Vandy GWU Solidarity Statement Against State Terror and Call for Termination of University-Police Ties
Before You Read On, Say Their Names
Tony McDade. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Nina Pop. Tamir Rice. Aiyana Stanely-Jones. Travyon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Eric Garner. Janisha Fonville. Philando Castille. Pamela Turner. Walter Scott. Michael Brown. Kiwi Herring. Kawaski Trawick. Stephon Clark. Alteria Woods. Terence Crutcher. Mya Hall. Freddie Gray. Sam Dubose. Jason Washington. Miciah Lee. Aleah Jenkins. Demetrius Dubose. Siaki Ramon del Rio. Mark Adkins. Alfred Olango. Marshawn Washington. Bernedette Grantling. Frederick Jefferson. James Lacy. LaMontez Jones. Jocques Clemmons. Daniel Hambrick.
In light of recent events, Vanderbilt administrators have verbally expressed their opposition to police brutality, systemic racism, and racial injustice. Interim Chancellor Susan Wente assured the Vanderbilt community that the university will “continue to work for racial justice and equality.” The “voices and contributions” of the wider university community, she adds, “are essential” to this work.
In this spirit, Vanderbilt GWU has signed the “Statement Against State Terror and Call for Termination of University-Police Ties,” organized by University of Minnesota graduate students after the public lynching of George Floyd. We join dozens of graduate unions, associations, and organizations across the country, amplifying Movement for Black Lives and Scholars4BlackLives demands, to call on our respective universities, including Vanderbilt, to take immediate action to address their complicity in systemic racism. In so doing, we also acknowledge and affirm the petition Vanderbilt students and alumni have organized to “Hold Vanderbilt Accountable for Racial Justice.”
Vanderbilt has deep and broad connections within Nashville, including to the Metro Nashville Police Department. The university’s power and influence entail a responsibility to act when MNPD officers kill members of the Nashville community, as they did Jocques Clemmons and Daniel Hambrick, and the Brookings Institution determines that North Nashville has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Thus, we call on Vanderbilt to:
- Break ties immediately with police departments and private security companies. Police, and their proxies, private security companies, have no place on university campuses.
- Redirect funds divested from policing to provide educational opportunities for communities impacted by police violence.
- Commit resources to support community-led alternatives to policing.
- Propose plans for ensuring the safety of Black and other marginalized students on campus from racial profiling by police and other security forces.
STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY WITH CHINESE GRADUATE STUDENTS
On May 27th, 2020, Senators Blackburn (TN) and Cotton (AR) introduced legislation that seeks to prohibit Chinese graduate and post-graduate students in STEM from receiving visas to the United States. The legislation also seeks to restrict recruitment programs for scholars of Chinese nationality, such as the Thousand Talents Program. A day later, President Trump declared that the US government would also suspend visas for Chinese graduate students suspected to be connected to the Chinese military.
The members of Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United stand firmly opposed to this legislation and in solidarity with our Chinese-national peers. We find this attempt to ostracize members of the graduate student population despicable and unacceptable. International students of all nationalities and backgrounds are valued and vital members of graduate and post-graduate research, with no exceptions. Chinese international graduate students are our colleagues and our friends. They work, teach, and learn alongside us. It would be an incalculable loss to the Vanderbilt community, STEM research, and all other academic fields to lose them and the work they do.
As graduate students, we call upon our colleagues at Vanderbilt and at all other universities to speak out against this bigoted legislation. We must stand together as a graduate student community to support and protect all our members.
Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United
URGENT COVID-19 ACTION: LETTER TO THE ADMINISTRATION ON BEHALF OF GRADUATE WORKERS (Spring 2020)
TO THE ATTENTION OF INTERIM CHANCELLOR SUSAN WENTE AND VANDERBILT ADMINISTRATION:
As you know, Vanderbilt graduate student workers have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has disrupted our studies, research, campus jobs, and teaching, with major implications for our present and future academic development. Perhaps the greatest impact on our lives, however, has been financial. Periods of crisis often intensify pre-existing structural inequalities, disproportionately affecting those with fewer resources. Thus, we call on the administration to implement the following policy measures to ensure the financial security of all graduate student workers (a full justification of the measures can be read here):
- DEGREE/TIMELINE EXTENSIONS FOR ALL GRADUATE STUDENT WORKERS FOR ONE ACADEMIC YEAR: COVID-19 has incalculably impacted research projects, graduation timelines, and job searches. Vanderbilt already extended tenure clocks for junior faculty; it must now guarantee one-year funding extensions to graduate workers.
