This December, dozens of graduate student workers at UVa have not been paid their stipends–the income we depend on to survive. Most graduate workers live paycheck to paycheck on an income far below the living wage for Charlottesville, meaning most of us do not have savings we can rely on in emergencies. Due to a mistake on the part of the University administration, many graduate workers are now at risk of not being able to pay our rent, other regular bills, or buy food.
For many graduate student workers in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, this is not the first time this has happened. As in the past, we had to alert university administrators of the issue ourselves. There are clearly no redundancy measures in place at Student Financial Services, or anywhere else, to prevent mistakes like this from happening. Graduate workers perform essential labor for the University, teaching undergraduate students and producing research. Yet University administrators have shown a complete lack of respect for graduate workers by refusing to prioritize something as basic as paying us on time.
Thus far, Student Financial Services has been unresponsive to graduate workers’ emails. The only people graduate workers have heard from are individual faculty members who are trying to reach SFS on their behalf, with little success.
Crystalina Peterson, a Bridge fellow in the History department, shares her experience:
“As a Bridge to the Doctorate Fellow, the delay in receiving our monthly stipend has had an incredibly negative impact on myself and my cohort. The Bridge program was created to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds gain access to graduate school, and to help support the University of Virginia in its pursuit of equitable enrollment of top scholars. The vast majority of the Bridge fellows currently enrolled are people of color, first generation students, and/or from low-income families, and we do not have the ability to ask our parents for help when the university does not follow through on its financial commitment to us.
As Bridge Fellows, we are not eligible for teaching assistantships or research assistantships, and the demands of graduate studies severely limit our ability to work traditional jobs off grounds. The timing of this oversight is especially troublesome, as rent is due on January 1st, and utility bills are frequently due in the last week of December. Many of us are either stuck out of town because we do not have the funds to return back to Charlottesville, or our plans to visit family were put on hold or canceled entirely because our stipends were not paid when promised.”
United Campus Workers of Virginia urges UVa administrators to solve this issue immediately and get graduate workers their payments before January 1, when rent is due. We also urge high level administrators to publicly apologize and to implement measures that will prevent this from ever happening again. As a wall-to-wall labor organization, UCWVA members know that short-staffing and overwork create the conditions for these mistakes to take place. We lay the blame squarely among UVa’s high level administrators and the Board of Visitors for deprioritizing University employees–from graduate student workers to the staff who process our pay.
Lastly, UCWVA reiterates our longstanding call for UVa to pay its graduate student workers a living wage–which is currently $38,173 a year for a single adult without dependents. While lack of payment or delayed payments are never acceptable, it is adding insult to injury to miss payments when graduate student workers already make so little.