An Open Letter to GESO Leadership


To GESO Leadership:

We—women, LGBTQ graduate students, and graduate students of color at Yale University—write to share our concerns about union organizing practices, as well as our suggestions for improvement. We write with a shared recognition of the powerful work this union has done over the last two decades to support marginalized university employees and New Haven residents. We note, for example, the union’s successful prison divestment campaign in 2006 and GESO’s ongoing campaign to create more jobs for those who reside in this city. The union’s work has long been supported by the labor of women, LGBTQ folk, and people of color within and beyond the university. We have great respect and gratitude for this labor. Although our experiences and engagements with the union vary widely, and this letter does not attempt to speak for all of us, we write as LGBTQ graduate students, women, and graduate students of color with a shared commitment to the work this organization can do. We believe that if done seriously, centering the critiques of underrepresented graduate students will assist this organization in becoming the stronghold for equity it needs to be.

We are concerned that while the union has committed to supporting underrepresented students and faculty in its racial and gender equity campaign, its organizing practices fundamentally deny the different ways in which we move through Yale, including the varied political commitments we make, the unique forms of labor we perform as teachers and members of our academic communities, and the many forms of harassment and devaluation we daily experience that exhaust many of us emotionally, mentally, and physically. We emphasize here that these organizing issues are structural, not isolated instances that can be blamed on individual organizers.

Here are some of the most troubling behaviors we see encouraged by union leadership and practiced across the organization:

—Using student schedules to force meetings outside of our classes, in our offices, and in our homes.

—Following students to their homes or next location and using physical force to continue speaking to them.

—Gossiping in organizing meetings about specific individuals, describing personal choices, lifestyles, and conversations in reductive and/or disparaging terms.

—Role-playing, in which organizers mimic “difficult” union members who are not present in order to better circumvent our demands or critiques.

—Manipulating students and our colleagues with personal information about our lives, relationships, and assumed political commitments.

—Lack of recognition of other forms of political being and acting in the university, including care-work for oneself or loved ones; or co-optation of other political efforts without sustained conversation about how best to support that work.

—Prioritization of individual meetings, sometimes where the union member is outnumbered by organizers, rather than town halls.

—Lack of transparency about union structure, particularly regarding the Steering Committee’s meetings.

—“State of emergency” rhetoric, in which organizers are pressured to quickly collect numbers at whatever cost.

Tactics targeting students outside of their classrooms, in their offices, their apartments and dorm rooms are invasive regardless of how we move through the university. However, this is particularly violent when directed towards graduate students of color, women, and LGBTQ individuals. This university is a space where our bodies were not meant to be, where our bodies continue to be viewed with suspicion, hostility, or dismissal, and where we are still fighting to claim physical space, stability, and safety for ourselves and our work. The recent hate call made to the Department of African American Studies was a visceral reminder that we cannot take our physical space, safety, or belonging for granted. We out here, and we been here…but our existence is still precarious and ephemeral. GESO must acknowledge the particular violence it reinscribes when it refuses to support our need to walk, work, and rest in our community without further harassment.

Organizing strategies that mobilize personal information are likewise particularly oppressive and demeaning when targeted at LGBTQ folk, women, and people of color. It is absolutely unacceptable that organizers are encouraged to make assumptions about the political commitments of underrepresented graduate students and even mimic us in organizing meetings. This kind of reductive and glib adoption of our concerns and our personhood violently dismisses embodied difference; like the blackface, brownface, yellowface, redface, misogynist and transphobic costumes GESO has joined student organizers in protesting, these tactics violently erase the histories we carry in our bodies and what this deep embodiment means for how we experience and understand our political and academic work in this university.

The union’s hierarchical and opaque structure, its state of emergency rhetoric, and the constant pressure it puts on organizers to report back with numbers all direct significant energy towards subduing critique and suggestions for improvement. This structurally undermines the ability of members like ourselves to make demands for better inclusion of women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals: in a crunched timeframe, our concerns are seen as secondary and impractical. This structure also hinders organizers who might want to respond to member concerns but have limited autonomy to do so, placing undue strain on collegial relationships and sometimes making departments more hostile environments for both members and organizers.

These tactics structurally compel organizers to dismiss other forms of political work (including the work of rethinking organizing practices) as less radical or urgent. Underrepresented graduate student organizers and members are pressured to commit time and labor when we are often already performing significant and mostly unseen service work as teachers and department members. This further devalues and erases our many forms of labor. Moreover, in emphasizing union work as the most radical and urgent form of politics, GESO underestimates the importance of our academic work—work that can be compromised when we devote time to the union; work in fields of race, gender, and sexuality studies that is often already hindered by a lack of institutional resources and support; work that will be seen and assessed as the primary, if not sole, measure of our value; and work that will be subject to extra scrutiny because we are women, people of color, and LGBTQ identified.

