At the Bargaining Table

Your bargaining team has been hard at work going through our contract and compiling issues that negatively impact graduate assistants. As issues have come up over the past several years, we have been keeping track of them, in anticipation of the bargaining season. We have heard your concerns, and we hope that we will be able to improve the working conditions of GAs at this University with our new contract. To that end, we have formally presented our issues and interests to the Board’s bargaining team over the course of three meetings. We identified and presented 22 different issues:

  1. GA Stipends & Employment Fees
  2. Summer Healthcare
  3. Health Insurance Fee
  4. Training & Orientation
  5. Minimum Credit Hour Requirement
  6. GAU Office
  7. GA Workload & Quality Control
  8. Side Letter on Student Healthcare
  9. Access to GAU Bargaining List
  10. Fair Share
  11. Sick Leave
  12. Bereavement Leave
  13. Taxable Tuition for GAs (not RA or TA positions)
  14. Vacation
  15. Information Requests (Dean’s Email List and Board Budget Proposals)
  16. Eliminate 48-month Funding Caps
  17. GA-taught Class Size Caps
  18. Class Size Requirements not Counting Tuition Waiver Graduate Students Toward Enrollment Numbers
  19. Springfield Campus GA Spousal Healthcare
  20. Tuition Waivers / Scholarships
  21. Non-discrimination Policy
  22. GAU’s ability to file a chapter grievance on behalf of GAs
The Board’s team also presented a number of interests, though there is a considerable degree of overlap. Some other issues opened by the Board’s team include: GA Evaluation Process, Discipline and Dismissal process for GAs, and Additional Employment.
Now that you know what issues are on the table for negotiations, we will be asking you, our members, for your comments on these issues. We hope to hold dedicated events to these bargaining interests in which we will provide information and solicit feedback from you, so keep an eye out for announcements. Bargaining is a top priority for this year’s GAU leadership, so you can be certain that bargaining will be on the agenda for all of our Executive Committee and General Membership Meetings. In the meantime, if you have any concerns, or comments concerning the issues we presented, please feel free to contact the GAU Bargaining Team at bargaining.gau@gmail.com.
In Solidarity,
Sandy Kim

Inspiration for New Sensibility Inspired by Silvia Federici’s “Caliban and the Witch”

By James Anderson

Halloween conjures up all kinds of images, rituals and events.

Ghosts. Ghouls. Goblins. Vampires. Zombies. Dracula. Frankenstein. The Monster Mash. Costume parties. Trick-or-treating. Unofficial celebrations. The official Hangar 9 “Little Pizza Halloween Extravaganza” in Carbondale. And of course the debut of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror XXV” episode.

The subject of witches also inevitably becomes a big part of the pop-culture lexicon around this time. But the history of witches, specifically the history of the witch-hunt, seldom receives attention or gets discussed.calibanwitch250

Silvia Federici’s “Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation” is one text to turn to for an understanding of the witch-hunt, its historical function and its effects.

So from whence does this notion of the witch emerge?

Central to Federici’s thesis is that capitalism was not the result of an evolutionary process toward greater productivity and prosperity. Rather, “the rise of capitalism was coeval with a war against women,” part of “a concerted attempt to degrade them, demonize them, and destroy their social power,” she wrote.

When “centuries-long social conflict,” combined with economic crisis, shook the power of merchants, feudal lords and the affluent and authoritarian sector of the clergy, Federici argues, this generated a class-conscious response.

The reaction of the ruling classes came in response to the “grassroots women’s movement” protesting established orthodoxy, “contributing to the construction of alternative models of communal life” and challenging “the dominant sexual norms,” in conjunction with attempts to create “more egalitarian relations” among the sexes.

Both revolt and ruling class reaction intensified when the feudal economy entered into serious crisis by the end of the Middle Ages, Federici suggests. Wages doubled, prices fell by 33 percent, rents declined “and a tendency appeared toward local self-sufficiency” between 1350 and 1500 in Europe. This prompted a “global offensive that in the course of at least three centuries was to change the history of the planet, laying the foundations of a capitalist world-system, in the relentless attempt to appropriate sources of wealth, expand its economic basis, and bring new workers under its command.”

The witch-hunt, an “unleashing of campaign of terror against women,” she wrote, weakened the peasantry already disadvantaged by land privatization, increased taxes, “and the extension of state control over every aspect of social life.” In destroying a whole slew of practices incompatible with capitalist discipline (e.g. communal relations, sexual activity not for reproduction of labor-power, traditional folk medicine antithetical to new doctrinaire rationality), and insofar as it cultivated a fear of the power of women that deepened gender divisions, “the witch-hunt was an essential aspect of primitive accumulation and the ‘transition’ to capitalism.”

Persecutions started in the 15th century. The witch-hunt accelerated toward the end of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century, at the same time as revolts – both rural and urban and usually led by women – intensified against privatization, enclosures of land and rising bread prices.

Federici suggests fixation during witch trials on the “Sabbat,” the witches’ supposed gathering place, might illustrate the parallel between attacks on poor people’s organizing against subjugation.

