Post-Secondary Strikes: Another Student Perspective

I am writing this in response to an “open letter” circulating in the comments of posts that express solidarity with CUPE 3903. The link to the letter is often left as an anonymous “but also, this…” reply to statements from those standing with us in this fight. First, I want to acknowledge the confusion, frustration, and concern that stand at the heart of this student’s letter – we understand the disruption that striking causes our students, we are mourning the hours of education lost to picketing, we are anxious, nervous, and are always mindful of what obstacles stand before you as an undergraduate student. This an uncomfortable situation, that is difficult for students for navigate – we know this.

The first point I want to clarify is based on how this letter is addressed - “to striking Faculty”. Those who have full-faculty positions at York are not on strike. In addressing the letter this way, I cannot help but wonder if you understand the basis of the strike at all. I am not saying this to cut you down, but perhaps to note, right here in the beginning of this response, that we are always looking for better ways to communicate with students about why this is an important action, and perhaps we could have done more to get this information to you. Nonetheless, I feel as if your sentiments are, from the very start, directed in the wrong direction.

CUPE 3903 represents contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and (though not on strike at this moment), part-time librarians and archivists. While you do note this eventually, it feels lost on you that many of us are in fact students too. I myself, a teaching assistant, am a student here at York. I note this, because your first paragraph resonates with mine and my peers’ experience as well – but after five, six, seven plus years as students, we do not see a light at the end of the tunnel. I imagine, for you, the light you speak of is the “completion” of your degree – in that case I will get there too, likely next year. But when I imply that graduate students are less likely than you to see a “light at the end”, it is because we also see the erosion of quality university education. In a “selfish” sense, these are things that affect our future employability – the loss of tenure-track jobs and increased precarity – the very things we are are fighting against alongside our Unit 2 colleagues. But these are also concerns about education in general – the neoliberalization of the university, increased student fees, a focus on profit, growing class sizes, amongst many others.

Your letter suggests the “light at the end of the long tunnel” is, for you, finishing university, and leaving it behind. To this I wonder how much the wellbeing of future university students crosses your mind? The premise of a strike is to disrupt the status quo to demand better for the future – to imply that we forget about students in this scenario is absurd. I am a student. I am always thinking about the wellbeing of my peers (who are students themselves), the students that I teach, as well as thinking about the students I hope to teach in the future.  

My teachers went on strike when I was in high school in Alberta in 2002. I recovered. The 2015 strike at York affected me greatly as I was still doing coursework. I recovered. My students recovered. When my Unit 2 colleagues recount the strikes previous to my time here at York, their students, well, recovered too. Though strikes affect students to different degrees, you will likely recover. It is because of this, that we feel it is worthwhile to fight for something greater than keeping the day-to-day function of the University undisturbed.

When I read your letter, I feel your frustration, and I get it – but it feels as if your fear and uncertainty around your own completion leads you to disregard the positions of the students who are not yet in university, or who are maybe in first, second, and third year – those who are facing increasing tuition fees, decreasing face-to-face interaction with educators, at institutions increasingly treating education as a commodity. You seem to have forgotten about them, we have not.

In regard to your points about the cost of education, I remind you again, that we are students too – we know these costs, we pay these costs. We pay them for our graduate education and most of us (across each of our units) are still paying for debt from previous degrees.

I feel pained that you seem to think that this is something that is passively happening to you, when all of your concerns stem from the very institutional conditions we are fighting. Why is it that you feel “we [read: students] cannot do anything to stop a strike from happening”? Why is it that you chose to write an open letter to us, and not the university demanding they take negotiation more seriously?. Why is your frustration with the amount of debt you face from your education levied at us, fellow students, and not at the University or the Province? It is here I want to invert a demand that you made on me (one, that I feel, I have already fulfilled). You ask me to remember that while I am on the picket line my "students sit at home unsettled, uneased and anxious about their futures” (sic). I am here standing on the picket line unsettled, uneasy and anxious about students’ futures, and ask you to be here too. Either physically, like many students were during the OPSEU strike, like York Federation of Students are today, like Students for CUPE 3903 are doing, or just in solidarity from home. When I went on strike in 2015 my redline was the reversal of York’s tuition increases for international graduate students – I am not an international student. I am sorry that you (in your own words) are sitting at home unsettled, but we would rather be in the classrooms too – instead we are standing in front of cars, death threats being thrown at us, because we want better for students. You have cited your fear that your last year “may become more chaotic and ‘scrambled’ then [the] last three” and I am empathetic towards this, but does your empathy extend to us, students who are demanding the University pay attention to education, inclusivity, and dignity? Does it extend to future university students? Or does your empathy extend only to fourth year undergraduate students with jobs lined up for April (there are quite few of those)?

