Bargaining update – 2/29/20

If you were at our cacerolazo this week, you know that we brought the noise! Almost a hundred and fifty graduate student workers and allies marched from the Van Wickle Gates, banging pots and pans and raising their voices together to say: CONTRACT NOW! The members of the bargaining committee went into that round of negotiations feeling strong and proud to represent your needs, and stood up to tough questions about what we want and why we deserve it. We were able to do this because of you.

The administration was forced to acknowledge the fact that they are not just dealing with a few people at the table, they are reckoning with a union that has support from a strong and growing base. They were unable to make a counter to our proposal and cancelled the session the following day. Now we won’t see them for another three weeks.

In that time, we need to continue to show the university that we are not going to settle for less than what we deserve. We deserve better wages, better benefits, and a fair contract—but we aren’t going to get these without a fight. It has become clear that if we want to win a contract, we have to keep standing up for one another and making ourselves seen and heard.

Come join us on the picket lines this month to make more noise and march for your union:

  • Our first PICKET on Thursday, March 5th at 12 PM on the main green! If you can’t be there, make sure to wear your Contract Now button or SUGSE t-shirt that day.
  • GENERAL MEMBERS MEETING on Wednesday, March 11th, in Friedman 101, to discuss next steps and strategies for finishing this thing! RSVP here to help us know how many to expect.
  • Even bigger and louder PICKETS on Thursdays, March 12th and 19th!
  • Our next round of bargaining will be on March 18th and 19th.

If we continue to demand together, we will win together!

In solidarity,

Bargaining update – 2/13/20

After months of meetings with the administration, we’re finally getting close to a contract we can be proud of. We’ve already won improved anti-discrimination protections, a grievance procedure, and, for the first time, clear definitions of our work responsibilities. Now, it’s time to fight for higher pay and better health care. It’s time for a contract. But we won’t get there unless the administration takes us seriously. If we want them to make concessions in negotiations, first we need them to see how many of us want to see a FAIR contract NOW!

At our General Members Meeting last week, the room was packed. We talked through our plan for the semester. We have actions planned every week from now until Spring Break. It’s ambitious, it depends on all our members getting involved, and it’s going to make the difference to get us the contract we deserve.

We’re asking you to come to our first major action of the semester, on Feb. 25th, 12:15 PM, gathering at Van Wickle Gates then going with the SUGSE bargaining committee their negotiations with Brown admin. This is going to be a CACEROLAZO: a rally where we make as much noise as we possibly can, with pots, with pans, with whatever you can bring. We’re going to show the administration how many people have a stake in this fight, in a way that they can’t ignore. Will you come make noise with us?
Please make sure to RSVP by filling out this commitment form.

We will also be holding regular leaflets and wear-a-button days, and if admin still won’t listen, we will start holding MASS PICKETS that they won’t be able to ignore. Please tell us if you can commit to participate in the cacerolazo and the pickets by filling out the commitment form.

This is a crucial phase of our negotiations. We need everyone to show up. And if you can help some more, we need your help by volunteering with SUGSE, by organizing colleagues in your department or lab, and by asking undergrads and faculty to support us. You can let us know what you can do on the commitment form. You can also promote the cacerolazo by sharing this Facebook event.

Let’s make some noise and win a fair contract now!

In Solidarity,
Max Weinreich, Mathematics

Bargaining Update – 10/30

We have been working very hard to get you the contract that you deserve, and we wanted to let you know where we are and what has changed. If you attend today’s General Membership Meeting, Wednesday 6:00 PM at 108 Friedman Hall, you’ll also get a chance to hear from our bargaining team members, so come by if you can.

As you know, we are in the middle of a national debate over our status in the university: whether we are workers or students. We believe that Graduate Student Employees work hard for the university, and that we should be recognized as such. To that end, we are making sure that our contract gives us rights and protections regarding our work at Brown. Yesterday, we reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) on our Appointments and Assignments Proposal, which requires departments to describe specific duties for assignments, delineate reasonable workload expectations, delimit class sizes, and deliver professional feedback and support for Graduate Student Employees. We also included a means of addressing discrepancies and concerns to the administration, so that we have a way to resolve issues when things are not working for us. This agreement took months of negotiation, and it was very hard won. We feel that we had to fight hard to have some control over our labor, but are optimistic that these changes will clarify and improve our working conditions for years to come.