“But there is no doubt that, through the judges’ obsession with these devilish gatherings, besides the echo of the persecution of the Jews, we hear the echo of the secret meetings the peasants held at night, on lonesome hills and in the forests, to plot their revolts,” Federici wrote about the witch trials.

She also draws a connection between accusations about alleged pacts with the Devil – selling one’s soul – with the way the working classes started challenging laws implemented to protect the emerging new order.

Considering the historical context and class and gender of the accused, “we must conclude that witch-hunting in Europe was an attack on women’s resistance to the spread of capitalist relations and the power that women had gained by virtue of their sexuality, their control over reproduction, and their ability to heal,” she added.

Caliban and Conquest: Attacks on Witches in the Americas met with Resistance

However, Federici qualified, “continuity exists “between the subjugation of the populations of the New World and that of people in Europe, women in particular, in the transition to capitalism.”

She contends the two-pronged campaign against witchcraft, magic and alleged devil worship in the “New World’ and back in Europe, helped form an “international division of labor,” dividing “the new global proletariat by means of different class relations and systems of discipline, marking the beginning of often conflicting histories within the working class.”

Characterizing aboriginal populations in the Americas “as cannibals, devil-worshippers, and sodomites supported the fiction that the Conquest was not an unabashed quest for gold and silver but was a converting mission,” and not, as Federici argues, “the paradigmatic form of repression, serving to justify enslavement and genocide.”

She noted attempts to isolate accused witches from the rest of the community worked in Europe, but not among the Andean people – who had no notion of the Devil until the Conquest – because witchcraft and resistance became inextricably linked in the consciousness of the colonized and accused.

In the title and throughout her book Federici refers to the figure of “Caliban,” featured in Shakespeare’s 1612 play, “The Tempest” as the rebellious son of a witch. With inspiration from the Shakespearean narrative “suggesting the possibility of a fatal alliance among the oppressed,” Caliban became a symbol of resistance throughout Latin America.

It’s ironic, Federici commented, that Caliban and not Sycorax, the mother-witch, came to represent rebellion. The latter “might have taught her son to appreciate local powers – the land, the waters, the trees, ‘nature’s treasuries’ – and those communal ties that, over centuries of suffering, have continued to nourish the liberation struggle to this day, and that already haunted, as a promise, Caliban’s imagination.”

Federician Critique of Certain Forms of Feminism  

Some feminists fail to grasp the relevance of Federici’s thesis for today.

Janet Hanson, a former Goldman Sachs executive and founder of a group aimed at putting more women in positions atop the corporate hierarchy, has said the women’s movement went astray when it “became bitter and cynical” and focused on “what we don’t have as opposed to what we should have in an equal society.”

Hanson has a point about shifting from cynicism to a new sensibility, but her vision remains heavily skewed by its adaptation to relations that do violence to both women and men.

Her perspective reflects the institutions of which she advocates for and has been a key part.

Goldman Sachs, where Hanson was a vice president, has been described by former Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, in germane fashion for Halloween, as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” It has also been accused of causing a global food crisis, in addition to financial crisis, ensuring inequality that plunged populations into starvation – not exactly conducive to the “equal society” we should aspire to, as Hanson has it.

In a similar vein, a Pew Research Center report released in August 2014 identified as problematic that only about five percent of women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and that women occupy less than nine percent of all management positions.

The report ignores the issue to which critical feminists are adamantly opposed: the relations of domination reified in structures where bosses and executives exist and exert power over others.

In contrast, an October 2014 report published by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United focused on the fact women work “most of the financially precarious jobs” in today’s economy. Some 70 percent of restaurant servers and 60 percent of all tipped positions are performed by women, the report stated.

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers remains $2.13. This means women remain disproportionately disadvantaged from poverty level pay, or are more frequently forced to endure degrading treatment so as not to lose money from tips needed to compensate for their inadequate remuneration on the job.

In “Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women,” Martha Ackelsberg clarified a distinction between the “classical liberal formulations” of feminism pervading US culture today, and the feminism of women involved in Mujeres Libres, an influential women’s organization during the short-lived anarcho-syndicalist revolution in Spain during the 1930s. The latter – like present-day Marxist and anarchist feminists – insisted on understanding freedom as “a social product,” and “attempted to develop strategies for empowerment (capacitación) that would enable previously subordinated men and women to realize their own capacities,” by considering how to collectively produce a kind of power-to  “without creating new relationships of ‘power over’ others.”

Ackelsberg favors the “insistence that hierarchy needs to be addressed and uprooted independent of economic relations” – a dubious proposal for today.

Domination, hierarchy and subordination could exist apart from constant capital accumulation, the driving force of our exploitative social reproduction. Yet Federici’s historical account of the witch-hunt, wherein women were terrorized to instill the discipline and control needed to “transition” to a system based on expropriation of the surplus value others produce, makes clear the foundations upon which capitalist society was formed. Federici demonstrated the tightly tethered relationship between sex-based hierarchies and economic reorganization for exploitation, which continues to inform oppressive relations in the present.

