A campaign calling for the University of Virginia to address student, worker, and community concerns regarding the school’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice is being launched on August 24th, 2020. The campaign, “#ActFastUVA,” demands that the University immediately abandon its “hybrid with remote option” learning model for the Fall and cancel move-in for the majority of undergraduates, citing safety concerns. Additional principles and demands unite existing campaigns from a wide range of activists and organizations under three headings: Fight Austerity, Assure Safety, and Solidarity Together.
Underlying the campaign is a growing concern about lack of transparency and unclear priorities on the part of UVA’s administrative leadership. The University has so far moved forward with the hybrid instruction model despite rising cases in Virginia and nationwide, relying largely on student self-governance to avoid a local outbreak. Only a week into their semester, UNC was forced to abruptly cancel all in-person instruction and send its 30,000 students home after 177 students tested positive. Similar cancellations are taking place at Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. Meanwhile, the administrators continue to ignore student activists’ demands for the school to end its relationship with Charlottesville police and cut funding for its own police department as part of its stated mission to address pervasive racial inequality at the University. How will task forces and promises keep students and community members safe?
The #ActFastUVA campaign is organized by United Campus Workers of Virginia (UCWVA), a new union composed of UVA undergraduate and graduate student workers, faculty, and staff. UCWVA was formed over the summer as a direct result of growing dissatisfaction with the University’s repeated sidelining of student and worker input when developing its pandemic response. “We chose to affiliate with UCW because of their strong record organizing at other public universities in so-called “right-to-work” states, and because of their “wall-to-wall” membership structure, which means any UVA employee can join: staff, students, and faculty,” says Rosa H., union member and graduate student. “We want to bring people and campaigns together to make things better for UVA workers, especially Black and women workers and workers of color who are most marginalized at the university.” UCW is affiliated nationally with the Communication Workers of America, one of the largest labor unions in the country.
“#ActFASTUVA” is UCWVA’s inaugural campaign and largely emphasizes bringing together already existing activism in and around UVA. “It was important that we build on the work already being done here at UVA rather than reinventing the wheel,” says Crystal L., another union member and graduate student. “We want the union to help bring people and resources together, which is why the campaign stresses solidarity.” Groups cited in the campaign include UVA’s Black Student Alliance, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and Defund CPD, among others.
The Union sees this fall semester’s campaign as laying the foundation for greater worker power at UVA moving forward. “I think a lot about what UVA’s actions would have been like at the start of the pandemic if we had a strong union presence representing workers’ interests all across grounds. I want to help build that vision and stand together when confronted with future issues,” says Evan B., union member and graduate student.
UVA students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the Charlottesville community, can sign on to the campaign’s demands here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/actfastuva.