Letter from a Lion

My Dear Nittany Lions,

Greetings from a Mizzou Tiger and proud former Penn Stater. My name is Natalie McCabe. I attended the Schreyer Honors College and received my BA in Theatre and Minor in International Arts at PSU in 2007. The same year, my husband, Jean-Gerald Tartiere, graduated with his MFA in Acting from Penn State’s acclaimed School of Theatre. I am now at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where I am a doctoral candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies. I am also a proud department representative to the Coalition of Graduate Workers (CGW).

I am writing to encourage you to support a graduate student union at Penn State. My husband’s three years in State College were wonderful overall, with a supportive faculty and staff, teaching assistantship, and health insurance. I would like you to also have that same invaluable experience and solid guarantees for all of the hard work you and we all do as graduate student-workers.

Here at the University of Missouri, my department’s faculty and staff are equally supportive, but I have dealt with significant issues that a union could most certainly have addressed or even prevented. During my first pregnancy, I lived in university-run graduate student housing in an apartment complex called University Village. Despite knowing the dangerous structural problems of the unit in this university housing complex, the university continued to allow graduate students and their families such as myself and my husband to live there… until a walkway partially collapsed, killing a firefighter attempting to evacuate the occupants of that building. I was forced to move in my third trimester during the end of my first school year. When that apartment complex was torn down, so was the only Student Parent Daycare Center on campus. A similar daycare option was never reopened. A graduate student union could have worked to ensure strict safety standards in that apartment complex and the continued presence of an affordable Student Parent Daycare Center on campus.

During my second pregnancy, the university took away graduate student health insurance abruptly, with little warning. The next business day, I miscarried and spent far too much time at home before seeking medical care due to my new lack of insurance. A graduate student union could have worked to ensure maintenance of the health insurance that was promised in our offer letters.

I urge you to support a graduate student union so that your benefits are never threatened. So that your stipends and compensation are at an appropriate level for your work load. So that you can focus on your classwork and research, not on whether or not you can afford your rent, childcare, or a doctor’s visit. Continue to help “Happy Valley” live up to its name because, ultimately, We Are Penn State and should remain proud to be so, together.

Natalie McCabe