Making Sense of Struggle: Money, Markets and Magic at Work

Similarly, understanding how transformation of everything into a commodity to be bought and sold on the market affects social relations and militates against feminist objectives must be a primary task for feminism now.

In his essay comparing witchcraft with economics, David Hawkes stressed the extent to which commodities rule our world and underscored the parallels between wage labor and witchcraft. A capitalist economy “that represents material human activity in the form of exchange value,” and relies on money, “an externalized representation of abstract human labor power – that is to say, of human subjective activity, of human life,” involves the same sort of use of “performative” signs and “projection” that theories of witchcraft deploy, he argued.

Hawkes noted the increase in preoccupation with witches that has occurred when market economies and money are introduced to societies. He expounded on the social effects when wage labor, the condition of selling or alienating one’s labor, extends throughout society.

“The person remains a legally autonomous subject, but he gives up a portion of his life – that is, of his self – in exchange for a symbol of that portion,” Hawkes explained. “This symbol, which is money, then attains a subjective power, so that it determines the lives of the people whose activity it represents. A money economy is one in which people are ruled by fetishized representation of their own selves. Market economies are ruled by this ghostly, dead – but supernaturally active – power called money.”

Hawkes, however, did not discuss the extent to which certain classes in society wield social power over others, nor did he elaborate the importance of struggle against those power relations.

Women have historically been at the forefront of such struggle. It was women who pioneered the textile factory strikes in New England, and women who carried out “The Mother of All Strikes,” the first factory strike in the US, when workers rejected a 25 percent cut in pay, an extension of the working day and the sadistic management styles at Slater Mill in Rhode Island in 1824.

A network of feminist groups by the name of “WITCH,” influential in the early stages of the women’s liberation movement in the US, was born on Halloween in 1968, a year of revolution throughout the world-system, given the multiple uprisings that took place across the globe. Around that time, “the witch-hunt emerged from the underground to which it had been confined, thanks to the feminists’ identification with the witches, who were soon adopted as a symbol of female revolt,” as Federici observed in her book.

Amazing women like Marina Sitrin are presently participating in and writing about horizontally-arranged explicitly anti-capitalist organizing. Others like Victoria Law are critiquing pseudo-activism, like “carceral feminism,” which problematically seeks to address domestic violence through the use state violence – the very form of organized force Federici cites in her book as playing a pivotal role in the war against women-as-witches.

Women in the workplace and at university are often unfairly expected to be caregivers on top of other duties, as Natalie Nash pointed out. But promising efforts are afoot with an affective politics based in bonds of love and trust, and forged in opposition to the violence and impoverishment to which the system subjects so many.

Perhaps a new sensibility, grounded in the ghosts of the poor and feminine who practiced the magic of healing and caring before being systematically attacked during the advent of capitalism – coupled with the rebelliousness embodied by the women accused of witchcraft, as Federici described – could be a nice treat for us to resurrect this Halloween and thereafter.

 

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

 

President’s Column

by Bob Velez

If you missed the newest offering by documentarian of all things American, Ken Burns, you missed an epic story arc that encompassed the political careers of two presidents and one incredibly powerful woman whose efforts are still being felt around the world today.  It covered over one hundred years of American history and blended together a story of three lives marked by tragedy, heartache, exhilaration, success, failure, sickness, depression, joy, and a host of other human experiences that many of us have come to – or will have to – endure.  It sounds trite to say that it is a truly American story; a story of individuals who overcame massive obstacles to make a mark on our country and the world.  ‘The Roosevelts: An Intimate History’ was a comprehensive look at the lives of three historical figures who, in their own individual ways, inspired millions of Americans in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and whose significance in the American experience has remained and will remain for, I believe, centuries to come.

While I encourage fans of documentaries and history to see this monument to the American spirit, I want to warn you ahead of time: if you are a follower of today’s politics and an optimist for what can be in our country, you may find yourself sitting in sackcloth and ashes and rending your garments lamenting the leadership – or lack thereof – that is on full display in Springfield and the nation’s Capitol.  Its hard to avoid the deluge of negative advertising that has infected local television broadcasts informing us that candidates running for office are self-interested, devious harbingers of doom who are eager to abscond with your vote (and your tax dollars) while feathering their nest and wielding political power to destroy lives and/or America.  Of course there are also the ads that show those same politicians as Mr. or Ms. Everyman/Everywoman who are humbly offering their service to the fine citizens of our country.  Are they a brood of vipers or friends to the common man?  I suspect that most of the politicians of today exist in a space on neither extreme, but I can’t say I would mention any of their names in the same breath as the Roosevelts.

Despite coming from a family of significant means, Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt did indeed embrace the plight of the common man. Whether we speak of Teddy and his battles against the business trusts with a stranglehold on American commerce wringing every last drop of labor from the workers while paying barely subsistence wages (no, Wal-Mart wasn’t around in Teddy’s day), Eleanor fighting for universal human rights for all in spite of being on the receiving end of regular death threats, or FDR flexing government muscle to put millions of Americans back to work in hopes of stemming the human despair that had crippled us after three years of a Great Depression, their efforts to meet the material and emotional needs of our fellow Americans at times of incredible challenge in our country simply have no equal in today’s political environment.  Where are the leaders who can stir within us the desire to do big things simply because we can?  Is there a politician willing to tell us the truth that exists in the cliché “we all do better when we ALL do better”?  Who will proudly proclaim that we really ARE all in this together and that our collective will – also known as ‘government’ – is not a punchline or deserving of scorn in the name of liberty and individualism?

