It was the week when the on-campus students began moving in. With so many people moving in so suddenly, my family thought we should pack our fridge so we wouldn’t have to go out for another two weeks.
Little did we know that the school would become high risk within a week after it reopened. All the students were asked to self-quarantine. Local employers were notified by the school administration to allow students to perform their work remotely if possible.
Just like that, no one is supposed to work or go out, not the student cashier, the student intern at the local food pantry, the student caregivers who help district kids who struggle with online learning.
No one. The administration presumes everyone has everything we need at home. They presume we will be able to pay food and rent without any income. They presume the work can easily be transferred online. They presume we can perform normally when, clearly, everything is turning upside down.
The school claims they have “set up a Student Employment Assistance Grant program to support students who are unable to work. Grant awards will be up to $300 per student.” I guess they don’t know how much rent costs in the Amherst area. A tiny room with a shared bathroom and kitchen is $650 in the area. No utilities included.
People started finger-pointing on social media: it was a fraternity house that threw a party inciting the surge; it was the undergraduates who didn’t wear their masks in public; it was the on-campus student population not complying with the rules. No one said a word about the responsibilities the school administration has to take. While UMass put room and board money in their pocket — yes, no refund — the community is paying the price.
I’m thinking back to last November, when UMass proudly presented themselves at the Amherst Town council. The fancy PowerPoint, all about the large amount of testing they had done. Even though the testing program does little to stop the spread, the administration got a good pat on the back.
Power and profit go hand in hand. In a room full of local officials and higher-up administrative officials, they applauded each other for the work they do, the same work that has now put students and residents alike in grave danger.
“We tried to warn you,” is the outcry from the Residential Assistant and Peer Mentors’ Union recent press release.
The unions fought hard for the sake of the employees and continue to do so. In the hope of shared governance, of checks and balances, our union, the Graduate Employee Organization, asked for the numbers of our unit’s face-to-face employees. We asked for ventilation updates in each building, measures to go fully remote again and possible change of our on-site employers. We received nothing. We asked what the bottom line is (if there is one): how many students have to get sick, how many ICU beds have to be filled or how many lives have to come to an end for the University to take responsibility and stop the spread?
What we are given is only a simple flyer, a piece of paper that conveniently fails to mention the relocation of graduate students and their families from campus housing and says nothing about the permanent furlough of other union members, and nothing about the campus left improperly maintained.
The dodging, the denial and the hostility at the bargaining table are so familiar. The UMass administration is no different than the federal government, as they have both shown in their inability to handle this public health crisis.
The ongoing struggles with the administration have led us to a vote for no confidence in the current administration of the university. We are the Graduate Employee Organization and want to make it clear: No! We do not feel safe leaving our lives at the hands of a few profit driven monsters.
Co-Chair of the Graduate Employee Organization