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Editorial: Demands for COLA remain urgent amid financial instability posed by COVID-19

By Editorial Board

May. 7, 2020 3:51 pm

The pandemic curtailed momentum building behind most activities across campus.

But for graduate student protesters, that sentiment applies tenfold to them.

In the lead-up to the statewide COVID-19 shutdown, graduate student protests were gaining steam. Their cost-of-living demands crisscrossed the University of California and protests, including the possibility of a wildcat strike, put the pressure on administrators to act.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Graduate student advocacy efforts are more low profile now, but make no mistake: while their demands are less visible, they’re not any less necessary.

This is no time for the UC to kick back and appreciate that no one is picketing outside its door. For administrators, it is comfort and privilege that allow expenses like rent and food to fade from mind – but not all graduate students can afford to have that luxury. The UC must actively engage with the demands of graduate students, as their cost-of-living needs transition from urgent to imminent under the strain of an economic lockdown.

The economic lockdown is looming over every member of the UCLA community, but for graduate students – many of whom were already experiencing financial instability before the pandemic – the coronavirus has jeopardized their living conditions even further.

And for the many graduate students working second jobs, social distancing has severely limited their ability to supplement unstable incomes.

UCLA and universities across the UC rely heavily on these students during the transition to online education. For all intents and purposes, they are the backbone of Zoom University – they’ve helped establish the adjusted-for-online course structures, support students during discussion sections and office hours, and continue to operate the day to day of online schooling for many professors.

International graduate students may be even further disadvantaged regarding available finances. International students are already limited by the number of hours they can work per week because of visa regulations, and now are suffering without steady employment during this time of crisis.

To be fair, the UC isn’t doing too well financially. But if it had given graduate students a cost-of-living adjustment when they asked months ago, they wouldn’t be in their current position. And if the UC is continuously demanding full tuition from all of its students, then it most certainly needs to keep an open dialogue with students who are in desperate need of financial answers.

UCLA and the UC cannot sweep the COLA movement under the rug just because there’s a lot on their plate at the current moment. While there are plenty of hypotheticals to worry about, one thing the UC can’t do is ignore its graduate students working around the clock to carry their online universities.

The UC failed its graduate students months ago when COLA’s in-person strikes were left without a resolution.

But even with a mountain of piling issues today, these unforeseen circumstances doesn’t mean they can just ignore the COLA problem and move on to the next one.

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