No, I’m not a Commie.  Nor do I believe that the means of production should rest exclusively in the hands of the proletariat.  But I do believe that the interests of the American people should be placed ahead of the unfettered pursuit of profit-by-any-means-necessary.  I do believe that the American spirit which built the Panama Canal and the Tennessee Valley Authority and helped win two World Wars exists and can be channeled once again to do big things for regular citizens.

One of the great things about Burns’ work is that instead of showing the main characters as legends whose characters are impossible to impugn, he chooses instead to pay particular attention to their flaws; the things that made them human.  Even the loftiest of optimists do not expect to find mythical superheroes in Washington D.C. able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and right all the wrongs that ail us as a society.  But are we foolish dreamers to yearn for a Roosevelt in our time?

Perhaps.

I’d like to think that there exists now or shall exist sometime in the very near future one or more Roosevelts who make their way into public service; who view politics and government not as something to apologize for but as a sacred trust in deed, not just word.  Who will embody and embrace the spirit of Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin?  Maybe its you, Dear Reader, who will become such a man or woman of our time.

AT THE BARGAINING TABLE

Contract negotiations and bargaining can appear to be a daunting, long, and drawn-out process. GAU Vice-President for Communications Kevin Taylor recently contacted GAU Lead Negotiator Jim Podesva and Bargaining Team Spokesperson and Contract Enforcement Specialist Sandy Kim to ask both of them about the ins and outs of the process.

Kevin Taylor: The previous contract with the university expired on June 30, 2014. Shouldn’t we have had the new contract ready to go right away to start August 1, 2014? Why the delay? Has this resulted in any lost benefits on the part of graduate students? For example, in the old contract we received a raise every new academic year; did we receive a raise this year? Is everyone affected or just union members?

Jim Podesva: It would have been great if we’d had a new contract all ready to go, but both sides have to agree on it. It is hard to coordinate schedules, particularly during the summer, so both sides agreed that substantive bargaining would occur in the fall.

Sandy Kim: As you can imagine, it can be a time-consuming process, particularly with the difficulties scheduling meeting times for a dozen meeting to come together. GAs are covered by the terms of our old Agreement until a new one is agreed upon and signed, so we are still covered until our new Agreement takes hold. When our new Agreement is approved, it will apply retroactively from the time of expiration of our old contract. Continuing with your example, if we are able to negotiate a raise for graduate assistants for this academic year, it would apply retroactively, which should result in back pay for the length of our contracts working under the expired Agreement (so, for most of us, August – new contract). This affects all graduate assistants who are covered by the contract, dues-paying member or not.

Kevin: In March last semester GAU and several other unions came together with their “Intent to Bargain Rally.” What was the significance of that to the current contract negotiations?

Sandy: Since all unions are bargaining at the same time, we wanted to publicly show solidarity with the other unions as we kicked off the bargaining process. While the interests of each union may be different, fundamentally each union desires an equitable contract for its members that is the product of good-faith bargaining. Hopefully, we will be able to continue holding joint events which is a great way to energize and mobilize members. Along those lines, some of our interests will necessarily align with those of some of the other unions and those would be good opportunities around which we can hold events and maintain open lines of communication with our University colleagues.

Kevin: So we’re in the midst of bargaining. Who is involved and why? For the Union and for the University.

Sandy: Our team is led by Jim Podesva (History), as our Lead Negotiator, with Bob Velez (Political Science) as Lead Negotiator Support, or Jim’s right-hand man. I (Sandy Kim – Political Science) serve as the Bargaining Team Spokesperson and Contract Enforcement Specialist. James Anderson (MCMA) is our Secretary-Recorder, and David Guggenheim (Business), Joel Amnott (Philosophy), and John Flowers (Philosophy) all serve as Co-Statisticians and Observers. Our team also includes Bret Seferian, who is our IEA/NEA Uniserv Director.

The Board’s team is led by Gary Kinsel (Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), along with Deborah Nelson (General Counsel), Scott Ishman (Associate Dean of the College of Science), Lori Stettler (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Auxiliary Services), Katie Sermersheim (Dean of Students), Justin Schoof (Chair of Geography and Environmental Resources), and Beth Chester, who serves as their Note Taker.

Kevin: Are these things combative? What’s it like to be negotiating with the University? And how has the change in administration these past few months changed the dynamic?

Jim: There’s no doubt about it, the negotiations surrounding the last contract were adversarial and combative. There didn’t seem to be any real effort on the part of the administration to come to an agreement, and we fought every point, no matter how inconsequential. I’m pleased to say that with the change in administration there is also a change in tone to the current negotiations. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of stalling and negativity, but of course we’ll have to see how it goes further down the road.