- FULL COVERAGE FOR COVID-19 AND MENTAL HEALTH-RELATED EXPENSES; IMPLEMENT URGENT SAFETY MEASURES FOR ESSENTIAL GRADUATE RESEARCHERS: COVID-19 treatments could cost up to $20,000 – nearly an entire year’s income for many graduate workers. Moreover, economic precarity causes many graduate workers to forgo the mental healthcare we need. We should not have to worry about the cost of essential healthcare during a pandemic. Vanderbilt University must also work with VUMC to establish proper safety protocols, including alternative building entrances, to protect essential non-clinical personnel from the virus. Many graduate student workers have been appointed or designated as essential personnel that are responsible for maintenance of laboratory materials and animals and should be immediately guaranteed a safe working environment.
- COMPREHENSIVE FINANCIAL HARDSHIP AND VISA SUPPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL GRADUATE STUDENT WORKERS: International graduate workers, who already pay higher taxes on their incomes than U.S. citizens, anticipate additional financial burdens related to cost-of-living in Nashville over the summer. Many are also facing complex visa requirements to complete their research projects and job searches.
Monday, April 6th marks the first day of Graduate Student Appreciation Week. Dean Mark Wallace recently sent graduate workers a thoughtful email expressing his appreciation for our patience, understanding, flexibility, and dedication to the university. Vanderbilt has an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill these words by acting on these measures. We look forward to your response.
COVID-19: Vanderbilt/Nashville Mutual Aid (Spring 2020)
As Vanderbilt students, faculty, and staff begin to enact social-distancing measures, GWU has organized a mutual aid effort to support our community during this period. If you would like to volunteer your financial, social, or transportation support, or if you need to request aid from our community, please see this spreadsheet for more information. All Vanderbilt students, staff, faculty, and alumni, as well as Nashville residents, are encouraged to participate. We would appreciate you sharing widely on your social media platforms!
A&S Workspace Campaign (2018-present)
After Dean John Geer announced that ten A&S programs would have to move their workspace from Buttrick Hall to Central Library at the end of the Fall 2018 semester, GWU authored a list of demands for graduate workspace that successfully delayed the move until Summer 2019; produced a survey about A&S graduate workspace and delivered it to administrators (74 respondents); worked to increase turnout at the Dean’s two October town halls; led the effort to organize the Carrels Advisory Committee that met three times with A&S deans over the course of the year; and authored an open letter during the spring semester asking the administration to fulfill grad students’ workspace demands (61 signatures). Most recently, GWU has supported the Carrels Committee’s new workspace survey about the new library workspace and will publish the report on that survey on our web site when it becomes available.
Mental Health Campaign (2017-present)
In Fall 2017, upon hearing reports from our graduate colleagues that significant changes to individual therapy policies had been happening at the PCC, GWU played a leading role in raising consciousness about this issue. Our actions included: collecting anonymous testimonies from our colleagues about their experiences with mental health during graduate school; authoring a petition asking for Vanderbilt to guarantee that no student be turned away or have their care unjustifiably foreshortened; distributing flyers and emails to encourage turnout to a Mental Health Town Hall with Graduate School and PCC leaders; writing the original draft of the Mental Health Bill of Rights and Responsibilities and submitting it to GSC for consideration (our bill now appears on the Student Care Network site); participating in the graduate-led committee that produced the final version of the Bill of Rights; organizing a “Mental Health Day” for graduate students at which we shared graduate testimonies and empirical studies about the mental health crisis in U.S. graduate schools; and supporting the Bill of Rights until its official ratification in Fall 2018.
Student Solidarity Actions (2018-present)
In early 2018, GWU learned of a graduate student who was not receiving pay for services rendered on a research project funded by an external grant. In late February, we organized a solidarity action in support of this student, delivering groceries to their office and following up in April with another action during recruitment week.
Dental and Vision Petition (Spring 2017)
As part of our campaign to raise awareness about issues universally impacting graduate workers at Vanderbilt, GWU authored a petition asking Vanderbilt administration to add dental and vision coverage to our student insurance plan. The petition received hundreds of signatures and led to several meetings with the provost and graduate deans.