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Graduate students protest for workers rights before football game

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As football fans packed into Peden Stadium on Saturday, the Ohio University Graduate Student Senate and the Ohio University Graduate Workers Party held their first protest in front of the stadium.

The attendees, composed of around 40 people, were protesting against multiple facets of graduate student life at OU. Such topics included the $9,000 median stipend graduate assistants get per academic year, the $40 healthcare subsidy graduate students receive if they purchase OU’s $1,800 health insurance package through United Healthcare and President Roderick McDavis’ $15,000 raise and $90,000 bonus awarded last month.

The Ohio University Graduate College has estimated the cost of living in Athens in an off-campus apartment for 10 months is $11,500. Also, in comparison to other peer colleges, OU’s stipend is considerably lower. Both Oregon State University’s Graduate College and the University of New Hampshire’s Graduate College offer stipends at or near $16,000 for an academic year.

Graduate Workers Party President Shehzad Ahmed said that the protest was planned with Graduate Student Senate President Carl Edward Smith III in a relatively short amount of time.

“Eddie [Smith] emailed me like a week-and-a-half, two weeks ago and was like, ‘Hey, let’s do this,’” Ahmed said. “We just started, this is our first event. It was awesome to see people come out, holding signs and to see people looking at us and saying, ‘Okay, yeah. Something is wrong.’”

Ahmed also advocated for graduate students to be able to waive the $1,256 General Fee for graduate students. He argued that he was too busy to be able to attend events the General Fee funds, such as football games. This was one inspiration for the protest.

“We have this fee hanging over our head, the General Fee, and we don’t participate in this stuff. We don’t have time to,” Ahmed said. “This is actually the first time I’ve been to Peden Stadium because I don’t actually have time to go to games. It’s sort of symbolic of the fact that you have this grand expenditure of money in the form of sports and…the General Fee. Yet the median stipend is $9,000. That’s the contrast.”

Many graduate students spoke about living on a budget below Athen’s cost of living as well as support for the Graduate Workers Party, the proposed union in response to the issues.

“I think it’s important to note that our message here isn’t about redistributing graduate student funds and taking some from some people and giving to others,” said Shad Bauer, a Ph.D student studying interdisciplinary arts who was eligible for food stamps during his master’s career. “It’s about improving the graduate situation for everybody, bringing the university up to the national average.”

Given the large amount of people getting into Peden, the protest was subjected to a fair share of hecklers. One student by the name of “Quinten” took the megaphone used by protester and chanted “OU oh yeah…I’m glad [1970 Marshall football players and crew] died in a plane crash.”

A group of men in Marshall apparel later screamed at the protesters “F— unions! Unions are r—–ed!” Despite that, Smith said that the venue was perfect for the protest.

“We’re gaining awareness on this issue with thousands, literally thousands of people walking up and down the street,” Smith said. “Hands down, this is probably the most successful way we can get awareness of this issue on campus and not be preaching to the choir. The people we’re preaching to are people that don’t care about this s—.”

Members of the Ohio University Student Union were present during the 30-minute protest to pass around AFSME unionization forms to graduate student protesters as well as information about the Student Union and the Student Union’s General Assemblies.

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