Sandy: The sessions we have held haven’t felt particularly combative. At this point in the process, we’ve agreed upon the “Ground Rules” that will apply to the entire bargaining process and held the first of three scheduled meetings for each team to present their interests. We have yet to begin the substantive discussion on each individual issue yet, but based on the first handful of meetings we have had, I am optimistic for a bargaining season that is more collaborative than combative. By allowing each team to present their interests, without necessarily being married to specific terms or language, the goal is to have open and honest conversation and dialogue for each interest and together, come up with terms and language that is amenable to both sides of the table. The changes in administration seem to have brought about a collective sigh of relief that this bargaining season will not be as combative and antagonistic as the last round of negotiations tended to be at times.

Kevin: How long do negotiations typically last and why? How long do we expect these negotiations to last?

Jim: I don’t mean to be flippant, but they take as long as necessary. That being said, I’m optimistic we can come to an agreement in less than a year.

Sandy: I have no idea…though I certainly hope we have a new signed contract within the academic year.

Kevin: Are there many graduate student unions? If so, is there an existing model for negotiations?

Sandy: There are roughly 30 or so in the country, though some of them are within state university systems, so not very many at all. We are fortunate to have some institutional memory on our team this time around, with Jim Podesva, our lead negotiator, who also led negotiations for our last agreement. We have also been looking at other grad union contracts for language and interests that could work well for our contract.

Jim: Sadly, there aren’t a lot of graduate unions, but that is changing. Even at elite institutions there’s a move to organize graduate assistants, and there should be. Without graduate assistants, a university can’t function, whether it is SIUC or the University of Chicago.

Kevin: What are the top items up for negotiation and why? How does GAU solicit feedback from the student body?

Sandy: Last year, we sought feedback from our membership in anticipation of the upcoming bargaining season with an online survey from which we able to determine the top three interests: fees, stipends (salaries), and healthcare. We continue to have conversations with members, and graduate assistants more generally, and these discussions will also provide items for bargaining. Serving as the Grievance Committee Chair, I’ve also dealt with a number of issues that will likely be a part of our negotiations. As we delve further into the bargaining process, we hope to hold events at which we could provide information and solicit feedback from our general membership.

Kevin: What, if anything, can students do to support the union through negotiations? Can we make negotiations go any faster or smoother?

Sandy: The most important way for GAs to support the union is to sign a membership form and become dues-paying members. Although every GA is covered by the contract, only 10 to 15 percent are dues-paying members of GAU. It’s in our best interests to be able to tell the Board’s team that we represent 50% of all GAs as opposed to 20%. It’s a numbers game in some respects, and higher membership gives us greater clout around the bargaining table. It’s a great deal easier to say we speak for our members when we have the increased numbers to back up our claims for representation. We also hope that our members, and GAs more generally, take advantage of opportunities to receive information and give feedback when we hold events and meetings related to bargaining.

Orientation to Educational Opportunity: Natalie Nash’s Story

By James Anderson

Graduate Assistants United provided new graduate assistants at Southern Illinois University Carbondale an introduction to the union during orientation at the start of the fall 2014 semester in August. GAU also provided those incoming GAs with 250 donuts.

Natalie“That was thanks to me,” said Natalie Nash, 26, the union’s new vice president for membership. She said she specially ordered the confectionary from Larry’s House of Cakes, a shop on Main Street in Carbondale known for baking fresh desserts daily.

Nash, who, along with President Bob Velez, gave the union presentation at orientation, said not many donuts were taken as students were going in, so she and Velez started to get worried.

“You know, we did the speech and we were like, ‘And there’s more donuts outside!” and by the next break they were gone, Nash said.

Nash, a graduate assistant and teaching assistant in zoology, said people “didn’t seem too bored” by the union’s delivery. She said she was possibly “too nervous to realize if they were” bored or not.

Nash, who has done improvisational comedy and theater, said she nevertheless felt confident “the union was very warmly welcomed” at the big orientation and during all the different department orientations she attended.

She attended almost 10, including the ones for art and design, music, rehabilitation, zoology and the big orientation with Velez.

“She was very good, very articulate,” Velez said about Nash’s performance during the university-wide GA orientation. He said he trusts the work they did and continue to do “will bear fruit.”

Now a TA for Zoology 118: Principles of Animal Biology, a class also for non-majors, Nash hopes the fruits of her pedagogical labor are realized as well.

As the TA for the course, which she facilitated during the spring 2014 semester too, Nash attends two lectures, teaches three lab sections and has one-hour office hours for each of those sections every week.

In the class, she said students – among other things – do science experiments; learn more about the scientific method; get into the nuances of cellular structure; study the basics of muscles, tissues and organs; discover the dynamics of diffusion; and explore the ins-and-outs of mitosis and meiosis.

Because it is a class for non-majors, “you don’t get people as enthusiastic about the subject matter,” and sometimes students are “dragging their feet because they have to be there.”

They “sometimes” get sassy, she said. Nash said she tries to make the subject interesting for those non-majors who otherwise might not be as engaged with the subject matter.

