Spring 2019 GAGE Bargaining Committee
Our goal is to have a large, diverse bargaining committee that reflects a wide range of disciplines, demographic groups, and experiences as graduate workers at Georgetown. Participating on this committee is an excellent opportunity to make a difference for all graduate employees, including research assistants (RAs), teaching assistants (TAs), and instructors of record.
Voting took place online using an electronic ballot on February 5th through 7th. For more information about the election process, duties, and eligibility click here.
Bargaining Committee MEMBERS - Humanities
Matt Dearstyne, 1st year PhD in Spanish and Portuguese
I am a first year PhD student in the Spanish department and have worked this year as an RA. I completed my MA at a university with a strong union, and saw first-hand how effective organizing can be at improving working conditions. I am particularly interested in fighting for expanded access to health coverage, including pushing for dental and vision coverage, as well as increased opportunities for summer funding to support graduate students. Additionally, my department is extremely diverse, and contains a significant percentage of international students. I believe it's important to make sure that these students' voices are heard.
Marya Hannun, 6th year Phd in Arabic & Islamic Studies
While I’m technically a doctoral student, I’ve spent more days than not during my six years at Georgetown working. I’ve served as a TA for language and content courses, as the instructor of record for my own course, and also as the graduate representative for my department. All of these positions have been integral to the functioning of the university, and yet, until we officially began to unionize last year, the administration insisted I was not a worker. This disconnect is what prompted me to get involved with GAGE back in 2016 before it was even GAGE. Simply put: we are workers. As workers, we deserve a say in our working conditions and in determining the benefits and safety nets that will guarantee us security in our jobs. Over these six years, I have witnessed firsthand what it means to not have this security. Personally, I’ve suffered physical injuries, broken glasses, and mild labor exploitation (a professor I was TA’ing for once made me babysit his kids during class!). In my three years as the graduate representative for my department, I’ve also helped my fellow graduate workers navigate their own difficulties: from inadequate maternity leave to a lack of mental health support to visa fears following the tepid response from the university after the 2017 immigration ban. While all of these issues have had a tremendous impact on my and my colleagues’ ability to do our jobs, they remain inadequately addressed under current university policy, which unrealistically emphasizes our role as students. I’m committed to negotiating a contract that will be driven by our needs and priorities as graduate workers.
Ari Janoff, 2nd Year PhD in Linguistics
Hi! My name is Ari, and I am a second-year PhD student in the Linguistics department. In my research, I investigate institutional discourse, naturalized and/or hegemonic discourses, and language policy. I hope to dedicate my doctoral studies to investigating the linguistic inequalities perpetuated against migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking communities. Before joining Georgetown's PhD program in 2017, I received an MA in English Sociolinguistics from NC State University and a BA in Linguistics from Pitzer College. In my non-academic free time, I enjoy yin yoga, competitive latin dancing, and social-deduction board games. I joined GAGE as a Vote-Yes captain this past fall because of my status as an unfunded graduate student. The Linguistics department used to allow students to begin their studies with no guaranteed funding, and each semester we are re-considered for a funded position for our entire tenure at Georgetown. In the process of navigating being hired as a graduate worker this spring, and with my previous history of being a graduate worker at North Carolina State University during my Master's degree, I have come to understand the complexities and intricacies of the student-worker system. My experience as both an unfunded and funded student puts me in a unique position of seeing what Georgetown does offer us and how they could improve. With this contract negotiation I am excited to build a more streamlined, straightforward, and supportive hiring process that allows graduate student workers to focus on excelling in their work and their studies rather than being stressed about a lack of institutional support.
Michael J. Lawrence, 1st Year Ma in English
I am a first-year English M.A. candidate serving as a Graduate Writing Associate for Georgetown University's first-year Writing and Culture Seminar, WRIT-015. I also work as a Graduate Writing Consultant at Georgetown University's Writing Center, through which I contribute to Georgetown's Pivot Program.
I joined GAGE within days of arriving on campus, as I believe that workers have a right to collectively establish their agreed upon working conditions, and that unions are a necessity of every workplace. Since joining I have become interested in learning about the conditions of other graduate workers on campus. In addition to working towards improving these conditions, I am hoping to negotiate the compensation and benefits received by M.A. employees, which currently face strict limitations imposed by the University.
Deidre Nelms, 4th Year Phd in Philosophy
I've been involved in building a union at Georgetown for almost four years, and in that time have learned a lot from the conversations I've had with student workers across departments.
