Our Stories

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Read about why we graduate student workers support forming a union!


“After I graduated from college, I started working as a public school teacher in New York. I’ll never forget my first day walking into the classroom — I was full of joy and excitement as I welcomed my sixth graders to their first day of school, ready to inspire them to become critical thinkers and active participants in our democracy.

Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last long. Due to the No Child Left Behind Act, I had to shift my focus from teaching critical thinking and creativity toward preparation for high-stakes testing. The administration even tried to peg my pay to student performance on those tests. I felt devastated — like when a dream turns into a nightmare just after it begins.

But my colleagues and I weren’t alone; we were joined together in our union. As I talked to my colleagues, I realized none of us thought the “teach-to-the-test” model was in the best interest of our students. And it wasn’t just our school — we were united with public school teachers across the city and the country who felt the same. Slowly, the tide shifted — and No Child Left Behind wasn’t the driving force behind all the decisions. At a time of great uncertainty, we stood up for ourselves in our unions — protecting our ability to teach critical thinking in the classroom and fair pay for professional work that isn’t tied to a monolithic metric like student test scores. In the face of daunting obstacles, we were stronger together.

Now, I am confident that forming a union as graduate students with SEIU is the right thing to do because of my own experience as a union member. Even when conditions are good, we are more secure when we are united. If we wait, it may be too late. Who knows when the next No Child Left Behind might threaten our nation’s education system? What would that look like in higher education? While we can’t predict the future, we can choose to stand together, and join the growing national movement of graduate students and faculty forming unions with SEIU. I hope my colleagues will join me when I vote yes!”
– Justin Mitchell

“While grad student labor is essential to the University, our material needs are rarely registered. In my three years at Duke, I have had richly rewarding experiences with my 

Bennet-quote-Duke-e1469826376157faculty advisers and with
the undergraduate students I have taught. At the same time, I’ve struggled with financial problems and with sudden changes to what I had thought an inviolable contract. 

I am so excited about coming together with other graduate students, at Duke and across the country who want to form a union. Working together, I am convinced we can achieve better, fairer, more transparent wages, benefits and work conditions—including clearer policies about work expectations and better procedures for addressing workplace harassment and discrimination, which I know are all too common for many of my peers. I believe this will benefit the whole university as well; healthy, happy, financially stable graduate students make for better researchers and teachers, leading to improved productivity and outcomes.”

-Bennett Carpenter


“International graduate workers—especially those from low-income backgrounds like myself—are Anasrasia-quote-Duke-e1469826420661-255x300especially vulnerable to wage insecurity and rising costs of living. We already earn limited wages on-campus due to immigration regulations, and we are not permitted to work off campus, yet alone access loans. Given lack of financial security throughout the year and the looming weight of continuation fees, my future at Duke feels precarious at best. Coming together to collectively negotiate our working conditions is the only way for us to have meaningful agency. I am joining my colleagues to form a union with SEIU because I want to belong to an educational institution where graduate employees are valued and afforded more than construction projects.”
-Anastasia Karklina


“I love being a graduate student at Duke; I cannot say enough good things about the professors in my program. They inspire, challenge, and support me. But there are others who serve in teaching Chicago - Art Center Gala - April 2012roles too: graduate students. We are teaching assistants, graders, and often we teach full courses.
Universities almost universally refuse to fully value our work or recognize us as workers, which puts us in incredibly precarious and painful economic positions. The cost of living goes up every year—my rent alone has increased 10 percent each year I’ve been at Duke—but our stipend doesn’t change and it forces us to struggle to make ends meet, or pay our continuation fees.
Graduate students teach many course, and we should be compensated like all the other instructors. I am committed to joining with other graduate students who are organizing with SEIU because my peers need my support and I need theirs. Nothing can change when we use individual paths. But everything can change when we stand together. So let’s help each other make Duke a better place for graduate student workers!”
-Shahrazad Shareef

“In my four years IMG_0082as a graduate student worker at Duke I have grown to love many parts of life at Duke. I have met some of the most wonderful people and the intellectual environment has been of the highest order. However, like any institution, I feel that Duke can be improved. I hope that by joining a union I will be able to stand with my fellow graduate student workers and advocate for greater transparency, better access to mental and physical health care, and a better environment for graduate student workers and the Duke community as a whole.”
-Scott Barish