By Patrick McAuliffe
On a chilly Friday night, students, alumni and community members assembled at the Peacemaker’s Stage in downtown Binghamton to protest the unequal distribution of stipends for graduate student teaching assistants (TA’s) and graduate assistants (GA’s) for the upcoming 2016-17 academic year.
More than fifty people participated, following a rally sponsored by the Graduate Students Employees Union and the Graduate Student Organization. A large portion of demonstrators were adults from the community. The movement also garnered some support from BU Alumni and children of current university students
The plaza, before the rally began, had a relaxed atmosphere as signs were distributed among protesters and people socialized. The signs read “BU Works Because We Do,” “No Two-Tier in the Southern Tier,” “No Second-Class Grad Students” and “Unequal Pay Makes for a Sad Baxter,” among others.
One child even had a sign reading “Bing, Pay My Daddy Fairly.”
Graduate students believe they are being treated unfair by not being adequately compensated for their ongoing TA/GA work.
“The administration has proposed to increase stipends for the 2016-2017 students and beyond. They are not going to provide any type of stipend increase for current students,” says Laura Johnsen, a fourth-year graduate student in the anthropology department, also serving as the Business Agent of the GSEU.
“So what this means is that two students within the same department of two different cohorts are going to be making two different amounts of money.”
During the march, members of the GSO handed out descriptive leaflets, highlighting their collective agenda urging folks to petition Provost Donald Niemen, claiming, “The unequal application of wage increases undervalues the skills and experience of our graduate students and undermines the goals of the university.”
Toivo Asheeke, rally leader and fourth-year Ph.D candidate stated that graduate students have significant support by both the undergraduate and graduate student body. But when asked about the movement, Asheeke declined to comment.
During the after-march rally, Asheeke declared that a massive social media campaign against the university would be launched if administration were unwilling to negotiate.
The protesters rallied at the Peacemaker’s Stage next to the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue, where they participated in “call-and-response” chants to build excitement.
Protesters began their march at 7:15pm. Walking along Court Street, they marched down Water Street, Henry Street and State Street before looping back down State Street and heading back to their original starting point.
One protester brought a drum, and the military-style cadence it provided improved the energy of the march.
Chants included “Equal pay for equal work,” “Niemen, Niemen (or) “Stenger, Stenger,” come on out. Meet the students you sold out!” and “Union power!” among others.
The support of bystanders also contributed to an increase of energy between the rally and the march and attracted some attention from onlookers as they honked their car horns, clapped and even shouted along with the chants.
The message of the GSEU, although brief, was well received by student’s alumni and members of the community.
“We wanted to get some community outreach,” says Johnsen.
“We are members of this community, and we want as much support as possible.”