ANN ARBOR, MI — It’s been four days since University of Michigan graduate students began striking for more COVID-19 transparency and protection, and their efforts have had a trickle-down effect to other groups, including residence hall and dining staff, who are now voicing their concerns.
More than 200 people representing various parts of the UM community came together Friday afternoon, Sept. 11, in a virtual speakout to share experiences, discuss concerns and think about what steps are next.
For Yael Kenan, a member of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the message to university administration is clear.
“The university has said time and time again that they are creating a public health-informed fall semester. This is not what a public health-informed semester looks like,” Kenan said. “This is what a financial-needs and financial austerity-informed semester looks like.”
The meeting consisted of opening remarks from Kenan, resident assistant Soneida Rodriguez and nurse Anne Jackson. All three talked for a few minutes about their experiences and the issues surrounding UM’s plan to contain COVID-19 before everyone broke into small groups for discussion.
Members of the media were allowed to listen in on the opening remarks, but the rest of the meeting was closed to the public.
Nurses have been fighting for safety since the pandemic began, Jackson said, including asking for proper personal protective equipment, such as N-95 masks. They even filed a complaint with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, she said.
There is also a lack of transparency from UM about when it is safe to work if someone has been exposed to COVID-19, Jackson said.
“Now, as we are continuing to add community spread of COVID-19, our employer does not seem to see the need to use best practices, only restricting folks from work if you’re positive and symptomatic,” Jackson said. “But when you’re waiting for test results and have been exposed, you can still work.”
Student workers in the residence halls also have concerns about being safe, and Rodriguez said it’s not uncommon for resident assistants to be the last to know about policies or be removed from the decision-making process altogether.
The university is focused on making decisions that sound effective on paper but provide little support when implemented, Rodriguez said.
An example is requiring each student to have a negative coronavirus test when they move into the dorms, Rodriguez said.
“Without the presence of any sort of organized system for residents to submit their test results, it became clear that there was no form of accountability to follow through with this promise,” Rodriguez said.
All the groups’ demands are simple, straightforward and necessary, Kenan said, adding it’s obvious the university should have a robust testing and contact tracing plan, be transparent and defend and protect marginalized communities of color from an armed campus.
“If this past summer hasn’t clarified that to (UM President) Mark Schlissel and to everyone in leadership at this university, then let’s hope that this strike will because folks are tired of fighting, but they are so proud of this fight, and they will do so for as long as necessary,” Kenan said.
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