Emory University is located in Atlanta, GA and has a created a reputation for itself of being a top tier progressive institution. Sometimes referred to as the ivy league of the South, it often draws a comparison to the Ivy Leagues or other top universities such as Duke or Georgetown. Current students of The Laney Graduate School at Emory, however, have taken it upon themselves to draw those comparisons themselves in the past year. According to an article by The Nation, graduate students across the country are experiencing “plummeting wages, meager health care benefits and overwhelming workloads,” and as a result have launched campaigns to unionize.
I recently sat in on a meeting for the Emory Graduate Union Organizing Committee. I was both shocked and puzzled listening in on their interactions.
As I walked into the meeting, I was drenched in sweat from my track practice just minutes beforehand, and met with eight graduate students staring at me; the situation was intimidating, to say the least. The meeting began to unfold and I slowly was introduced to their strategies for unionizing and their (many) grievances with the University. They explained that their ultimate goal was to improve the situation for all graduate students and felt as though creating a union was the only logical course of action, pointing to Yale and Duke as examples of success. One graduate student even said that it was only fair that they are allowed to unionize since all the other employees at Emory have one. This is not true, however, as only the shuttle service drivers have successfully unionized at Emory. As the conversation moved more toward the logistics of unionization, they began to discuss how Emory hired a multi million legal unions busting law firm, which one student described as “cynical” and “hypocritical” since the University rather pays for that than giving the graduate students better healthcare. When speaking about their social media presence it was honestly tragic to listen to, because it was virtually nonexistent. The group of students in their mid-twenties and early thirties only had a Facebook page to promote their movement and none of them knew how to use Twitter, revealing to me their understanding of social media was Rudimental at best.
The grievances expressed by this group of eight are entirely valid; if they feel as though Emory has mistreated them in any way, then they have the right to voice those grievances and work towards a solution. The fact is though, this is a group of eight who wish to speak on behalf of all graduate students. Towards the end of the meeting they held a vote to decide the name of the unionization movement, but by that time three people had already left, leaving only five people to vote. According to the Laney Graduate School site, there were 1,758 degree-seeking students during the 2016 fall semester, which means that 0.004% of the graduate student population was speaking for the entirety of it. In my humble opinion that is insane. After the end of the meeting I inquired whether these meetings were open to all graduate students, and they told me the meetings were. Could this mean that creating a union is not a top priority to a large number of students? Unionizing is a tricky process of back and forth negotiations, and some students may not wish to bite to start waves with the University.