Unfortunately, we are afraid the fight over our economic proposals may be even more difficult. As of now, the university seems unwilling to invest in areas that we think are fundamental to improving our quality of life, including vision insurance, lower mental health costs, increased parental support, and year-round salary. It seems that the administration is hoping that things remain the same as they are, save for some minimal and routine improvements on their terms. We are not satisfied with the status quo, and we will not settle for anything less than what we deserve. In the next few months, we promise to press on in the struggle to secure a better paycheck and benefits that reflect the value of our work. We truly believe that we can win this thing, and we will keep fighting the good fight until we do!

In solidarity,
Rithika Ramamurthy
Ph.D. Candidate

Update on NLRB and Bargaining

We are continuing to fight for your contract this semester, and we have some serious news to share.

On Tuesday, we reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) on our grievance procedure. This proposal will offer graduate workers the means with which to address systemic insufficiences relating to our working conditions, appointments, and other aspects of the labor that we do for the university. No TA is final until our contract is ratified, but this TA marks a meaningful step in good faith negotiations and is a good sign of Brown’s willingness to cooperate with us in the future.

Yesterday, however, a new test of that spirit of cooperation appeared. On Friday morning, the National Labor Relations Board put forward a proposal that could reverse all of our hard work, organizing, and bargaining efforts. Here are some FAQ about this proposal: what it is, what it means for us, and how you can help.

  1. What is the NLRB proposing?
    The National Labor Relations Board would implement a rule reversing its previous ruling that graduate workersat private universities have the right to form or join a union under the protection of the National Labor Relations Act.
  2. What does this mean for me and for SUGSE?
    By reclassifying us solely as “students” rather than “employees,” the NLRB seeks to deny us labor protections, such as an employer’s obligation to bargain in good faith with its employees’ union representative. This means that if the University were to decide to stop coming to the table to bargain with us, or if it refused to recognize SUGSE altogether, the NLRB would not intervene.
  3. How can I help protect our right to unionize?
    Your participation is invaluable in this crucial time! We need to take action so that the NLRB, the Trump administration and the University can see that we are serious about our right to recognition. First, we need to voice our opposition to the NLRB’s proposed rulemaking. Use this Action Toolkit to learn how to submit a public comment on the proposal and other ways to take a stand against this attack.

While Trump appointees keep trying to rollback workers rights, we will keep striving to reach a contract, our best protection as employees. We believe the University will honor its commitment to negotiate in good faith and not choose to take advantage of the Trump NLRB’s efforts. We will hold them to this expectation by continuing to speak out about how #OurWorkHasVALUE.

In solidarity,
Rithika Ramamurthy
Bargaining Committee Co-Chair

September SUGSE General Membership Meeting

The school year is just beginning, but as graduate teaching and research assistants, we haven’t stopped working hard for the University—in fact, many of us took home a reduced paycheck for the summer season, without any reduction in our workload. As the new semester begins, SUGSE needs to take stock of the progress we’ve made and put our heads together on how to win a strong contract.

Last year, after a strong majority of us voted to form a union in November, we elected a bargaining committee of our fellow grads to represent us in negotiations with Brown (read the opening statement for further details about our bargaining platform here). They’ve been hard at work this summer, arguing that we deserve a living wage, more comprehensive healthcare, better parent services, visa support, and a grievance process we control ourselves—so that we can truly take on discrimination and harassment. In our last session, the University responded to our proposals for anti-discrimination protections and a grievance procedure. They want grads to exclusively use existing Title IX and Title VI procedures to address issues of workplace harassment, cutting out our union in the process. It’s clear we will all need to stand together throughout these negotiations so that our voices are heard.

