Harvard students protest university president in support of striking grad students

The three-day strike involved a planned protest and walk-out during a Parents Weekend event.

The absence of graduate teaching assistants caused class sections for undergraduates to be cancelled.

First-year students at Harvard University walked out of University President Lawrence Bacow’s speech at Parents’ Weekend today as a show of solidarity with striking graduate students.

The Harvard Graduate Student Union began its 3-day strike on Oct. 27 to push for higher pay, better benefits, and additional protections from harassment and discrimination. Striking graduate students refused to teach their course sections, resulting in many undergraduate sections being canceled.

Harvard had attempted to stave off the strike by putting forward a proposal for the union’s consideration. According to an email from the provost obtained by Campus Reform, the university had offered to immediately raise the minimum wage for student workers to $20 per hour, paying $1.8 million more into the benefits pool, and allowing more student workers to access benefits. However, the strike continued for all three planned days.

The union published a graphic telling students not to cross the picket line by going to any event or meeting that would typically be run by a Teaching Fellow. They admonished those Teaching Fellows who continued to work, telling students, “Don’t enable scabs – skip their sections!”  

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Carter Estes, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy, told Campus Reform that the strike has been disruptive. “The current graduate student worker strike has affected the learning at Harvard in many ways. With assignments being moved and sections for undergraduates being cancelled,” he said. 

On Oct. 29, the final day of the strike, freshmen staged a protest and walk-out during President Bacow’s speech to Parents’ Weekend participants. When Bacow took the stage, the students yelled in a call-and-response, “President Bacow, here me now. I am a first year and I stand with student workers. Their working conditions, our learning conditions. None of us want abusers on campus. Fair contract now!"

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The union posted a video of the spoken protest to social media. 

Harvard and the Harvard Graduate Student Union did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito