our school,” the protesters drew the attention of people passing by and school officials to their cause.
According to some demonstrators, graduate and teaching assistants are overworked, and many have to work more than the 20 hours per week that their contracts mandate. They said their contract has not been renegotiated in three years.
This protest mirrors one from May 1 of last year, where members of the Graduate Student Employment Union (GSEU) took to the Brain to protest the fact that their contract with SUNY had not been renegotiated to adjust for inflation.
President Stenger addressed the graduate students at last year’s protest, spending over 30 minutes discussing loans and stipends. This year however, Stenger did not make an appearance, and the students’ concerns remained unanswered.
Last year, Stenger responded to the similar protest in an email to Pipe Dream, saying that conditions for graduate and teaching assistants are an important issue for him.
“The growth in our graduate programs is one of my top priorities, and having good teaching assistant salaries and benefits is one way for us to attract the best students,” Stenger wrote. “Limited funding is making this a challenge, but we are, and will continue, to find ways to increase TA stipends.”
Many students, however, felt that the concerns they brought up last year fell on deaf ears. Students pointed to Stenger’s comments last year, where he advised struggling graduate students to take out loans in order to pay their bills. Protesters were frustrated by their perceived lack of communication between the administration and the assistants, adding that they felt that Stenger’s promises to compromise with graduate students — made at last year’s protest — have remained unfulfilled.
Toivo Asheeke, a graduate student studying sociology, said he believes that it is important to call out the University when students feel like it is doing something wrong.
He said that many students are scared to voice their opinion for fear of retaliation from the University, and that he hopes other graduate students will rise to the occasion and defend the rights of the many graduate and teaching assistants on campus.
“We want to challenge the University to really take a serious hard look at the future they are trying to build,” Asheeke said. “[Graduate students] are coming from South Korea, India, wherever you are coming from. You fought and you struggled to get here, and then to speak against the institution that has your visa, your funding, et cetera, and they want to do this to instill fear on some and so we just turn on each other. This is why we must put ourselves on the line and speak truth to power to defend and protect our colleagues.”
The protest lasted for about an hour, with a portion of it held inside the Couper Administration Building where police officials remained nearby.