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Graduate workers stand up against unfair conditions



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Students watch a presentation at the Indiana University Graduate Workers Coalition town hall Sept. 12 in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center. The town hall addressed concerns raised by many graduate workers about the mandatory fees students are required to pay in order to work and learn at IU. Joy Burton Buy Photos

“I lost a tooth because I couldn’t afford to go to the dentist,” read a statement from an anonymous graduate student at the town hall organized by the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition on Thursday.

The town hall addressed concerns raised by many graduate workers about the mandatory fees students are required to pay in order to work and learn at IU.  

The coalition was formed, informally, in 2017 after a nationwide graduate student walk out to protest fees. At IU, the coalition has been slowly forming over the last 18 months in order to fight for better working conditions for graduate student workers at IU Bloomington, according to a press release sent by public relations representative Elizabeth Williams. 

Over 300 graduate students attended the event, sitting on the floor, in the aisles and spilling into the hallway outside of the lecture hall. All of them were there because they believed the addition of fees was unfair to graduate workers.

“We are all the Graduate Workers Coalition,” yelled Valentina Luketa, “We are all fighting for better conditions.” 

She was met with thunderous applause from around the room. 

The average graduate worker pays about 8% of their stipend back to the university in fees. Jacobs School of Music and international students can pay up to four times this much, up to 37% of their stipend, said Sanjana Agarwal and Peter Cho, two members of the coalition.

When they are admitted to their programs, many graduate students are not made aware they will have to pay these fees, said Nathan Schmidt. Some members of the faculty are not aware how high these fees really are.  

“You can find them, but you have to know exactly where to look, and most of us didn’t even know to check” Schmidt said.

IU ranks eighth out of 14 Big Ten schools in graduate student fees. IU fees are among the highest in proportion to the minimum graduate worker salary, coming second only to University of Nebraska, according to a graph shown during the town hall. 

“We appreciate the concerns that the graduate student group is raising,” said IU spokesman Chuck Carney. “Although the mandatory fees our students pay is in the mid-range of our Big Ten peers, we are constantly re-examining those rates to ensure we are being equitable while still meeting the demands of services IU provides with those fees. We have also been working to find ways to improve stipend funding for students who provide valuable service to Indiana University. These are concerns for us as well and we look forward to continuing a dialogue to ensure our graduate students have the best opportunity for success at IU.”

The coalitions campaign was launched two weeks ago with an online petition. Since its release, it has gathered over 1,100 signatures. During her speech, Luketa said the coalition is planning to bring this petition to university officials as well as the IU Graduate and Professional Student Government.

There are many other issues the coalition hopes to tackle, Agarwal said, including mental health issues, academic hazing and discrimination.

“We all want to do our jobs well, but we can’t under these conditions,” Luketa said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Sanjana Agarwal's name. The IDS regrets this error.

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