UMass, stop evicting grad student workers!

Kumble R. Subbaswamy (Chancellor of UMass Amherst); Brandi Hephner LaBanc (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life); Dawn M. Bond (Director of Residential Life Operations)

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Background image credit: https://www.umass.edu/living/

This petition is presented by GEO, the union representing the affected workers.

You might remember that in the first week of February, 2021, Assistant Residence Directors (ARDs) were suddenly evicted from their campus residences; they were ordered by an unexpected phone call on a Saturday afternoon to vacate their homes by 10 am the next morning to convert their building into a COVID-19 quarantine site. As grad workers who live in the Residential halls with family members, including young children and seniors, these ARDs were hit with tremendous instability at the beginning of an already difficult semester. Then on February 25th, they were dealt another blow. Despite the displacement being publicly described as “temporary” by UMass spokesperson Mary Dettloff, it is now being extended up to the end of July 2021. The reason? UMass Facility Operations had a renovation project scheduled for the summer, but has suddenly decided to start it early, in April, during the school year. Since the graduate workers were already forced to move out of their homes, it was extremely convenient for the university to treat these buildings as if they were empty. The underlying logic is no mystery—the dignity of the graduate workers and their families who were summarily evicted is clearly not a consideration for UMass.

At the beginning of March, the list of graduate families evicted grew from 3 to 5. People have been bounced around between buildings, with no information about when they could return to their homes. Meanwhile these vacated buildings are not even being used as quarantines, but rather are being kept empty for a renovation project for fire panel and sprinkler replacements that do not need to be done while school is in session. Changing the schedule serves absolutely no purpose other than to further disrupt the lives of the graduate workers. All five graduate workers evicted are people of color; four are Black and two are international students. The evictions are not only unnecessary and disruptive, but also disproportionately harmful to the already marginalized.

There is a very real financial and academic impact of these evictions. In addition to bearing the cost of moving, the graduate workers pay rent commensurate to a certain type and quality of housing. The “alternative accommodations” provided by UMass are dorm rooms designated for childfree and single college students. These spaces are not at all child and family friendly, and lack space, amenities, and layout appropriate to family life. For instance, the apartment does not include a kitchen table and has only a very high kitchen island with two bar-stool high chairs, preventing a family from eating together. The rooms in the apartment can only fit one twin size bed, meaning couples cannot even sleep in the same room, let alone in the same bed. The graduate students were promised compensation for the move and still have not received a single cent after five weeks of displacement. The Graduate Employee Organization representing these unionized workers also bargained a settlement that waives their rent. Even as the affected workers wait for this waiver to be implemented, the university administration continues to illustrate a complete failure to recognize the existence of families of graduate student workers. The continued mismanagement of this situation has already created untold academic disruption. It is challenging enough to balance research commitments with an assistantship and the demands of working from the home, including childcare; to add relocation on to this is to cause possibly irreparable harm.

By signing this petition, you can help GEO to pressure University of Massachusetts Amherst to do the right thing and:

  • Immediately allow ResEd grads to return in their original housing
  • Expedite the pending moving compensation and union-negotiated rent waivers for affected workers
  • Immediately cease further evictions of graduate student campus workers
  • Immediately return the non-urgent renovation project to its original summer timeline
  • Take clear action to address the systemic barriers that constantly push out graduate students of color and graduate students with families
  • Commit to affordable housing for graduate students
Petition by
Jyoti Iyer
Easthampton, Massachusetts
Sponsored by
Uaw_wheel
Holyoke, MA

To: Kumble R. Subbaswamy (Chancellor of UMass Amherst); Brandi Hephner LaBanc (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life); Dawn M. Bond (Director of Residential Life Operations)
From: [Your Name]

We, the undersigned, are writing to you to protest the evictions of graduate student workers from their campus residences and urge you to take action to remedy the situation immediately.

The official UMass spokesperson Mary Dettloff said, "This was not an eviction. It is an effort to ensure the university can fully support our students who need quarantine and isolation space" [Daily Hampshire Gazette, Feb 10]. We disagree: if your landlord calls you and asked you to vacate the residence you are renting by 10am the next morning, eviction is the only description that seems accurate.

We believe these public statements by UMass misrepresent the reality of the situation: "Dettloff stressed that the move of staff and their families is temporary...Staff were also compensated for the time they spent packing and moving, Dettloff said, while Residential Life is working with them on getting office space, internet service and cable television." The reality is that the union (GEO) has won a rent waiver for the displaced graduate student ARDs for Spring 2021 and no one has received those waivers yet. The smaller support offered to the evicted families did not meet the minimum they were promised, and even that has not been received yet! We urge UMass administration to act on the promises they made.

By signing this petition, we demand that the Management of University of Massachusetts Amherst:
- Immediately allow ResEd grads to return in their original housing
- Expedite the pending union-negotiated rent waivers for affected workers
- Immediately cease further evictions of graduate student campus workers
- Immediately return the non-urgent renovation project to its original summer timeline
- Take clear action to address the systemic barriers that constantly push out graduate students of color and graduate students with families
- Commit to affordable housing for graduate students