Frustrated Ohio University graduate students gathered outside Walter Hall – where the April OU Board of Trustees meeting took place – Friday afternoon to protest unfair pay and inadequate health care for graduate students who teach at OU.
The event was organized by the Graduate Employee Organization, or GEO, which represents the interests of graduate students employed by OU.
Approximately 20 people stood with signs and banners that featured phrases such as “End grad student exploitation,” and “We should not need second jobs.” The group recited chants including “When they say ‘cut back,’ we say ‘fight back.'”
Suleyman Gurbanov, a grad student studying media studies, said international students attempted to voice concerns about healthcare before the pandemic, but those grievances were not understood by the university. Gurbanov asked members of GEO if the university listens to their concerns.
In response, Ryan Powers, a graduate student studying philosophy, discussed a previous meeting of GEO members with university President Hugh Sherman, where they brought forward their concerns of low wages and healthcare. While Powers said Sherman was shocked at the stories he shared in the meeting, Sherman allegedly said the university had to make strategic decisions about its allocation of resources.
Powers said he knew a graduate student who had a decaying tooth for over a year and could not afford to get it removed under their healthcare coverage.
“Why is the first response to us asking for a living wage telling us that we want to cut what makes the university what it is? Again, OU works because we do, and they want to cut the mission of this university, ”Powers said to the group of protesters.
Other members of the crowd shared their personal experiences and reason for attending the protest. Felix Stossmeister, a graduate student studying American history, recounted he had better healthcare coverage while unemployed in Germany than he currently has working for the university.
During the protest, GEO member Courtney Silver-Peavey and another representative spoke inside with David Moore, secretary of the Board, about their concerns and shared a petition that garnered over 560 signatures. Moore said he will distribute a letter that Peavey wrote to the chair of the Board with the rest of its members, as well as the petition.
Silver-Peavey said GEO will be presenting to the Board and voicing their concerns at its June meeting.