Early education at home

Nash said she generally enjoyed school growing up, but she learned in a unique setting where there was little cause for sass. She was homeschooled from first grade through high school.

“It really just allowed me to be kind of true to myself,” she said. It was quite “structured,” although Nash said she could choose the order of what they worked on each day.

While she said her homeschool experience and extra-curricular activities exposed her to a multiplicity of perspectives and opportunities, she noted not everyone who is homeschooled is as fortunate and some only get to see one viewpoint.

“I think that is a shame,” she said. But the “homeschool network” she and her family were a part of encouraged critical thinking attuned to many views, she said, noting that she took karate classes and swimming classes at the YMCA and was interacting with other kids there as well.

Nash lived in Maplewood, Mo., an inner-ring suburb just outside of St. Louis, while growing up. She would have been in the Maplewood and Richmond Heights school district if she went to public school.

But her mother decided when Nash was in kindergarten that she wanted to take on the responsibility of educating her at home.

Her mother taught Nash and her sister who is two years younger. She also tutored a friend’s brother who was autistic, Nash explained.

On top of that, her mom landscaped their “really big backyard” and “probably repainted every room in the house like, twice, over the past 25 years,” Nash said.

After taking care of her grandparents throughout Nash’s childhood, her mother is now taking care of the neighbors in their old age.

“We’re all Irish, so we’ve got that bond,” Nash said about the relationship her family has with neighbors.

She did not grow up in a distinctly Irish neighborhood, however.

“There is an Irish neighborhood – ‘Dogtown’ – but this one was not,” Nash said. “So that’s kind of why we were so close.”

While her mother oversaw most of the homeschooling, she said her father worked as a bartender at a few places, including Union Station, when she was growing up. For a short period of time he also worked at Washington University so the kids could enjoy the family dental plan, she said.

He also worked – and still works – as a bartender at The Schlafly Taproom on Locust Street in St. Louis.

“He’s the only bartender there with gray hair,” Nash said about her dad, who is also the oldest server there behind the bar.

But he knows his stuff, Nash intimated when recounting visits she and her dad have made to the taproom’s other Maplewood location.

“So we’ve gone there together for breakfast,” she said, “and the manager there has walked up to my dad and asked his advice on a reservation issue that came up.”

Community college to Thailand and back again

Nash, who started community college at 16 and graduated three years later with an “English-heavy” associate degree, has also received some fortuitous advice – not only from her father, but from a friend who was an entomologist, studying insects.

After taking a biology class at community college and then enrolling at Webster University in St. Louis to pursue a bachelor’s in the discipline, she said she realized the related field of zoology was her passion.

“Plan A” – which was in her mind by the time she was doing undergraduate work at Webster – “is to get a PhD in zoology and become a university professor,” she said.

Webster, which she said has dedicated teachers, does not have “a whole lot of research opportunities, and they don’t really have zoology.”

So she asked her entomologist friends for advice on what other universities to look into for research experience.

“She actually told me to contact UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign], but all I remembered was IUC, and so when I Googled it I came up with SIUC,” Nash recounted. “And so I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll contact them.’ And so I just kind of asked around if anybody would be needed a lab technician.”

Someone did. She landed a paid position and worked 20 hours per week in the lab at SIUC during the summer of 2011, right before her senior year at Webster.

So she considered SIUC, among other schools, as the place to pursue a master’s degree.

But first she set her sights abroad.

Webster has a campus in Cha-am, Thailand, about two hours south of Bangkok. She opted to attend school there for a semester as an undergrad, living in the nearby beach resort city of Hua Hin while overseas.

In addition to the vast “multicultural experience” of taking classes in a different country with a lot of Thai students as well as many from Europe, she said she took classes she wouldn’t have otherwise. Since the Cha-am campus did not offer many biology courses, she took classes in international relations, human rights, critical thinking and roots of religion during her semester abroad.

Later, she took a two month trip “and just kind of, you know, blew all of my savings because I figured I wouldn’t be traveling again for all of grad school,” she said about traveling to Europe and back to Thailand with one of her friends.

Coming to Carbondale, despite the fees

After taking a year off following graduation from Webster, Nash started at SIUC in August 2013.

Nash said she could have ended up somewhere else, however, if not for semi-ambiguous wording in the acceptance letter SIUC sent her.

Student fees per semester at SIUC are about what the fee total is for the entire academic year at UIUC, Nash noted.

“Because of that and the way it was worded in my acceptance letter [from SIUC], I made the unfortunate assumption that the listed fees was for the whole year here,” she admitted.

Looking back, she said she could see what was meant with the wording, but because of the way the letter said fees are about $1,500 for fall and spring semester, she assumed that was for both semesters combined.

If she would have realized how much graduate students – and those who work as graduate assistants, employed by the university – pay in fees at SIUC, she said her choice of universities might have been different.

“I honestly don’t know if I would have come here,” Nash said.

Nash added that because she had some money saved, she managed to not take out any loans as an undergraduate. Circumstances changed once she came to Carbondale.

“I have to take out student loans now even thought I have a stipend, and tuition waiver and everything,” she said.

The situation is “daunting,” Nash said.

Problematic language, institutional problems

There are many reasons, Nash said, she loves the university and the master’s program in zoology – which is why, she acknowledged, she might have decided to go to graduate school at SIUC even if she knew coming in the exact cost of the fees. But, she pointed out, there are pressing issues that need to be addressed, on campus and on a broader societal level.

To the point, a lot of sexism at the university occurs “without men being aware of it,” she said, because it does not “occur to them to think about how women are socialized” to offer help, be caregivers and make other sacrifices as those disparate power relations become normalized.

Like with racism, privilege prevents those who are not as oppressed from recognizing oppression, she said.

“You can still have a sexist action even though you are not sexist, even though you didn’t intend it to be,” she added, underscoring the ways in which sexism – as well as racism, both of which affect GAs as students and as workers, Nash contends – operate not just at the individual level but become institutionalized.

Nash, who said she identifies as a lesbian, also pointed to the normalization of “rape jokes” on campus as problematic.

When helping an undergraduate club a while back and participating in the organization’s events, she said she heard “rape jokes” five times. Nash said she called out those who made the jokes every time. People should really question whether “it’s acceptable to use rape as an adjective,” she added.

In contrast, there are other serious uses of the word where the answers are not so easy, she acknowledged.

For example, Belén Fernández recently used the phrase “Neoliberal Rape” in a headline for an article about the culpability of the dominant social system – and a market-fetishizing mentality – regarding rape of women in Spain.

Fernández noted rape victims are often blamed for their crimes, similar to how victims of the financial crisis “were made to pay for the crimes of the elite; in 2012, the Associated Press reported that there were no fewer than 500 home evictions being carried out per day, prompting rampant suicides.”

The “neoliberal system predicated on the violent severance of interpersonal bonds such that no human solidarity can challenge the reign of capital” also fosters collective insecurity, Fernández added. This gets “repackaged as individual insecurity to be dealt with on an individual basis, with no acknowledgement of structural causes,” so marketing of “products like anti-rape nail polish and rape-resistant underwear” individualize the problem and attempt to address it through commodification with predictable consequences, she suggested.

Vandana Shiva, a physicist and eco-feminist environmental activist who won the Alternative Nobel Prize in 1993, has used the word in another serious context after a series of thousands of incidents of rape were reported in India several years ago.

“When there were the—the epidemic of rape started with December last year in India, you know, I did a piece that connected a violent economy, which thrives on the rape of nature, but also then creates social systems where men have no work, they have no meaning, and they’re seeing Bollywood films all based on sex and violence,” Shiva said in December 2013.

The point is “we need to see these connections a bit more,” argued Shiva, who also founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology and its offshoot the Navdanya biodiversity program committed to promoting “Earth Democracy” and rejuvenating indigenous knowledge and culture.

Shiva underscored those connections in an editorial deploring the relations of debt and despair created by Monsanto, headquartered in the greater St. Louis area not far from where Nash grew up. Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cotton seed market in India through its genetically-modified organisms, Shiva wrote, and the corporation commodified the common resource of farmers – seed – into “intellectual property” from which it collects royalties and extracts profits as farmers’ debt and the consequent debt-induced suicides grow.

“Uncivilized people rape the Earth for today,” Shiva said about what corporations like Monsanto and the fossil fuel industry do to the natural world.

Nash said the “rape of the land” is undeniably a serious issue, although she understands why other people would be opposed to the language in this context.

“Whether or not it is OK, it’s definitely, it’s incredibly different” from using the word “rape” in a joking way or as a wholly inappropriate adjective to describe success over something, Nash said.

The undergraduate club she worked with has since taken initial steps to discuss the problems with the latter usages, she said.

But Nash emphasized the persistence of the problem. She also acknowledged the efforts of Emma Sulkowicz, a rape survivor who has been carrying a dorm room mattress around with her everywhere she goes on Columbia University campus until her rapist is expelled or leaves.

Seeking justice within existing institutions fraught with institutionalized racism and sexism has proven problematic elsewhere.

The Oklahoma NAACP recently called on the Justice Department to investigate the case of an Oklahoma City police officer accused of rape.

Two African-American brothers who spent more than 30 years behind bars after being found guilty of rape and murder were exonerated this year. In June, New York City agreed to pay $40 million to the five black and Latino men – the “Central Park 5” – who spent years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of raping a female jogger.

Acknowledging the racism entrenched within the system, Nash said it is also important to remember the notion that victims of rape often make false accusation is false.

Further, when a rape victim really comes forward it “does not ruin a person’s life,” and rapists ruin their own lives when they decide to rape, she said.

Unions at University: Degrees of benefit and benefits beyond the degree

Regarding sexism and racism on campus, the University of California Student-Worker Union, UAW local 2865, created an “Anti-Oppression Committee” to address those problems as part of a “social justice unionism” approach, which Nash said sounds promising.

As regards other injustices at the university, she said the situation GAs at SIUC face is “unjust on the broad contract level,” although things vary at the departmental level and in the workaday relationships across assistantship appointments.

Stipends across the board could “probably could be higher,” she admitted.

