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GEU, UNFT gather for 'Die-In' protest against university COVID-19 policies

October 22, 2021

Thursday afternoon, members of the Union for Non-Tenure Track Faculty, or UNTF, and the Graduate Employee Union, or GEU, gathered at the Hannah Administration building to host a "die-in" protest of the university’s COVID-19 policy. 

This is the third protest organized by UNTF and the GEU against the university this semester.

“MSU’s not listening,” GEU Press Liaison Ava Hill said. “We keep doing protests, trying to ramp up the pressure, hopefully, we can get them to actually do something."

In early September, the group negotiated an agreement with the university that included extensive contact tracing and giving professors the option to teach over zoom in the event that a student tested positive for COVID-19. 

The group felt betrayed by the university, Hill said.

“As soon as the ink was dried on that, MSU started ignoring it,” Hill said.

Another complaint of theirs is MSU’s Triage hotline. Students have experienced wait times of up to 3 hours, attempting to find out whether or not they should get tested for COVID-19. 

Additionally, the group wanted to draw attention to the fact that several TA’s and RA’s didn’t get paid on time. Along with this, the employee’s healthcare was suspended, and they were never notified about it. Because of this, several employees found out while attempting to pick up prescriptions and getting denied. 

The die-in was conducted outside the door of the office of MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. Protestors marched up four flights of stairs to gather in his office, where speakers had a chance to share their experiences. 

James Madison freshman Savitri Anantharaman also spoke at the protest.

“I was really, really excited to come to MSU," Anantharaman said. "I was excited because I thought I could trust the university to take care of me … I assumed, but I was wrong.”

Anantharaman shared her experience with a COVID-19 exposure when someone tested positive for the virus in her class. Though Anantharaman ultimately didn’t have COVID-19, the experience left her anxiety-ridden and behind in classes. 

Teaching assistant Michael Albani has an immunocompromised partner. He said that he hasn’t been able to visit them since the school year started because he can never truly be sure that he isn’t carrying the virus — due to the fact that MSU is no longer notifying classrooms about exposures. 

The group conducted the die-in aspect of the protest while laying on the ground for one minute, holding painted tombstones. Their demands remain as:

  • Better contact tracing and notifications
  • Transparent communications about COVID-19 planning
  • Options for modality shifting
  • More accessible options for students

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