Senate supports graduate student union, appoints member working positions

October 9, 2020

At its second meeting of the term on Oct. 4, the GUSA Senate unanimously passed its first piece of legislation, agreeing to sign and support an open letter from GAGE (Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees) to the university, calling for greater support for graduate workers amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since March, graduate student workers have faced instability in their employment with the university. As plans for the spring semester remain unknown, GAGE entered negotiations with the Georgetown administration. The union hopes to draft and sign a COVID-19 agreement, notably stipulating that the university ensures online work next semester and provides sick leave to graduate workers, especially those in hourly positions. After failed initial meetings with the university, GAGE is now considering using a third party arbitrator to help facilitate negotiations. 

Speaker Leo Teixeira (COL ’21) proposed the new piece of legislation that would formally add the GUSA Senate and Executive Board to the list of supporters of  GAGE’s open letter to the university. Additionally, the legislation stipulates that GUSA will encourage student support of GAGE and “demand that the administration returns to the negotiating table in good faith and grant graduate workers a fair Covid-19 agreement.” 

“It is a tremendous failure on the university’s part to so blatantly disregard these graduates workers’ right to unionize and to engage in collective bargaining,” Teixeira said in a plea to his fellow senators. “I think we all have seen that the Georgetown administration has failed its faculty, failed its staff, failed its graduate workers, and it has certainly failed its students [during this pandemic].” 

Additionally, GUSA reaffirmed its bylaws and appointed senators to new working positions. For the Finance and Appropriation Committee (FinApp), they appointed Sens. Yaritza Aguilar (COL ’22), Nirvana Khan (SFS ’24), and Rowlie Flores (COL ’22) in adjunct positions, in which senators serve on both FinApp and the Policy and Advocacy Committee (PAC). Sens. Olivia Kleier (COL ’22), Camber Vincent (SFS ’24), Lara Sophia Santana (SFS ’24), David Park (MSB ’23), Katie Wang (SFS ’23), Henry Dai (SFS ’22), Ivan Jimenez (COL ’21), and Dominic Gordon (SFS ’24) were all appointed to FinApp liaison positions. 

Senator Lily McGrail (COL ’21) was selected to fill the final of three Senate representative positions on the Ethics and Oversight Committee, beating Gordon. McGrail hopes to update the GUSA bylaws and encourage fellow senators to “behave more ethically” through fostering a safer environment to address potential issues in regard to interpersonal relationships in GUSA. 

At the meeting, Election Commission Chair Varsha Menon (SFS ’21) gave a presentation on this year’s Senate demographics form. Notably, this year’s Senate is majority cisgender female (57.1 percent), with a growing number of members who are gender non-binary (7.1 percent). In Menon’s presentation, she noted a lack of disability data, with 50 percent of Senate members failing to provide a response to whether or not they had a disability.  

In her concluding statement, Menon tied her presentation to the controversy surrounding the Senate election earlier this semester when concerns were raised about GUSA’s ability to represent marginalized students. “The way to interpret this presentation is that one, you’re not collecting diversity, so don’t see this as a way of checking boxes [because] that leads to tokenization and does not lead to productive policy,” she said. “You guys should be proud of yourselves for outreach and getting people to vote for marginalized folks. But another thing to consider is that the culture that you foster in the Senate spills over into elections.” 

The next GUSA Senate meeting will be held Oct. 11 at 6 pm via Zoom. 

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