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Perspectives and Methods in Graduate Student Union Organizing

Kenneth Elliott

University of Iowa

In Fall 2018, I was elected Vice President of the graduate student union COGS (Campaign to Organize Graduate Students). COGS represents the approximately 2000 graduate students employed by the University of Iowa as TAs and RAs and works to ensure that we all have fair wages, benefits, and working conditions. The Vice President is in charge of organizing on campus, which includes membership drives, community outreach, and other events. In this presentation, I will share some of the ways this position has changed and improved me as a student, an academic, and a member of the community.

        While this position represents a considerable time commitment, it has been a highly instructive experience. Most importantly, I have gained a wide knowledge of the university as a whole, including learning how other departments and other fields work and forming relationships with graduate students not only in humanities and social sciences, but also in STEM fields. Having in-depth conversations with graduate students in diverse fields about issues specific to them has made me rethink standard practices in my own department, and better understand the challenges that all graduate students face.

        In addition, this position has made me much more aware of the role politics plays in the lives of graduate students. As at all state universities, the union has a complex relationship with both university administration and the state government, and I have learned firsthand how changes to state law can impact graduate students. This has given me the opportunity to develop a toolkit for effecting change both within the university system and through public opinion campaigns. Overall, my experience with COGS has given me valuable insight into the complicated lives of graduate students, and enabled me to push for improvements.

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Graduate Student Leadership in Classics

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