GAU is bargaining a new contract with the University this semester, and stipends are high on the list of items for the union to address.

Nash said the benefits for becoming a member and getting involved are more direct this year because of the bargaining. But some people do not know what the union does, she said, which prevents participation, as does somewhat understandable but self-centered thinking.

“You can benefit from the union without paying the dues,” Nash said about the general situation improving for all GAs, even those who do not support the union or opt not to pay the $23 per month to join the union. “And I think a lot of people just ride it through that way.”

The union should and must still struggle for all assistants, said Nash, who joined the union the first weekend she came to SIUC.

It should not be “an exclusive club” either, she said, but rather open to and attentive to the needs of all GAs, especially because the University is not.

“It feels like grad students aren’t a priority of SIUC,” Nash said, qualifying with “maybe this school is going to be a little more union friendly,” given recent changes in top-level administration.

She said “there’s not enough pressure on the university,” however. “I don’t feel like they feel pressured at all.”

But pressure must come from below.

Nash, who for her thesis plans to study the dispersal of the southern pine beetle with the help of advisor John Reeves, stressed opportunities for putting pressure on the University to improve conditions for GAs are related to pursuing the possibilities the University setting offers.

“Graduate school is so much more than just your thesis,” said Nash, who will still research different samples of beetle populations, run “micro-satellites” to determine if the insect populations in Louisiana are genetically similar to those in Mississippi.

There are more species of beetles than there are species of mammals, Nash said before reiterating the rationale for not limiting your life to only degree-directed research.

She said supporting each other in the union helps grads “stay grounded,” and meet people with many different perspectives from different departments to better understand what campus is like for everybody.

“Don’t get lost in your research,” she advised.

 

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

Tomorrow: GA United Family Picnic!

GA United Family Picnic

Friday, Sept 5
5 – 7pm
Evergreen Park (Pine Tree shelter)

FREE FOOD AND BEVERAGES

ALL GRADUATE STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES ARE WELCOME!

This park is adjacent to the Carbondale Reservoir and there is playground equipment for kids. We will have burgers, brats, and a veggie option as well as non-alcoholic beverages.

Please come! Tell your friends . . . heck, tell your enemies!

Bob Velez
President, GA United

picnic-september1

A Welcome and a “Thank You”

By Bob Velez, President, GA United

 

temperamental-women            The fall 2014 semester is underway and I offer a “welcome” to new and returning SIU grad students!  We start off this new academic year with new leadership in both our union and the university administration.  Your GAU bargaining team is gearing up for meetings with the administration’s team to secure a new contract that will cover a multitude of items including stipend levels, benefits, and working conditions.  GAU will do our best to provide whatever information we can on the progress of these negotiations throughout the semester and we are optimistic that we will secure a fair contract that balances the needs of graduate students and the university.

 

GA United is, of course, part of the larger organized labor movement; a movement that has its roots in New Deal legislation that made collective bargaining legal and saw the birth of several unions including the American Newspaper Guild and the United Auto Workers.  Those unions, ironically, formed during a time of enormous strain on the U.S. Economy: the Great Depression.  Unemployment reached 25% in the United States and rose even higher in some other countries.  The widespread poverty and lack of opportunity notwithstanding, these trailblazers called for the labor provided by the workforce to be recognized as valuable to the business sectors they worked within and risked their jobs (and, sometimes, life and limb) to organize for better pay and working conditions.
minneapolis-teamster-strikeWhile we are currently not in a period of widespread want and woe, it is not uncommon for some segments of the population to criticize unions and the labor movement for seeking more for their members.  Its no secret that Illinois is in a precarious financial state and as public employees, our fates are inextricably bound to those of Illinois; at least for our time here at SIU.  While we make no guarantees regarding what we will be able to secure in our next contract, we do not apologize for a collective bargaining process that seeks to better the situation for our members.  State funding for higher education has been only one victim of the full frontal assault on public budgets over the last decade or so.

 

I invite new and returning grad students to join GA United.  As I said during the new student orientation this year and in several departmental meetings, more members gives us more clout at the bargaining table.  Membership has its privileges as well; not the least of which is having a say in the governance and operation of the union that represents you.  As an all-volunteer run union, we always need individuals to invest their time and energy in keeping our ship afloat.

 

strike-ends            One final note: you are receiving this newsletter over a “long” weekend.  While Labor Day is generally viewed as various things including the end of summer, the beginning of campaign season in an election year, and the deadline for wearing white clothing and accessories, it commemorates “the social and economic achievements of American workers” (http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm).  Some of those achievements include, but are not limited to: the 40-hour workweek, the end of exploitative child labor laws, and the weekend.  Some of these gains were bought with enormous sacrifice on the part of labor activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and it is easy to take them for granted today since we rarely face the brickbats of business thugs and mercenaries eager to crack the skulls of “rabble-rousers”.  For their sacrifices and commitment to the cause of organized labor, I offer a heartfelt “thank you”.  It is my ultimate hope that we all spend time reflecting upon those that came before us and did the heavy lifting of securing for labor a spot at the table.

 

 

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