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At approximately 11:35 a.m. on Thursday, undergraduates walked out of their classrooms into the Yard and adjacent buildings to join the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers on the second day of the union's strike.
Participants in the walkout — organized by Harvard Student Labor Action Movement and Harvard College Young Democratic Socialists of America — said they hoped to cause a disruption in the classroom and show support for graduate student workers.
“Undergrads are only one degree removed from the thing that actually makes our University, which is our student workers,” said Jordan H. Barton ’23, a walkout organizer and member of Harvard YDSA. “Undergrads who attend those classes that are being disrupted, when they actively walk out, they demonstrate solidarity.”
For Barton, the walkout was a testament to the important role graduate students play at the University. It furthered the aims of the strike by helping “truly shut down” Harvard, he said.
On top of the walkout, YDSA established a hardship fund to support graduate student workers who are losing pay from the University by participating in the strike. The fund was created on Monday and has garnered over $12,000 dollars as of late Thursday, according to Barton.
Harvard YDSA and SLAM also planned a week of programming to support the grad student labor movement, including teaching freshmen about the labor action movement and picketing in Cambridge and Longwood.
Undergraduates said they joined demonstrations Thursday for numerous reasons, ranging from personal experiences to support for teaching fellows.
Caroline Choi ’24 said her father’s experiences as a student worker motivated her desire to participate in the union's strike.
“My dad was a grad student worker way back when he first immigrated and I saw how hard it was to live paycheck to paycheck,” Choi said. “I know student workers here must be struggling as well, and it's definitely not enough pay for them to be working this hard.”
Caroline H. Dent ’24 — who walked out from General Education 1093: “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Cares? Reimagining Global Health” — said that she wants graduate student workers to have a fair contract.
“Maybe one day I'm going to go to graduate school, and I would want to be a TF and a part of what makes Harvard such a vibrant academic community. And so of course, if I want that for myself, I want that for my wonderful TFs who are giving me such a great education,” Dent said.
Lavanya Singh ’22, an undergraduate teaching fellow for Computer Science 263: “Systems Security,” said that she is striking because she supports the union's demand for legal expense funds and third-party arbitration for some gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment cases.
"I think everyone at Harvard has an interest in Harvard being a harassment-free campus and frankly, the current policies are that most survivors can't afford the same amount of legal infrastructure that Harvard can,” she said. “It's obscene to ask the graduate students or an undergraduate to pay for their own lawyers in a battle against an institution like Harvard.”
In a proposal on Tuesday, the University suggested a legal expense fund of $50,000 per fiscal year. In an email to members later that night, HGSU-UAW stated that the amount is inadequate, since it “severely limits the support we can provide to survivors.”
—Staff writer Mayesha R. Soshi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Omar Abdel Haq can be reached at email@example.com.
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