Simone Jacobs/Sun Staff Photographer

Responding to recent campus events, Student Assembly unanimously passed resolutions in support of graduate unionization and efforts in sexual assault prevention.

September 24, 2023

Student Assembly Passes Resolutions Supporting Graduate Unionization Effort, Urging the University to Condemn Sexual Assault

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The Student Assembly unanimously passed a resolution Thursday expressing support among undergraduates with Cornell Graduate Students United an organization that advocates for the rights of graduate students and their effort to unionize.

The passage of the resolution follows CGSU’s recent announcement that graduate students at Cornell will seek to unionize under the labor union United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, on Sept. 6 when they held a unionization card drive event in front of Bailey Hall.

Resolution 21: Solidarity with Cornell Graduate Students United, was sponsored by assembly members Suraj Parikh ’24, vice-president of external affairs and minority students at large liaison, Patrick Kuehl ’24, president, Claire Ting ’25, executive vice president, Aissatou Barry ’24, vice president of diversity and inclusion and minority students liaison at-large, Adam Vinson ’25, CALS representative and representative to the University Assembly and Casey Platkin ’26, ILR representative. The resolution was introduced alongside Jessica Ness grad, an organizer at CGSU. 

Parikh reflected on how this is not the first time that graduate students have been calling for unionization at Cornell, as there have been two different graduate student unionization efforts in the past, one in the early 2000s, which failed, and another in 2017 that also failed.

While graduate students serve as an integral component of the Cornell community, they face many challenges including low pay, limited access to health care, issues coming to campus and other problems, especially if they care for families with children or come from other countries, the resolution states. 

According to the resolution, 62 percent of graduate students cannot save “the recommended 20 percent of their paycheck,” 65 percent are unable to visit the dentist twice a year and 65 percent say that the TCAT system does not meet their “transportation needs.” The resolution asserts that by formally unionizing, graduates will be able to “collectively bargain with the University for better wages, benefits, rights and working conditions.”

To stand in solidarity with the entire Cornell graduate community as they fight for unionization, the resolution formally expresses support among undergraduates as CGSU tries to significantly “improve the lives of graduate students.”

Parikh emphasized the importance of the work that graduate students do at Cornell, and how they need to be fairly compensated. 

“I think it’s incredibly important that [we] undergraduates demonstrate our solidarity with regard to the students who basically make this campus run,” Parikh said. “These are people who are teaching our classes [and] include people who are a huge part of our education.”

Parikh also spoke on the correlation between graduate students’ unionizing and the 2023-2024 academic theme of “Freedom of Expression.”

“I think it’s important to recognize [that the] Administration has put such an emphasis on free expression,” Parikh said. “One of the most important ways that you can express your voice is signing a union card and joining a union because that’s the freedom of association.”

The S.A. also unanimously adopted Resolution 24, which affirms that sexual assault has no place on campus and calls for the University to “take steps to affirm our shared commitment to safety, inclusion, belonging and respect for all Cornellians.” 

The resolution was introduced by sponsors Alhassan Bangura ’25, chairman of the office of ethics, Lucia Balestrieri ’26, womxn’s issues liaison-at-large, Ting, Barry, Jack Kalinski ’24, executive archivist and Agnes Coleman ’26, deputy parliamentarian. 

Following a recent sexual assault on Sept. 14 on campus, the resolution formally condemns the incident and urges that the University address it and affirm that Cornell is committed to ensuring the safety of students.  

Ting said a statement from the University is overdue, and the resolution calls for reform to take place to evaluate the effectiveness of sexual violence prevention initiatives at Cornell.

To better provide students with resources to help prevent sexual violence, the resolution urges the “Administration and the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX to commit to consistent reassessment and collaboration with the student body” to prevent such violence from occurring again. 

The resolution also suggests that the Administration 1) meets with the S.A. and student body to engage in a conversation about current limitations of Title IX training for first-year students, 2) formally releases a statement acknowledging the recent incident and providing information on how to report to Cornell’s Title IX coordinator, Campus Police and other support services and 3) creates supplementary first-year orientation courses which can “reduce the risk of victimization” on campus.

Ting reflected on the necessity of the University to take steps to address sexual assault and the dangers of failing to act swiftly.

“How far is too far for something to happen for us to make a change for ongoing sexual assault prevention resources, our programs, our education? How far will it have to take us to finally give enough funding and human resources to the people who are educating others on consent?” Ting said. “That’s why I think we as the sponsors are pushing so hard for this to happen.” 

Matthew Kiviat ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].