Letters to the EditorNews

UGA Grad Students Have COVID Concerns

On Thursday, Aug. 6, Georgia graduate students and supporters delivered an open letter to members of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Though Board members have been fortunate enough to make the choice to work remotely, graduate students were hopeful they would receive and review the letter prior to their Aug. 11 meeting. Graduate students are demanding a response from the BoR by Aug. 12 addressing the content of the letter. 

The open letter originated as a list of concerns written by graduate students at the University of Georgia who believed they were not being considered by UGA and the University System of Georgia. Nearly 1,000 graduate students and allies, including undergraduates, faculty and staff from institutions such as the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia State University, Georgia Southern University, University of North Georgia, and Georgia College and State University have signed the letter, which makes the following demands: 

  • Instructors should be able to opt-out of in-person instruction in any capacity without repercussions.
  • Instructors receiving ADA accommodations should not be required to maintain a face-to-face component of instruction in institutions with HyFlex or hybrid teaching models.
  • Graduate students should be granted extensions and additional funding to ensure they are able to maintain research and teaching commitments, while still maintaining progress towards their degrees.
  • International students should receive support to ensure that they are able to maintain their visa status and lawful presence in the U.S.
  • The health, well-being, and safety of all campus communities should remain a top priority in the fall plan.

So far, USG institutions as a whole have not solicited the input of graduate students. In an effort to be included in decision making, graduate students will also be delivering copies of the open letter and signatures to college presidents all over Georgia, as well as organizing an email campaign with the letter attached to ensure that the Board of Regents members are fully aware of their demands. Graduate students comprise a significant amount of the teaching and research staff at USG institutions, oftentimes delegated to teaching core curriculum courses with many of their students in their first and second years of college. 

University of Georgia PhD student Savannah Downing emphasized the irony of USG’s social media campaign about everyone being #InThisTogether: “USG has insisted that we are all #InThisTogether, but it’s so clear we aren’t. Top-down decision making disproportionately assigns higher burdens of risk to groups on campus who already have job insecurity, make lower wages, and literally cannot afford to get sick.”

Atalanta Siegel, also a University of Georgia graduate student, added to the disproportionate distribution of risk: “Employees at my institution are expected to return to work with no hazard pay, yet are required to clean classrooms. Given that many graduate student salaries are barely over the federal poverty line, it seems that USG sees us, as grad students, as disposable—both literally and figuratively.” 

Graduate students and allies demand that their voices are included in the reopening planning process, especially as it pertains to the work they offer their respective universities. Graduate students are demanding that USG center student, staff and faculty wellbeing. Complying with the demands of the open letter is a start given those goals.