The first SUGSE General Members Meeting of the semester will be on September 9th, 6:00–7:15 PM, at Kassar Foxboro Auditorium, 151 Thayer Street. This meeting is a space where members will collectively decide how to move forward to get the strongest contract possible. Will you join me for the meeting? RSVP here.

Looking forward to seeing you at the meeting!

Best regards,
Audrey Massmann
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

We need stronger protections

We hope you’re having a wonderful Labor Day weekend! We, your Bargaining Committee, are writing to give you an update after our bargaining session this past Friday, August 30th.

At this point in the bargaining process, we are beginning to get responses from the University to our proposals. This last session focused on their response to our proposals for anti-discrimination protections and the grievance procedure. We know grads need a grievance procedure to address unfair work practices, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination. The goal of our proposal was to have a process that worked side-by-side with University Title IX and Title VI procedures in order to quickly address workplace issues with a minimum of disruption to grads’ research and work. In this most recent bargaining session, the University gutted our proposal: they want grads to exclusively use existing Title IX and Title VI procedures to address issues of workplace harassment, cutting out our union in the process.

We know these current processes are insufficient. In our survey, among grads who experienced harassment, discrimination, bullying, or disparagement in the workplace, only 23 percent agree that the existing University process sufficiently met their needs. While Title IX and VI protections are important, they are vulnerable to sabotage by a Trump administration. Subjecting cases of discrimination and harassment to a union grievance procedure ensures that Brown is held to the highest standard.

In order to win a contract that offers protection from workplace harassment and discrimination, we need your help. Join us at September’s General Members Meeting on September 9th, 6:00–7:15 PM, at Kassar Foxboro Auditorium, 151 Thayer Street. There we will plan a day of action to show the University that we will stand together to demand a fair contract. It will help us plan if you RSVP online here.

There are many ways to get involved and help us win our collective bargaining agreement. Get in touch by writing to or by contacting an organizer you know for more information. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for updates as we head into the fall.

Thank you for being a part of the movement!

In solidarity,
Kaity Hajdarovic
Bargaining Committee Co-Chair

We need better healthcare coverage

We hope you are enjoying the final month of summer! We, your Bargaining Committee, are writing to give you an update after Tuesday’s bargaining session.

During this session, we continued our conversation with administration about healthcare. We wrote our proposal using the feedback you gave us through the survey and through hundreds of conversations. You told us that you just can’t afford your healthcare expenses. We’ve heard countless stories of grads forgoing medical care, unable to pay the out-of-pocket costs for necessary medications, devices, appointments, and tests. We’ve also heard your concerns about dependent premiums and inadequate dental and vision care. While researching for our proposal, we discovered that faculty pay lower co-pays for common medications and services than we do. Brown can offer us coverage that provides the enhanced care and reduced out-of-pocket fees of the faculty plan, but we need to fight for it.

There are many ways to help us win our very first collective bargaining agreement! Please get in touch by writing to or by contacting an organizer you know for more information. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for updates as we head into the fall.

Thank you for being a part of the movement!

In solidarity,
Kaitlyn Quaranta
Bargaining Committee Co-Chair

Mid-Summer Bargaining Update – July 15, 2019

We hope you are having a lovely summer! We have been fighting for your contract since this spring, and we wanted to catch you up on our progress. So far, we have presented proposals that would guarantee additional protections against discrimination and harassment, provide additional support for parents and international graduate workers, encourage clarity and transparency regarding work appointments and class sizes, ensure additional benefits for grad workers across the board, and protect our union from NLRB interference. At present, we have reached Tentative Agreements (TA) on union recognition and union rights. No TA is final until our contract is ratified, but a TA marks a meaningful step toward the final contract. While fairly standard, these two proposals protect the functioning of our union and our ability to organize. We feel confident that so far, we have been able to find common ground in our negotiations.

On Tuesday, July 9th, we submitted proposals on wages and healthcare. With these proposals, we aim to establish fair pay for graduate workers at Brown. We have asked that the university raise our base pay and guarantee us annual raises. In addition, we included in our proposal language that would ensure that graduate workers receiving a stipend higher than the base do not see a reduction in their paychecks. Union contracts are about setting a floor, not a ceiling; they are about guaranteeing and ensuring that all workers get what they require. Furthermore, our healthcare proposal would ensure greater access to medical treatment while lowering out-of-pocket costs. We know that good healthcare, high stipends, and work protections are key components of a successful career.