As a member of the bargaining committee, I would emphasize the fact that a large percentage of graduate students struggle with mental health issues at some point in their time here, and that Georgetown hasn't done enough to make mental health care affordable or accessible. I'd make it a priority to continue collecting stories from grads who can speak to this personally. We don't have a sufficient number of in-network mental health care providers, and many of us have had extremely negative experiences with CAPS.
Graduates comprise ~75% of those enrolled in the Student Health care plan, but this plan is tailor made for undergraduates. We deserve an adult health care plan that meets our needs. Women graduate workers should not have to explicitly lie to our doctor about our reasons for using contraception and should have more options. All of us should get paternity/maternity leave should we need it. All of us should be able to afford dental x-rays, cleanings and routine care without going into debt. And our $5k out of pocket maximum (just lowered from 6k) is bananas, given the limited network and coverage of our plan.
I <3 our union, and want to make sure that the concerns of grads I've talked to over the last few years are brought to the table, before stepping aside to make way for capable new voices.
Gerald TAylor, 4th Year Phd in Philosophy
The Graduate School’s attempt to unilaterally increase our workload in the summer of 2016 opened my eyes to just how little influence we, the graduate workers of Georgetown, seemed to have in setting the terms for our own working conditions.
But I would emphasize that this is merely a seeming. In the nearly two years since GAGE’s inception, we have taken monumental strides toward the goal of rectifying the problems that became so obvious during that fateful summer. And we have demonstrated the considerable power that we have by coming together as a community of workers, sharing our diverse experiences with one another, and envisioning a better way forward.
Our landslide victory in the Fall’s campus-wide union election was just the latest exercise of the power that we have built. We signaled to the administration that we are many, we are strong, and we are ready to fight for our vision. But our work is far from over – indeed, much of our hardest work lies ahead. And it would be my honor to serve as a member of GAGE’s Bargaining Committee, to step into the arena with our administration, and to help realize the vision that we have been working so hard to achieve.
Bargaining Committee MEMBERS - Natural Sciences
Melissa Collier, 1st year PHD in Biology
As a first year graduate student in the department of biology, I come to Georgetown after putting myself through a self funded master's program, and teaching environmental science full time. I am similar to many grad workers who come to Georgetown with a high amount of student debt, and have my own experiences of working full-time before making the transition to be a grad worker at Georgetown. Losing dental and vision benefits and getting less financial support from my employer made the transition tough, and I am honored to be nominated to represent a community of workers that are in similar scenarios. Having a say in how you are compensated is a part of being fairly employed, and I hope to be able assist in negotiating a contract that will fairly speak to all graduate worker's needs.
Vaughn Shirey, 1st year Phd In Biology
As a first year, graduate worker at Georgetown, I have experienced first hand housing and food security issues posed by delayed payments from summer employment, forcing me to rely on a network of friends for necessities. Graduate study and graduate work are stressful enough, and this anxiety should not be further compounded by not knowing how you may afford to live or eat. My primary issues are concern for housing a food security among the graduate worker population given the high cost of living in the DC area, coupled with often high out-of-pocket costs from a healthcare plan that is not suited for an older population. In addition, coverage of vision and dental well-being is of extreme importance to me, and I recognize that the importance of this issue permeates throughout the GAGE membership at large. Finally, and although I have not encountered these issues at Georgetown personally, as a queer man I recognize the persistent difficulties faced by our community in the workplace and will be an advocate for LGBTQ+ visibility and issues throughout the bargaining process.
Casey Zipfel, 3rd year PHD in Biology
I am a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Biology Department in the Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As a graduate worker at Georgetown, I started as a research assistant, then spent two semesters as a teaching assistant, and then returned to working as a research assistant. I have been actively involved in the Georgetown graduate student community as a General Assembly member of Georgetown GradGov, representing the Biology department, and as a member of the Biology Organization of Graduate Students (BOGS). I have also participated in Georgetown University Women in Science and Education (WISE), and Georgetown University Women Coders (GU WeCode). I am interested in being a part of the Bargaining Committee because I think this is a very exciting opportunity for the voices of graduate students to be heard, and to positively affect the experiences of graduate students across campus. I think I would be helpful on this committee because I am eager to understand the priorities of the different graduate students across campus. I know that my perspectives and experiences are only one facet of the multitude that need to be represented in this process. I am excited by the challenge and opportunity to not only fully understand the support that a diverse group of graduate students needs, but also to communicate these to the University in a way that effects change.