These organizing tactics are disempowering for all of us, union organizers and members alike, and they constitute a particular disrespect and violence towards underrepresented graduate students. In the spirit of the activism currently happening on campus, and recognizing that we are far from the first to bring forward these concerns, we ask that union leadership immediately devote time to rethinking its organizing practices in order to reduce harm and oppression within GESO, and that it present a plan to its members in the coming months. As the task of critiquing and educating often falls on us, we strongly suggest that GESO hire an external adviser to suggest, supervise, and oversee changes. It is possible that the only solution to the problems we have highlighted here will be to establish greater financial and structural autonomy from UNITE HERE. We recognize that much of GESO’s leadership is comprised of UNITE HERE employees and suspect that our union’s organizing culture is laid out by them; yet we do not believe these individuals should shoulder the burden of responsibility, given recent critiques of this larger organization.* The way forward will likely require re-imagining even more radically what form our shared work must take. We believe that this undertaking will produce a stronger, healthier union—one better able to support underrepresented students and faculty in this institution—and that this is a crucial step in our fight for recognition.

In solidarity,

Graduate Students of Color, LGBTQ Graduate Students, Women, and Allies at Yale University

Nathalie Batraville, French, GSAS 2016
Anusha Alles, African American Studies, English, and WGSS, GSAS 2018
Claire Schwartz, African American Studies, American Studies, and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, GSAS 2018
Sarah Robbins, English, GSAS 2018
Tarik Aougab, Math, GSAS 2015
Tina Post, GSAS 2018, African American Studies & American Studies
Elizabeth Wiet, English, PhD GSAS 2017
Susie Kimport, Math, GSAS 2015
Scarlet Luk, English, GSAS 2019
Allison Hadley, GSAS 2018
Margaret Deli, English, GSAS 2017
Karen Raizen, GSAS 2017
Alexandra Reider, English, GSAS 2019
Jordan Casteel, YSA 2014
Jason Bell, English, GSAS 2019
Natalie Prizel, English, GSAS 2016
Denise Lim, Sociology, GSAS 2019
Sigma Colón, American Studies, GSAS 2016
Kristin Adele Okoli, African American Studies & French, GSAS 2014
Isabel Lane, Slavic Languages and Literatures, GSAS 2018
Lauren Meyer, AfAm & AmSt, GSAS 2018
Anya Corke, Slavic Languages and Literatures, GSAS 2020
Luca Peretti, GSAS 2017
Jessica Kasje, French, GSAS 2019
Tess Korobkin, History of Art, GSAS 2017
Phoenix Alexander, African American Studies, English and WGSS, GSAS 2019
M. Shafer, Political Science and WGSS, GSAS 2020
Efe Igor, History, GSAS 2020
Angus Ledingham, GSAS 2017, English
Juan Ruiz, History, GSAS 2019
Beans Velocci, History/WGSS, GSAS 2021
Mal Ahern, History of Art / Film and Media Studies, GSAS 2017
Mark Rodgers, Department of Music, GSAS 2018
John Klaess, Music, GSAS 2017
Colin Foss GSAS 2016
Nichole Nelson, History, GSAS 2018
Marissa Glynias, Music, GSAS 2018
Matthew Tanico, GSAS 2017
Viet N. Trinh, History, GSAS 2020
Samar Al-Bulushi, GSAS 2017
Megan Race, GSAS 2018
Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard, African American Studies, American Studies, and WGSS, GSAS 2017
Marco Ladd, Music, GSAS 2019
Laura Brown, Music, GSAS 2020
Heather Vermeulen, African American Studies, American Studies, WGSS, GSAS, 2017
Ian Althouse, Spanish, GSAS 2017
Tyler Jackson Rogers, American Studies and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, GSAS 2018
Sam Vernon, Painting/Printmaking, MFA, '15
Ashanti Shih, HSHM, GSAS 2018
Danielle Bainbridge, AfAm American Studies and wgss, GSAS 2018
Lucy Hunter, History of Art, GSAS 2019
Ryan Cecil Jobson, Anthropology and African American Studies, GSAS 2017
Jenny Tang, History of Art and Film and Media Studies, GASA 2020
Jess Newman, Anthropology and WGSS, GSAS 2017
Liz Miles, Anthropology and WGSS, GSAS 2016
J. Antonio Templanza, English, GSAS 2016
Lauren Halsey, Sculpture, MFA, 2014
Susan Morrow, German, GSAS 2016
Anne Schindel, Medieval Studies, GSAS 2015
Jeannia Fu, School of Public Health, 2018
Holly Chung, Music, GSAS 2018
Brandon Menke, English, GSAS 2019
