In the kitchen at the Canterbury House on Wednesday, Jessie Wang stood over a pot of harissa stew the size of their torso. At the other end of the kitchen, Elliana Blake sat and peeled potatoes and dropped them in a large, clear bin. Graduate workers surround the kitchen at the dining table and living room couch, typing on laptops and calling around, scheduling people for shifts for the coming days of the strike.
Jessie Wang is a volunteer cook for the strike, not a graduate worker. They aspire to work as a chef at their own restaurant, and they wanted to provide nourishing food for the strikers. They chose to make harira because it’s a dish traditionally served during Ramadan, which is happening now in the month of April.
“This is my way of showing support,” Wang said. “I know so many people who are exploited by the university.”
The original plan was to take the soup out to the picket lines today, but since those were canceled for today due to inclement weather, they’re making the meals to fuel the strikers who are spending the day organizing at the Canterbury House.
On Monday, graduate workers voted to strike, with 97.8% of those voting supporting the strike. The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers is seeking union recognition for graduate workers to engage in collective bargaining with the university. They’re frustrated administrative salaries have gone up while their stipends have not significantly changed, according to an IGWC-UE press release.
Their partner and many of their friends are graduate workers, and they said it’s heartbreaking to hear about friends struggling to afford healthy food — or enough food at all. A lot of these graduate students survive on ramen and turn down outings with friends so they can pay rent, they said. As a worker in the service industry, the graduate workers’ struggles for fair conditions and better compensation is something they can empathize with.
Elliana Blake, a volunteer cook and Wang’s friend, said she jumped at the opportunity to help cook because Wang had inspired her. She quit her job at IU Dining a while ago and isn’t a student, so she hadn’t been paying much attention to events on campus. But Wang inspired her to help out.
She said one of the major benefits for graduate students working at IU Dining is the free meals.
“It helped me, too,” she said. “It was pretty much my main food source.”
“You’d be surprised how much it saves,” Wang chimed in as they stirred the soup.
Peter Cho and Despoina Panagiotidou are both international graduate workers. They were helping with the cooking, donning the same black aprons as the volunteer cooks.
Cho, who is from Canada, said he buys the cheapest groceries he can afford and often turns down going out to dinner with friends. It’s time and mental space he can’t use for research and teaching, he said.
“Having food is really wonderful,” he said.
“We want to keep the momentum going,” Panagioutidou agreed, gesturing at the workers stationed outside the kitchen.
Panagioutidou, who is from Greece, said she and other international graduate workers can’t take on extra jobs — they’re capped at 20 hours a week — and they have an extra fee on top of all the other mandatory fees all graduate workers must pay.
Cho said improving graduate student working conditions helps everyone on campus, and the amount of support they have from undergraduates, faculty and the community is encouraging. Panagioutidou said it’s sad to see the university presenting those striking as only a small group of individuals with narrow interests.
Wang said they’re grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the strike. Since getting enough quality food to eat is a major problem for many graduate workers, they’re happy to volunteer their time and talents to fill their plates in a way that’s more than metaphorical.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the soup.