Op-Ed: Statement in support of GEO strike & associated student activism

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 11:43am

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As faculty members in, and affiliated with, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, we stand with the Graduate Employees’ Organization, resident advisers and MDining employees in their principled actions and we fully support their protesting, striking and advocating for safety, transparency and fair working conditions. We strongly urge the University administration to listen actively to their demands and negotiate with them in good faith. 

Many of us have experienced feelings of anxiety and unsafety, and have voiced our concerns at being asked to put ourselves, students, staff, our lecturer, graduate and faculty colleagues at risk during the pandemic. We write today to share our frustration not only over many of the issues raised by students, but also caused by the central administration’s intransigence with regard to their demands and the lack of meaningful engagement with faculty governance.

We applaud GEO for linking their employment demands to calls for justice, the protection of the health and safety of our community and the absolutely relevant de-militarization of local and campus police. Far from viewing these demands as wholly outside the proper function of a labor union, we support these generative linkages precisely because they are transformational, not transactional. As we know from our own institutional history here at DAAS, which turns 50 this year, the University of Michigan has a long association with student protest. For the past five decades, we have been inspired and sustained by generations of student activism. Student protests have allowed the University to correct course: to increase accountability and transparency, to honor its promises of student well-being and inclusivity and to aspire to become an intellectual community that can meet the needs of a diverse and equitable society.  

We dearly want to be back in the classroom with our students under circumstances that meet their just demands for safety, accountability and meaningful movement against structural racism. We believe the administration can move that goal forward by negotiating with these groups in good faith and avoiding further threats and intransigence; we urge the administration to rescind the University’s filing with the Employment Relations Commission. 

While we support the principles of the strike, we condemn any harassment and targeting of individuals, including members of the faculty and administration. In that spirit, we call on the University administration to return to the negotiation table with GEO, and to enter into negotiations with the resident assistants, MDining workers, the Black Student Union, the United Asian American Organizations, La Casa and the Arab Student Association, and all other groups protesting, striking and advocating for better conditions, increased safety, more transparency, more accountability and in opposition to structural racism. 

The authors of this op-ed are all members of the Department of Afroamerican & African Studies and can be reached at concerneddaas@umich.edu. Additionally, a list of signatures from the DAAS department can be found here.