Thuto Thipe, History, GSAS 2021
Anya Adair, English, GSAS 2017
Lucy Caplan, African American Studies and American Studies, GSAS 2019
Cynthia Rush, Statistics, GSAS 2016
Yuhe Faye Wang, American Studies, GSAS 2021
Aaron Sweeney, African American Studies and American Studies, GSAS 2017
Maryam Ivette Parhizkar, African American Studies and American Studies, GSAS 2021
Sasha Sabherwal, American Studies, GSAS 2021
Najwa Mayer, American Studies, GSAS 2017
Florian Fuchs, German, GSAS 2017
Ashley James, African American Studies and English, GSAS 2017
Sebastian Perez, American Studies, GSAS 2018
Kimberly Andrews, English, GSAS 2016
Jorge Cuéllar, American Studies, GSAS 2018
Laura Phillips, GSAS 2018
Fadila Habchi GSAS
Geoffrey Moseley, GSAS 2017, Classics
George Bayuga, Anthropology, GSAS 2019
Anna Alber, German, GSAS 2019
Maria Gracia Rios, GSAS 2016
Joel Leja, Astronomy, GSAS 2016
Christine Slaughter, Sociology and WGSS, GSAS 2017
Yasushi Tanaka-Gutiez, Sociology, GSAS, 2014
Brittany Levingston, African American Studies & English, GSAS, 2020
Ray Crouch Davenport College 2015
Dana Asbury, Sociology and Women Gender and Sexuality Studies, GSAS 2014
Alina Aksiyote, Berkeley College 2016
Anthony Coleman, Divinity 2016
Margaret Traylor, History, GSAS 2020
Catherine Chiabaut, French, GSA 2018
Nicholas Robbins, History of Art, GSAS 2020
Tess Lanzarotta, HSHM, GSAS 2018
Briallen Hopper, Lecturer in English
Camille Owens, African American Studies & American Studies, GSAS 2021
Bench Ansfield, American Studies, GSAS 2019
John Burden, History, GSAS 2017
Stefan Eich, Political Science, GSAS 2016
Sebastian Rider-Bezerra, Medieval Studies, GSAS 2018
Talya Zemach-Bersin, GSAS 2016
Van Truong American Studies GSAS 2016
Angharad Davis, Music, GSAS 2018
Noriko Amano, Economics, GSAS 2018
Rebecca Jacobs, American Studies, GSAS 2016
Regina Karl, German/Film and Media
Tiffany Hale, History, GSAS 2018
Rebecca McKibbin,Economics, GSAS 2018
Chris Shughrue, GSAS 2018
Steve Reilly, GSAS 2015
Brianne Dolce, Music and Medieval Studies, GSAS 2020
Deepti Chatti, GSAS 2018
Caroline Merrifield, Anthropology, GSAS 2017
Titania Nguyen, Branford College 2018
Rachel Love GSAS'18
Christina Siobhan Wells, GSAS 2016
Ryan Mera Evans, Ezra Stiles College 2017
Marc DeWitt, YC '15
Carlotta Chenoweth, Slavic, GSAS 2019
Andrew Womack, Anthropology, GSAS, 2017
Usha Rungoo, French Studies, African American Studies 2018
Seo Hee Im, English, GSAS 2018
Marco Ramos, HSHM , GSAS, 2017
Andrew Seal, American Studies, GSAS 2016
Sorcha Brophy, Sociology, GSAS 2015
Julia Lum, History of Art, GSAS 2017
Haesoo Park, HSHM, GSAS 2018
Alexandria Moore, GSAS 2018
Alexandra Morrison, GSAS 2018
Faizah Zakaria, History, GSAS 2017
Stephen Poland, EALL, GSAS, 2016
Swagato Chakravorty, GSAS 2020
Jonny Bunning, HSHM, GSAS 2020
Kyle Khellaf, Classics, GSAS 2017
Amanda Gregg, Economics, GSAS 2015
Brandi Waters, History & African American Studies, GSAS 2020
Sonja Anderson, Religious Studies, GSAS 2016
Heather Horn, History, GSAS 2020
Josh Alvizu, German, GSAS 2016
Samuel Loncar, Religious Studies, GSAS 2019
Consuelo Amat, Political Science, 2018
Malte Lierl, Political Science, GSAS 2015
Richard Anderson, History, GSAS 2015
Taylor Jardno, History, GSAS 2016
Joe Stadolnik, GSAS 2016
Shanna Jean-Baptiste, French & African American Studies, GSAS 2020
Anna Hagstrom, CEE, GSAS 2018
Grace Ting, EALL, GSAS 2016
Alder Keleman S., GSAS 2016
Sarah Derbew, Classics, GSAS 2018
Stefanie Acevedo, GSAS 2018
Annelies Andries, Music, GSAS 2017
Amanda Joyce Hall, History & African American Studies, GSAS 2021
Edgar Garcia, English, GSAS 2015
Céline Wang, CEAS, GSAS 2016
Savannah Thais, Physics, GSAS 2020
Jill Kelly, GSAS 2018
Teresa Brecht, GSAS 2017
Anne Marie Champagn, Sociology, GSAS 2018

*Please see:
1. Sean Abbott-Klafter, Lohl Berning, and Tenaya Lafore, "An Open Letter to All Those Concerned about the Labor Movement," 2009 <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2009/labor141009.html>
2. Ned Resnikoff, "When the Union's the Boss," 2013 <https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/04/when-the-unions-the-boss/>
Thanks to Kaneesha Parsard for directing attention to these sources, and for her feedback on an earlier draft of this letter.

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