Bargaining Committee MEMBERS - Social Sciences
Robert Cortes, 1st year Phd in Psychology
Hi, my name is Rob Cortes. I graduated from Georgetown as an undergraduate in May 2018 and started as a graduate student in the psychology department in Fall 2018. I am a Patrick Healy fellow and National Science Foundation fellow with a Mexican American background. My primary aim in helping the bargaining committee is to advocate for graduate student rights', particularly in regards to negotiation of payment for all forms of teaching, even if students are on a fellowship that funds their stipend and tuition. I am passionate about graduate student rights and would love to be a part of this committee. I offer the perspective of someone from a diverse background, who has experience with the intricacies of a graduate fellowship, and extensive experience with the University administrators (over 5 years).
Brent McDonnell, 3rd year phd in history
As a third-year PhD in the History Department and an alumnus of the MA program in German and European Studies, I have experience as both a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant on campus. During my time at Georgetown, I have come to recognize that our work is indispensable to the university, yet the compensation and benefits we receive for our labor are insufficient. Through my organizing work with GAGE, I have heard from numerous grad workers about the issues that matter most to them, which has demonstrated to me the wide array of issues grad workers have encountered in the workplace. On a more positive note, this organizing has also introduced me to the vibrant and diverse community of graduate workers at Georgetown. In negotiations, I believe that a better health insurance plan, ensuring clarity and transparency in working conditions, and a living wage are essential improvements for which we should fight. If elected to the Bargaining Committee, I will work to secure the best possible contract for all grad workers.
Avram Reisman, 2nd year MA in Government - Democracy & Governance Program
I have worked as an RA and TA at Georgetown. Much of it has been a very rewarding experience, however I have struggled at times to pay my rent and other expenses. In particular, last semester, I was expecting to be working as a TA at the start of the semester and two days before the semester started, I was informed that I would be "reassigned" and then I was "reassigned" to nothing. In general, I believe that greater transparency, higher wages, and a more accessible job board are very important. In addition, I have found that for a university that emphasizes Cura Personalis, the mental health services are woefully understaffed. I had an excellent relationship with a therapist over the summer when no undergraduate students were around, but when the semester started, there was practically no room left there. As such, we need better mental health insurance that allows us to seek help outside of CAPS or, at a minimum, expanded CAPS services. I have experience as a lobbyist, writer, and simulated negotiator so I know how to make a strong argument and take a stand. I believe that GAGE must be willing to articulate clear demands and, while being willing to compromise, establish what our baseline is prior to negotiations.
Daniel Solomon, 1st yeAr Phd in Government
As an undergraduate student at Georgetown, I had my first brush with the inadequate preventive care options available to graduate workers. In the spring of my sophomore year, I booked an appointment with Student Health Services to check in on a few health complaints. The nurse drew a regular blood sample for a panel test. The blood test should have revealed that I was beginning to experience symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, but the Georgetown health providers failed to identify the early signs of the disease. I only received my diagnosis three weeks and 25 pounds of weight loss later, when I returned home for spring break and checked into a New York City ER.
I am fortunate that I no longer rely on Georgetown for preventive care--I am on my wife's insurance plan--but I shouldn't have to be. Healthcare costs are high and rising across the United States, and Georgetown should ensure that all of its graduate workers have flexible access to high-quality, affordable care. I will represent GAGE at the bargaining table as a Type 1 diabetic concerned with the physical and mental health of all graduate workers at Georgetown. And I will use my experience on the GAGE Research Committee to help identify areas where GAGE might secure genuine gains in health coverage, health options, and fair pay for all workers.
George Koichi Wong, 2nd year MA in Government - Conflict Resolution
I am a second-year student in the MA Conflict Resolution program and I have worked as a research assistant on campus. While I have not personally experienced exceptional difficulties, I share the concerns of many others who are struggling with their work environments. As a master's student, I struggle with the anxiety of securing a job and getting on the first rung of the career ladder. Internships are meant to bolster our resume and our lives with experience and skills that will open doors to new career opportunities. I live with an international student, I'm a product of the public education system, and I'm the first generation in my family to graduate university, let alone pursue a graduate degree at a private institution; I understand the financial stress that comes with the high cost of living, unreasonable health insurance costs and options, inadequate transportation services, and uncertain career prospects. These are all extremely valid and pertinent concerns that must be listened to by the university administration if they truly value our education.