Wednesday, December 8, 2021

'Wide Awake' event brings together speakers, songs protesting COVID-19 policies

September 25, 2021
"Michigan State has been lying to us about what constitutes close contact," Kate Birdsall, president of the Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty, said. "We want this university to stand up and show that it cares about us, our graduate students and our undergrads." Sept. 25, 2021.
"Michigan State has been lying to us about what constitutes close contact," Kate Birdsall, president of the Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty, said. "We want this university to stand up and show that it cares about us, our graduate students and our undergrads." Sept. 25, 2021. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

The Graduate Employees Union, or GEU, protested against Michigan State University’s COVID-19 policies Friday night. The protest, entitled “Wide Awake,” was held outside of Cowles House.

The protest consisted of speakers and songs, featuring GEU members and outside organizations alike. Issues included modality switches, consideration for disabled persons and more administration transparency.

“We want this institution to stand up and show that it cares about us, that it cares about our grad students and that it cares about our undergrads,” Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty, or UNTF, president Kate Birdsall said. “Because this situation is untenable and unsafe.”

To kick off the night, protestors learned songs to chant and received preprepared signs to hold during the event. They lined up outside the front door, cheering and stomping to draw attention from bypassers and administration.

GEU Information Officer Ava Hill said that the main goal of the protest was to spread awareness of COVID-19-related issues everyone is facing on MSU’s campus.

“Right now, what we're trying to do is draw attention to what's going on here on campus,” Hill said. “And try to put pressure on the university to prioritize the safety, not just of the instructors and the graduate students, but of the whole campus community.”

A diverse group of speakers took center stage, including a member of GEU and others from the UNTF and Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA. 

YDSA member Ivy Rose expressed their concerns about the COVID-19 policies from the perspective of a disabled student. They are fearful of transmission during in-person classes. 

“Maybe if one of my able-bodied classmates gets COVID, they’ll be fine,” Rose said during their speech. “But I, in the words of my doctor, ‘Wouldn’t make it a single day on a ventilator.'”

Rose personally wants the university to return to online learning, but they acknowledge it might be an unreasonable ask. They ask, above all, that students with disabilities are heard. 

“It’s clear that we’re not being seen and that’s reflected in the policies,” Rose said. “Like I said, for me, this is a life or death situation.”

Speaker and GEU member Michael Albani shared his experience teaching in a classroom, saying that health, mental or physical, is more important than students’ attendance.

“When I think about all the work that I do and that my students do, there’s nothing that makes me more sick and tired than thinking about administrators who won’t even put in the bare minimum of effort,” Albani said.

After his speech, Albani said that his hope is for the university to integrate more reliable contact tracing and make modality switches a “reasonable possibility.”

“I think these are all very reasonable things,” Albani said. “I hope that the administration will respond not just with platitudes … We don’t just want you to hear us and see us, we want (the university) to take action.”

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