Although we are working hard to put down proposals that reflect the variety of working conditions and experiences at Brown, we will not win a strong contract without member support. We are asking that you take to social media to @ us a reason that you need the union with the hashtag #OurWorkHasVALUE. Please email if you have any questions or would like to get involved. We would love for you to work alongside us to win the contract we deserve.

Twitter: @BrownSUGSE
Instagram: @BrownSUGSE

In solidarity,
Rithika and Kaitlyn
Bargaining Committee Co-Chairs

Read SUGSE’s opening statement for the first day of bargaining!

Today marks an exciting point in our campaign: four months after our successful election in November, we met with admin for our first bargaining session. We’re bargaining because #OurWorkHasVALUE.


Opening Statement



In 2018, a majority of Brown University graduate workers voted to form a Union. While the University has legally respected this decision, the administration still maintains that Brown “believes its principal relationship with graduate students is as students.” We want to be clear and honest about how our work shapes and sustains the University, and how our status as workers reflects the value that we generate for Brown. We believe that as workers, we have the power and the right to speak up for why our labor is indispensable to the University, and that what we do here needs to be valued for what it is: work.


As a third year Ph.D. candidate in the neuroscience department, I can tell you I have not set foot in a classroom in over a year. Instead, I work regular hours in the laboratory, producing data that will be eventually used for my dissertation, yes, but that will also help bring in grants and funding opportunities that benefit the University. I will author papers that advance the University’s mission of “discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding.” I will train and teach and work with undergraduate students, toward the University’s goal of “educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” In short, although I am a scientist in training, I am also a vital contributor to the University’s mission.



For too long, graduate workers at Brown have not been able to speak up for our employment rights, and have not had enough say in how the University views and treats us. In fact it was Brown’s decision to challenge our status as employees in 2004 that stripped us of our rights as workers here at Brown and for graduate workers across the country as well. Because we lacked representation, the University was often able to evade or avoid the disappointing ways that it handles graduate student issues, and to shirk its ethical responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. We have watched as the University system has failed our fellow graduate workers—especially women, students of color, and students with disabilities. Today, that changes. Today, you will be hearing from graduate employees who will speak to the profound disconnect between our roles as students and as educators, and to the experience of structural inequality embedded in every aspect of graduate life. Today, we are standing up against the deliberate ignorance of abuse and inequity in departments across the school. Today, on behalf of those graduate students who struggle with the crushing weight of financial insecurity and student debt, we ask that graduate students be paid year-round, with benefits and salary adjustments to adequately compensate us for our indispensable work. Today, you will hear from graduate parents, international graduate employees, graduate employees of color, and women in STEM, the humanities, and the social sciences. Today, you will hear the ways in which we contribute to the University, and the way in which the University has failed to meet our needs. Today, we offer you our creative solutions that can usher in an era of success, stability, and equity for all graduate workers.



Over the past year, SUGSE has had one-on-one conversations with 93% of graduates to hear about their concerns and experiences at Brown in general. Subsequently, we sent a survey to the entire graduate student population with specific questions on many of the concerns that we had compiled from these one-on-one interactions. We are here to represent the graduate worker body and collaboratively develop a contract which supports our value to the University based on their responses. In order to fully thrive and support the University’s mission, we need a voice in our working conditions, accountability from the University, living wages, unity among graduate workers, and an equitable and inclusive work environment.


We will now discuss the components of our contract proposal in detail. This is an illustrative list, not an exhaustive one.


How do we think that graduate workers should be valued? By the following actions:


Communicating clear working conditions


We ask that Brown recognize that graduate workers are employees and not only students.The notion that graduate students are primarily students infantilizes graduate workers and fails to recognize the significance of our labor to the University’s success. To argue that this work is mere training would be based on the premise that work is only work if one does not gain experience from it. This is a clumsy assumption. Furthermore, no department in the university would function without graduate workers serving as teaching assistants, instructors, researchers, and pedagogues. As teachers and researchers, we contribute in innumerable ways to Brown’s standing as an internationally recognized research university.