Our working conditions are your learning conditions, and I have not stopped thinking about my students once in this scenario, and I know the educators at UCU, in West Virginia, in CUPE 2424, and all the others considering action are thinking about theirs too. 


A stressed out, worried, and NOT-DEFEATED defeated University Student

The Potential of Leaks

I've recently changed PhD topics. This decision was difficult, and hadn't even crossed my mind until my comprehensive exam supervisor brought it up this past December. It seemed as if everyone, but me, had noticed that my interests were shifting. Inspired by my final piece of coursework for Marc Couroux's class "Contemporary Theory in the Visual Arts" in 2015, my new topic considers the nature of the leak (in all instantiations) and how "leaking" can be harnessed as a means for accounting for assemblages of relations. I had presented an adapted version of this paper in last year's Sensorium SymposiumInterdisciplinary Approaches to Cybernetic Containers. At this point, I was considering the leak as it relates to aesthetic practice. I've now adapted this project even further.

After submitting my proposal earlier this year (granting me official ABD status!), I presented some introductory work on this project at the annual Queen's University Cultural Studies Graduate Symposium, UnDiscplined. Considering the nearly absurd interdisciplinarity of this project, the conference felt like the perfect venue to take my first steps with my newly approved topic. Below please find a brief introduction to this new work: The Potential of Leaks: Mediation, Materiality, and Incontinent Domains. 

"A leak is an emission of contents through a barrier intended to contain – it could imply a disruption to a given flow, a rupture through, a breaking free of contents out of form. Described in this way, the leak can be understood, in its most general sense, as a chain of effects. The vernacular implications of leaking tend to connote either the release of texts (information, images, etc.) or, in a more literal sense, the escape of a fluid. However, the leak also embodies more poetic tendencies – theoretically, it functions analogously to incontinence in philosophy, to desire in psychoanalysis and to the fluidity that qualifies the postmodern condition. It is through these contours; mediation, materiality, and theory, that this project will trace “the leak”. The leak is a difficult subject to account for – it eludes a specific discipline, its meaning is fluid, and its significance, always circumstantial, ranges from the entirely banal to matters of life and death. This project asserts that the amorphousness of the leak is valuable. In exploring the relationship between leaks and mediation, I ask how leaks are represented in media (particularly in art and journalism), and what these representations of leaks imply about their nature? As to not discriminate against the historical implication of the word “leak”, I also consider how these representations relate to material instantiations of leaks through the contexts of failing architecture and ecological conditions. Further, this project explores how the power of the leak may be harnessed, theoretically, as a means for accounting for the entangled, and complicated, realities of actors."

My previous work focused on images of ruins, which may make it seem as if radical shift has taken place. However, I've always felt that my work was about certain processes, or "entanglements", and while my previous object,/site/subject was different, the majority of my theoretical influences have stayed the same. This project, in my mind, has a cohesion and continuity that I have not yet found a way of accounting for (in rigorous academic way at least) - this continuity is there, and I am teasing it out now, but would love to discuss how I see this unfolding with anyone who has wrangled an amorphous research project. Further, I welcome all suggestions of leaky domains that should be explored!

Thank you to Sarah Murphy at Queens who introduced me to the current popularity and concern of "leaky gut syndrome" in alternative medicine circles! A perfect example of how threatening permeable boundaries can be, and how they often are the site of fear - legitimate or not.