The CAJUA formed this summer in protest of students, staff and faculty returning to in-person classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic that left the 2020 spring semester cut short with the fall semester as a big unknown.
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Protesters wore masks and were socially distanced as they laid on the grass with signs that read things like “President [Dr. Robbert C. Robbins] is Robbin’ Lives” and “People will die.” Along with the protesters participating by laying on the grass, there were blocks of cement lined up along the top of the grass to represent headstones reading “Here lies undergrads,” “Here lies graduate students” and “Here lies Tucson.”
There were medics and volunteers handing out water, snacks and offering sunscreen to the protesters laying out in the heat. Though there was no agenda of speakers, a table was set up equipped with a speaker and microphone where people could come up and speak on their opposition to the current campus reentry plan.
One organizer of the event, a graduate student active in CAJUA, spoke to why they felt strongly about not returning to class during a pandemic crisis.
“This should be an easy choice … I know that as an Autistic, non-binary person with disabilities that if I got COVID and there was an overflow, I would be at the chopping block. We’ve seen this happen, people with disabilities are the ones that get denied if the hospital beds are overflowed,” the organizer said*. “I know that if I caught COVID, I would probably die, and if I know I would probably die and I am here to stand up and act, that there a lot of the faculty who are older, they would die.”
The organizer also said the university is choosing to sacrifice people.
“I’ve been pushing for this, as the semester is getting closer, we kind of decided on the idea of having a die-in. … The University of Georgia die-in was what inspired this specifically, but there have been protests here in Tucson with Stand Up, Fight Back and Black Lives Matter Tucson and those have been motivational and inspirational for me to take action and organize something ourselves,” the organizer said on how this protest came to fruition.
Speakers came up at random, some speaking off the top of their head, others reading from prepared thoughts, including graduate students, Tucson locals and even a professor that voiced support for the protesters and what they were doing.
“I’m just very concerned for those who don’t have the same health and financial privileges that I do and what a potential COVID outbreak would do to this community … I’m not concerned for just those at UA, but for the larger Tucson community,” said a speaker who is also another graduate student aligned with CAJUA*.
Along with the physical die-in protest, there was also a motor march where cars drove past, honking in support and decorated with similar sentiments to those expressed on the protesters’ signs.
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Robbins’ current reentry plan will bring at least 40% of classes back in-person starting Aug. 24, gradually bringing more in three one-week stages.
In response to this and Robbins’ furlough plan, CAJUA announced they would be unionizing at their Aug. 4 press conference, which he later said he would support while also announcing longer reentry phases at his Aug. 6 reentry briefing.
*Editor’s Note: The names of the graduate students have been withheld at their request.
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Samuel James, they/them, interview in person
Casey, she/her, interview in person
*all sources elected to not be named for sensitivity reasons, both CAJUA grad workers