As the primary instructor of my own section of Basic French, I am well aware of my status as a worker. In my department, graduate workers teach the bulk of the language classes. In my role as a language teacher, I am performing labor unrelated to my dissertation research, as a French Studies degree is a literature degree, not a degree in language pedagogy. Furthermore, many of my colleagues report that the additional labor that our teaching assignments entail has impeded their ability to work on their own coursework, research, and exam preparation, as well as participate in professionalization opportunities. This is especially true when course sections are overloaded: an overloaded course easily results in a situation where the graduate instructor is required to work well over 20 hours per week (though unfortunately a class section does not even have to be overloaded for the work required to exceed this “maximum”). Undergraduate education suffers when graduate workers are overburdened. Graduate working conditions are undergraduate learning conditions! Although my official title is Teaching Assistant, I am hardly an assistant. The idea that teachers are “in training” unless and until they hold a PhD is absurd! My tasks are identical to those of an instructor. To put this into perspective, undergraduate students at Brown pay just as much to take my class as they do any other. Prospective undergraduates have even been brought to my class as part of their recruitment experience! The University is deriving enormous benefit from my work while continuing to deny its value.



We understand the state of graduate work in 2019 to be fundamentally in crisis. The implicit contract we have made until now with the University, in which our teaching, administrative, and research labor is performed at a lower-than-fair rate in exchange for a secure future in our chosen career, is broken, because this desired secure future is no longer the University’s to confer. Without the promise of a steady academic job, we are faced with uncertainty both now and in the future. In my department, Mathematics, I have received emails from the department begging graduate students to agree to be graders for math courses without specifying the pay, invitations from Applied Mathematics to grade for $10.10 per hour, and I find out what my summer research stipend is only when I receive the check in the mail, after I’ve already begun working. I have been asked to indicate what teaching position I want to apply for without being told the pay in advance. There is no transparency and there are no guarantees that I can predict my financial situation. This is money I use to pay my rent and live my life, and the reason the University sees fit to treat me this way is because it frames the labor math graduates perform, which makes the department run, is just our “training.”


The following assurances of fair working conditions will situate us to have a secure and tolerable work experience. We envision:


  • Reasonable parameters for the work expected of teaching assistants.
  • Formal delineation between the roles of Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows.
  • Clarity in appointments, everything in writing, with salary and benefits stated up front.
  • An end to the paradigm in which graduate employees are guilted into doing voluntary administrative or teaching labor, especially when it has no relationship to their appointment.
  • The same basic assurances that any worker should expect: decent space in which to work, routine performance feedback, and professional development.


These necessary protections for our working conditions have not been freely given by the University, and so we must bargain for them in the form of a formal contract.


Granting competitive benefits


As valuable workers, we should have employment benefits that adequately reflect our contributions to the University. Our status as students often means that there are costs that are considered to be “waivers” or stipends rather than necessary expenses which are adequately compensated by our salary. These include things like summer health fees, relocation costs, parking permits, and other out-of-pocket expenditures that endanger our economic conditions.  Just like any other competitive employment sector, the University should provide for retirement accounts. Furthermore, without adequate paid time off benefits—such as vacation and sick leave—the parameters of graduate employment are often unclear and subject to idiosyncratic and unwritten rules. In the interest of fairness and transparency, Brown should offer us these benefits in clear and contractual terms.


Offering better healthcare


As employees of Brown University, we deserve adequate healthcare from our employer. Our health, both physical and mental, is critical both to our own success and to the success of the University. If we cannot thrive, we cannot produce our best work. Currently, however, our healthcare needs are not being met.

