White supremacy has had an increasingly visible presence on Penn State’s campus in the past year. From the Evropa fliers being posted in March and September to a Richard Spencer supporter suing Penn State and Ohio State for not allowing the speaker a platform, white supremacy has consistently been front and center. A panel this past Monday entitled “White Supremacism at Penn State: What It Does, How to Fix It” kept the focus on the issue and attempted to address race-related problems PSU is experiencing, including a homogeneously white population and the potential of Spencer being allowed to speak at the university.
What was largely absent from this conversation was the role of graduate assistants. Much of the “how to fix it” conversation focused on how undergraduates could use their influence to demand change as well as how the model of diversity-centered recruitment the Philosophy Department implemented in the mid-2000s should be applied across the campus. However, this type of policy isn’t a panacea; far from it according to Kristin Rawls, a former graduate assistant at Penn State who, in a larger piece about the toxic culture at PSU, has discussed the racism, sexism, and ableism she saw in the Philosophy Department even after it had made efforts to increase diversity.
Diversity is a way to help combat the white institutionalism of universities such as Penn State, but it does little if those who unfairly do the bulk of the resisting are not supported or protected. That’s where a graduate union can help. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s August 2017 report, as of 2016, unionized workers consist primarily of women and/or people of color. This increase in diversity has led to raised wages for these groups as well as union efforts to combat discriminatory wage gaps through increased pay and workplace transparency.
CGE admires these movements toward equality and strives to further them through advocacy work and, ultimately, a seat at the bargaining table. The vote on unionization won’t happen until at least this spring, but CGE already has a history of supporting diversity and equality efforts. When the Trump administration attempted to implement the travel ban earlier this year, CGE and PSEA brought in an immigration attorney to talk to graduate employees about their rights. CGE has also participated in a number of LGBTQ pride parades and in 2016 the organization co-sponsored a Title IX panel with the Centre County Women’s Resource Center.
As CGE continues to grow, we strive to maintain our dedication to diversity and continue advocating for graduate assistants regardless of race, class, gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, nationality, religion, or citizenship status. Fighting discrimination and standing against white supremacy should not be controversial in 2017, but given the subject of Monday’s panel, it clearly is.
In Solidarity, the Coalition of Graduate Employees