I went seven days without food. Then, on Thursday, May 11, I was arrested for an act of civil disobedience. I’m a teaching assistant at Yale, and I have fasted with my colleagues and gone to jail because our university — our employer — refuses to hear our voices.
In February, we voted to unionize in elections held in eight departments. Since then, Yale has ignored its obligation to bargain with us in a bid to buy time until President Trump can seat new appointees to the National Labor Relations Board to void our votes.
I became involved in the union and joined the fast because of the intersection of two phenomena I face daily: the collapse of the academic career track; and sexism in academia. My PhD will be in comparative literature, a field for which universities have all but ceased professorial hiring, using cheap replaceable teachers instead. This puts me in a situation of extreme professional and financial vulnerability.
Likewise, graduate school itself is an unequal environment. To find employment, we need professors’ goodwill, support and professional references. The more the academic career track declines, the more goodwill you need to preserve your narrowing path to your next job.
Because everything runs on personal relationships, workplaces are highly unequal along gender lines. Every academic knows the “boys’ club” — where men dominate, accruing recognition while women are marginalized.
Then there’s outright harassment. Yale’s own 2015 study found that 53.9 percent of women in the university’s graduate and professional schools experienced “insulting remarks,” “inappropriate personal comments,” “unwelcome sexual conversation,” “offensive digital communication” or “persistent advances.” Only 5.7 percent of this group took any subsequent action.
I do a lot of work in the Spanish and Portuguese department. In 2015, an open letter identified a senior professor there as the “main assailant” in repeated cases. This same professor was put in a supervisory position over me, even when his history was widely known. I’ve encountered harassment up close. I’ve heard the demeaning remarks. I’ve seen faculty denied tenure for speaking out. I’ve watched as Yale applies no consequences.
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