On a rain-drenched Tuesday morning early on in the 2020-2021 school year, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) began their first strike since 1975. Forming picket lines outside the Union and on the Diag, graduate students protested the university’s response to the pandemic. In addition, GEO advocated for separate anti-policing demands. Seeking to gain more perspective, I briefly interviewed Amir Fleischmann and Sofia Carrera, graduate students attending the Wednesday protest:
Amir Fleischmann, the Secretary of GEO and a political science graduate student instructor (GSI) is a key organizer of the strike and was found protesting on the Diag.
Sofia Carrera, a Psychology Ph.D. candidate, attended the protest outside the School of Social Work.
1. Was joining the Scholar Strike in solidarity with Black Lives Matter (Sept 8th-9th) an equal priority for GEO, or are you mainly motivated to protest the administration’s COVID response?
Amir: This is something we’ve been planning before the Scholar Strike was announced, and I would say that the Scholar Strike certainly added to the urgency that we come out for this and take part in it since we’ve been working on anti-policing demands since our contract campaign last year and even before. They were already something we’ve passed to HR so we thought it would be amazing to stand in solidarity.
Sofia: For me, I’d say it is pretty equally split. Scholar Strike is only two days, and we’re going to continue past that. But certainly, for these two days, we are fully invested in Scholar Strike.
2. How have your professors reacted to the strike? Have any expressed disapproval or threatened retaliation?
Amir: The professor I work for was very happy to allow all the GSI’s in her course to join the strike in a number of discussions; multiple faculty in my department, [political science], have agreed to cancel courses in solidarity as well.
Sofia: A few of them have, yeah. A few of them have cancelled classes in solidarity. I’m in the Psychology department and the department has agreed to not retaliate against its graduate students. But for example, the reason we are out in front of the social work building today is that the Social Work department has threatened to retaliate.
3. Do you believe testing should be provided for everyone on campus? Should those with in-person classes get priority for testing?
Amir: One of our demands is to have randomized testing of asymptomatic people. We believe this is critical…experts have stated it is unsafe to open campus without randomized testing of asymptomatic individuals.
Sofia: Yes. [laughs] It should be mandatory testing, much more frequent, provided free of charge to staff and students.
4. Should students with in-person classes have priority for testing?
Amir: I’m not sure GEO has any position on that.
Sofia: Yes – anyone working or studying in person should have priority.