As Covid-19 becomes a global crisis, the GEO-UAW International Caucus of UMass Amherst draws your attention to some immediate needs of international graduate students during this difficult moment. An initial survey conducted by the Caucus revealed that the international graduate student community is experiencing unexpected challenges. International students are facing a severe food crisis, rent and housing crisis, and funding crisis. These challenges have been exacerbated by border closures, uncertainties around visa and I-20 renewals, travels bans, and employment status. Further, the border lockdowns have also caused mental health issues for students who cannot go home and be with their families in the middle of a pandemic, even as they handle the pressures of derailed academic progress. Travel and state jurisdictions have thrown mental health sessions into disorder for some. While we recognize that the world is on the brink of a global recession, we also see the US government providing huge (though by no means adequate) stimulus packages to counter economic depression. Universities can be bailed out. Students, staff, and workers, both domestic and international who are living in a state of complete precarity at the time of this pandemic, do not have similar assurances, and must be assured a decent, safe, and financially secure life by the university at this time. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst has, through the past year of cut-backs, had some of the highest paid state employees in the state. Going forward, it must ensure that all immigrant, international, and domestic students and workers across the board get better wages, better benefits, and better protections. The academic, financial, and labour precarity of international students is interconnected and can only be addressed thus. All institutional bodies and campus entities must therefore work cross-institutionally to address the pandemic crisis. The University must immediately reorder its timelines, and begin to work on the Stop the Clock model for graduate students.
We are in solidarity with the SGA and undergraduate students/workers, the PSU and staff workers, and MSP and faculty workers. Our demands complement and go hand in hand with the universal Graduate Student Letter which advocates for funding, food and housing security, stop the clock and other essential guarantees for graduate students and workers.
Swati Birla and Ragini Jha
Co-Chairs of the International Student Caucus,
Graduate Employee Organization-UAW 2322.