Dear Graduate Students of Illinois State University,
I’m writing to offer my appreciation and support for your efforts to unionize at Illinois State University. Every worker deserves the right to form a union, and especially with attacks on organized labor from the White House and our own Governor’s Office, it’s up to all of us to carry the torch of the labor movement.
As a graduate student at MIT and then as a math professor at the University of Chicago, I came to understand the impossibility of balancing roles as a student and as a worker. And I’m sure many of you face these same challenges today — diving wholeheartedly into research, vibrant discussions and contemplation of your futures and fields, while also teaching classes, grading assignments and mentoring the undergraduates who rely on you for inspiration and support. Amidst all of this, so many graduate students worry about how to stretch their paychecks to cover food, housing, health care — not to mention paying off student loans or saving money in anticipation of the instability that plagues adjunct professors.
These challenges are even more pronounced for students from low-income families, for parents, for students with disabilities and for women and people of color, who often take on more than their fair share of work and rarely receive the credit they’re due. And at public universities like yours, with destructive and short-sighted governors like ours, so many of you worry about the future of your stipends and research funding and haven’t received the support you were promised.
There is no doubt in my mind that without graduate students, our colleges and universities, both public and private, could not function — and Illinois State is no exception. And even beyond your invaluable role in our state’s education system, you, as workers, deserve workplace protections, healthcare and a living wage. I’m proud to see graduate students like you across the country standing up for these fundamental rights.
I’m writing to stand in solidarity, to share my admiration, and to express my belief that you are building something powerful. During my time as a community organizer, state senator and Chair of the Senate Labor Committee, I’ve seen how strong our voices can be when we unite around a powerful, positive vision in the wake of attacks and in the face of uncertainty. As you come together to form your union, you’re honoring a centuries-long tradition and securing a better future for workers in every sector. Together, I know that we can be greater than the forces that stand in our way to build an Illinois, and a nation, that works for all of us.