According to the results of our recent survey, 7 out of 10 grads require corrective eye lenses. However, due to inadequate vision coverage, accessing the eyecare we need poses an undue burden which can even prevent access altogether. More than half of survey respondents reported having purchased eyecare without a current prescription or having foregone eyecare entirely. We hold that vision care is not a luxury, it is a necessity: we need it not only to perform our work but to go about our daily lives.

Furthermore, as research has thoroughly shown, graduate employees are exceptionally vulnerable to mental health disorders which are compounded by the ambiguous circumstances of our work. Unfortunately, the University does not provide adequate mental health support to graduate employees. Thirty percent of grads who sought mental health support from Brown reported dissatisfaction with the support they were provided, citing long waiting lists and limited appointments among their concerns. Survey respondents also reported privacy concerns, inconvenient hours, feeling uncomfortable accessing mental health services in the same space where the students they teach receive care, and that their needs for long-term care or weekly appointments were not supported. In short, the system which is in place now is failing us. We would like to negotiate to rebuild the mental health framework for graduate workers.

Finally, about a third of grads have reported that their out-of-pocket copays constituted a financial hardship. More than 20 percent of respondents said that they have skipped or delayed medical care, including dental, at least once per semester because of costs or lack of accessible care options. Employees of Brown University are foregoing medical care because of financial barriers and other issues. Does that sound right to you? A university with a four-billion-dollar endowment can surely do better for its workers.


Providing parental support



Financial hardship is especially concerning amongst graduate workers who are parents. Brown University considers itself a pioneering academic institution in support of graduate workers who are parents, and the administration has been considerably outspoken about welcoming parents into their academic community. In an effort to promote diversity and inclusion, the University has repeatedly stressed their endeavors to facilitate the academic advancement of graduate parents during their time at Brown. We know the graduate school has recently approved 50% healthcare coverage for dependents for next year, and we are happy to see those initial steps being taken to improve working conditions for parents.

However, significant barriers remain in place that prevent graduate parents at Brown from thriving, and contribute to high dropout rates of graduate parents in academia as a whole. Despite the outspoken institutional commitments to dismantling these barriers, substantial support is still needed to ensure that graduate parents are able to succeed. We have had meetings with many graduate parents at Brown who have described having to meet with Deans and other administrators to renegotiate their working conditions, often times after strongly considering that maybe they would have to leave Brown due to financial hardship.



Childcare is a central component for the success of graduate parents, as it is critical to complete their required work as well as the extra labor that goes into a successful academic career. Current stipends do not nearly match the costs of daycare in Providence. A modest annual estimate for full time care of a 4 year old child is $11,436. This cost goes up for infants and toddlers. Listings of preschools and nurseries in Providence show a minimum average cost of $1,300 per month per child. In my case, with a family of two international graduate workers at Brown and two children under 5, neither of them counting as tax dependents, childcare adds up to more than one of our stipends, which is $2300 post tax deduction during the academic year – summer months are simply undoable. In addition, as international graduate parents we do not have the possibility of accepting work off campus, getting assistance from state programs, or taking up a loan should the need arise. Because child care is unaffordable, and inaccessible, parents miss out on professional opportunities comparable to those of their peers, and face difficulties conducting their work on campus. On-campus requirements, extra-curricular activities with their undergraduate students, and departmental events end up competing with living a healthy family life, with spending time with our children. We feel segregated from the academic community, are constantly being being put in the position of apologizing for having children and being sorry for asking for additional resources in order to feed our children. Single parent households, dual graduate student households, and families with non-working or low-income partners in particular are put under enormous stress, as financial and logistical obstacles make it impossible to work under humane conditions. These families are severely segregated from their peers, and can struggle with food security, among other concerns.

Childcare costs are necessary for graduate parents to work, but they are only one aspect for graduate parents. Costs of dependents’ healthcare and the additional daily expenses for a child are an extraordinary toll on graduate parents. Being in graduate school, especially with one or more children, makes it difficult to find extra sources of income for anyone, international or not. In fact my husband and I end up having trouble to buy groceries after the 20th of each month. When I was 8 months pregnant we were offered to take a $500 emergency loan from the graduate school because we did not know how to pay our rent in June, not to mention food, utilities or copays for doctor appointments.

