With all the assignments, exams and homework that come our way, we often forget to think of those who grade them. But last week’s graduate student protest highlights why we should give our teacher assistants a second thought.
Last Thursday graduate students protested in West Mall, screaming at the top of their lungs for better wages. Their paycheck is not enough to meet their basic needs. Rent in Austin ranges from $800 to over $1200 for a one bedroom apartment. Most students have roommates which is one way to save some money but, even then, with a monthly salary of $1,250, things get rough. Some schools pay graduate students just slightly above poverty line, so they are unable to file for benefits such as food stamps.
This problem has existed for a while.
Not only do teacher assistants put an immense amount of hours into their own research, but they also fulfill certain tasks such as grading papers, proposing questions for exams and quizzes, coming up with activities for discussion section and offering office hours.
Mike Everdell, a graduate student instructor for Linguistics 306, explains that “grad students are in this position in which they are getting paid for 20 hours of work per week,” even though they are working almost full time.
Twenty hours might not sound like a lot, but if you top it with the amount of time they have to put into classes and research, time is limited. When the proposed bill was announced, Everdell said that “anything that makes higher education post college less accessible is harmful for any student, and it’s a step backwards too when only rich people had access to it”.
Graduate students acknowledge that undergraduates cannot really speak for or advocate for them with the university who is in charge to pay them. In class, we can make their lives easier by approaching them as soon as there is a situation that needs to be addressed, asking them any questions that we have about certain topics and participating if we are in a discussion section. Basically, treat them like the human beings they are.
Remember that graduate student workers are just that: students. They have complicated work issues that have led to protests, but as undergraduates we can help them out in class by being prepared and reaching out to them.
Adriana Lara is an Arts and Entertainment Technologies sophomore from Mexico City