December 12, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Division and Solidarity in the Unionization Discussion

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To the Editor:

The socio-political climate recently has been emotionally taxing, taking a toll on our graduate student body. Locally, this has been exacerbated by the vitriolic nature of discussions on the union, with accusations flying on both sides. Some have charged CGSU with harassing tactics. Others are painting neutrality or alternate views about the union as self-interest and apathy towards the welfare of their peers across fields.

We are writing as the two graduate student representatives on the General Committee, the administrative, legislative and judicial board of the Graduate School. We both value this opportunity to have a voice in important decisions, including the graduate stipend, and we disagree on the institution of student governance that would serve us graduate students best — Aravind strongly believes in a collective voice but remains ambivalent about the benefits of a union; Anna joined CGSU before these issues arose and still believes in the merits of collective bargaining. We also represent disparate social viewpoints: American and international, humanities and STEM, left-wing and moderate, queer and straight, candid and tactful. Our friends and colleagues can attest that we agree on very few things apart from our joint dedication to our peers, the collective of Cornell graduate students. That we are each perceiving this divisiveness and emotional distress among our colleagues concerns us.

Our concern was validated by the Ask a Dean question from a student harassed by CGSU and the recent article about a broader pattern of harassment. We have been hearing about harassment for months, from students in multiple fields being ostracized, inordinately pressured, and — in Anna’s characterization of the most extreme cases — emotionally abused. We must be clear that what we have been hearing about does constitute harassment. Yet the response from a vocal part of CGSU, in personal discussions we’ve had raising the issue for the past few months and in comments on The Sun’s article, has been to throw doubt upon the quantity, validity and degree of these allegations.

Moreover, the treatment of certain individuals, especially Siddarth Chandrasekaran and Teja Pratap Bollu, upsets us. Both have devoted countless hours towards advocating for their fellow students’ interests, diving into the fray of committees, meetings, and student groups, challenging administrators and fellow students alike to critically evaluate their positions. We disagree with them on many points but have never doubted their sincere devotion to the Cornell graduate community, nor that of any individual participating in this important discussion.

Hence, we are making requests of CGSU. We ask them to believe their fellow graduate students, who would make up their constituents. When these issues arise, respond with support and openness rather than defensiveness: do not dismiss or trivialize students’ emotional well-being, perspectives or experiences. Address the disparity between the rhetoric of solidarity and the reality of unheard, harassed students. Externally, demonstrate that CGSU is listening to, responding to and solving these issues. Internally, create new mechanisms to receive input from graduate students who hold divergent viewpoints or are too fatigued by their work to participate. Prevent further harassment and repeated, unwanted visits to homes and workspaces — outreach is one visit, not four. We need to be particularly cognizant of each other’s well-being in this current climate.

Finally, be mindful that those of us involved in this discussion and active in student organizations on campus care deeply about our fellow students. This includes the At What Cost group (of which neither of us is a member). Deriding one another’s concerns and perspectives is detrimental to the very solidarity and community of our student body that CGSU aims to promote. Whether to unionize is a decision we must reach together.

Anna Fore Waymack grad

Aravind Natarajan grad