While the financial aspect is a central issue regarding the professional visibility of graduate parents, changing institutional culture and protecting parents on campus is absolutely essential for the inclusion of parents in academic demographics. Parents should not, for example, feel penalized for having to stay home with a sick child because they could not find or afford adequate back-up care – a benefit that the University already offers to faculty and staff. Inaccessibility, harassment, and discrimination are not just isolated phenomena but are part of the daily struggles of graduate parents. Ultimately, we feel that the University can do more to bolster its commitment to a more inclusive academic community by helping graduate parents achieve an equitable position in their departments.


Advocating an equal and diverse community


I grew up on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation. When I arrived at Brown for graduate school it was not what I expected. From other students believing the reservation could be equated to a gated community, to a professor recently insisting that their incorrect usage of “talking stick” and “talking circle” were an honor to my culture, the level of cultural acceptance and lack of diversity here was hard to cope with.


I am unable to anonymously voice my concerns as the current grievance structure relies on. As a member of such a small minority, my academic career has been open to retaliation since my first day here, when I was told trail of tears jokes and took a stand against them.


The talking stick and circle are part of an important and sacred ritual in my culture which allows everyone, regardless of position, age, gender, or status to have equal opportunity and an equal voice. That is what this union is about, banding together so that collectively we are able to be heard and acknowledged.



I served in the U.S. Air Force for 11 years and deployed on 4 combat tours. I am fortunate to be able to pursue an engineering PhD since leaving the military – an ambition I’ve always had. I was initially thrilled to become a member of the Brown community. I was excited about the progressive values and being in an environment where womxn in STEM were treated equitably. I soon came to learn that while Brown talked the talk, the university did not walk the walk.


In my first lab, I experienced inappropriate comments which ranged from my body composition, my sexual orientation, my veteran status, as well as gender-biased statements. During one research discussion, my advisor asked me in a crowded coffee shop with numerous strangers in earshot, if I thought “my military service might preclude me from being mentally sound enough to pursue a PhD in engineering at Brown University”. I was mortified and humiliated. Not only was his comment in bad form but, it was completely without cause, and it also put me on the defensive regarding my decision to serve my country. I joined the military after 9/11 because I wanted to defend certain values I hold dear – liberty, diversity, and equality. These same values bring me here today.


The university did assist me in switching labs, however when the topic of filing a grievance arose, I was told that I could file whatever I wanted, but my former advisor would ultimately only get a slap on the wrist due to his tenure. Tenure should not absolve professors of accountability from their poor behavior choices. In addition to instituting a fair grievance process, the university needs to ensure consequences for those members of our community who fail to treat others equitably and inclusively.



Too many graduate workers at Brown have felt as though they have to endure toxic behavior and harassment because the perpetrator is also someone who holds power over their education, career and working conditions. We want to work with the University to ensure that we have effective systems in place to deal with discrimination and harassment. We want to be part of the process of building those systems, based on the experiences of current graduate workers. In a survey conducted by SUGSE, 1/3 of the respondents claimed that they have experienced workplace harassment, discrimination, bullying, or disparagement from colleagues, staff, faculty, or administrators. Of those who had such an experience, only 1/3 reported the incident. Of those who did not report, 50 percent agreed that they did not feel comfortable bringing it up. Examples of other responses were: ”I did not feel safe to report it”; ”I didn’t trust Brown to properly address the issue”; ”It was from the DGS [Director of Graduate Studies]. It wasn’t a battle I was willing to pick.” Of those who experienced harassment, discrimination and bullying and did report, only 16 percent agree that the process sufficiently met their needs. Forty-two percent of respondents neither know of someone who would support them or who could ensure institutional accountability, should they ever face workplace harassment, discrimination or bullying.


While Brown has put forth plans to increase campus equity and diversity, these plans are insufficient, especially with regard to the experiences of graduate workers. Real change is needed to ensure the University’s stated goal of “creating a learning environment in which students from all backgrounds can thrive in their chosen fields of study.” To that end, our proposals will outline expectations for both employee and employer that will result in a working environment that is productive, equitable, and safe. We want protection employees on the basis of race, gender, class, age, color, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, HIV antibody status, and veteran’s status. We believe that by contractually outlining appropriate conduct, we can work to overturn academia’s long history of racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination.


Compensating graduate workers with fair pay


SUGSE is invested in the quality of life, equitable treatment, and rightful remuneration of graduate employees. In its mission statement, Brown University says that it aims to foster education, knowledge, and inquiry “through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community.” As a part of this community—as students, teachers, and workers—graduate employees at Brown are hereby asking for good faith negotiations regarding fair pay and compensation for our work at the University. If graduate workers are understood to be a part of this unified community, then our needs and difficulties must be recognized, so that our compensation can reflect our status as an integral part of the student-teacher partnership prioritized by Brown.



Economic concerns are often at the root of graduate employee disenfranchisement. Our surveys indicate that many graduate workers have reported going into debt or borrowing money from family and friends in order to meet basic needs. There are many factors for this, but we find that the issues in question are directly tied to insufficient salary and uneven distribution of pay over the course of the year. For example, the graduate worker salary has not been adequately adjusted to compensate for the increase of cost of living in the Providence area. Most importantly, the University’s uneven pay structure (variation between 9 months of academic year and 3 months of summer term pay) causes a considerable financial burden and does not conform to intuitive year-round costs. Furthermore, the lack of guaranteed funding in the final years of the dissertation process often leads to higher attrition and lower job placement rates. We firmly believe that if the University values its graduate workers, it will not expect them to take loans in order to supplement income for basic expenses like rent, and it will not make the completion of the degree contingent upon independent wealth or economic burden. Placing less financial stress on graduate workers will undeniably lead to better work performance, and financial security is a fundamental tenet of academic freedom.



Brown advertises itself as a diverse institution, yet much of the labor required to change historically exclusive processes in academia lies in the work of historically marginalized groups. The people who provide this unrecognized labor to Brown gain nothing in exchange. Thus, we are committed to building institutional frameworks and practices that ensure the effective implementation of diversity and inclusion plans, while requiring fair treatment of minority and historically marginalized graduate workers and fair remuneration.


Graduate employees are indispensable to the University, performing teaching labor as well as playing a large role in the production of innovative research and scholarship. We are employed as researchers and teachers; pay and employment parameters should therefore reflect these roles in the University, so that our labor is adequately compensated and our research is not impeded by financial difficulty.

Valuing the Union itself through good-faith protections.


We take it as given that the Union must have stable and secure accommodations and long-term prospects if it is to represent its members’ interests with the vitality requisite for fair and good-faith collective bargaining. Therefore, we find it necessary to provide for reasonable protections for the Union’s long-term vibrance. Our union was founded by members of the Brown community, and in order to continue representing our community, we expect to be able to access graduate workers in their workplaces and communicate with them freely. Since democratic governance is the foundation of our organization, we need to be able to organize within Brown communities. Good-faith protections will ensure that the Union is treated fairly and respectfully, which we view as a necessary part of our working relationship with the University.



Our expectations for negotiations



SUGSE has worked hard since our founding to distill and understand the issues which matter most to graduate employees. Our statement is informed by our personal experiences of working here, and we have learned the hard way that the existing system has failed. We expect that the University will respect our first-hand experience of the brokenness of this system, negotiate with us in good faith, and most importantly, accept our paradigm of graduate work as labor which has value. We understand that contract negotiations involve give-and-take, and we will endeavor to find a contract which both we and the University can accept. But one thing must be absolutely understood before we begin: if you want us to do work for you, you need to recognize us as workers. And our work has value.


Thank you.

Nomination period extended – Join the Bargaining Committee!

The deadline to nominate people for the Bargaining Committee (BC) has been extended to Tuesday, February 26 at 5pm! Email with the name and department of you or someone you know who wants to run for the BC.  Online ballot links will be emailed to all members on Wednesday, February 27.

See this updated election announcement for more details on how to nominate a potential candidate (NB—you can nominate yourself)!