FIU grad students are organizing for a living wage amidst housing and food insecurity 

Photo via Pexels.

Organizers at the Graduate Wages and Rights at FIU, LuLu Victoria-Lacy and Lee McLoughlin | Guest Writers

The cost of living in South Florida rose nearly 10% in 2022, yet graduate student stipends remain well below living wage estimates. In response to widespread reports of material poverty, a group of concerned graduates and faculty, the Graduate Wages and Rights at FIU, are organizing for change.   

Graduate student workers are vital to intellectual life and culture at FIU. Grad students publish papers, present at conferences and conduct cutting-edge research that addresses local and global problems – all in the name of FIU. The university relies on graduate workers to educate thousands of undergraduates, run research programs and laboratories, and provide support to faculty across departments.  

Despite these contributions, most graduate workers at FIU are living below the poverty line. The majority of graduate student workers make less than $25,000/year, which is considered extremely low income in Miami-Dade County.  

In Miami-Dade, the average rent for a bedroom is $2,307. On top of this, graduates must pay about $2,400/year in academic fees, yet contracts block students from taking on outside employment. FIU’s administration has responded to graduate complaints with a paltry 5% stipend increase and vague promises for a further 5%. Neither is adequate. 

This unsafe financial situation means that many grad students face housing and food insecurity and must make difficult tradeoffs that impact their performance as students, researchers and educators. In an anonymous survey, one student shared: 

“I have to think about saving electricity when my laptop is connected to the charger. I have to stay at home instead of going to the university because it means running more washing machine cycles. I have to spend a lot of time and energy cooking every day for every meal because I can’t afford food. This time and energy would [be] worth more for the university if they just increased our salaries to eliminate such concerns.” 

Graduate students across FIU – and across the country – are beginning to share their experiences and organize around these issues. Even though graduate students are often isolated within their own departments, social media has allowed students to connect across campus. Graduate Wages and Rights aims to equalize pay across all departments, waive academic fees, ensure dental and vision coverage for students and ensure a living wage of at least $36,000. The group has an anonymous survey to document student experiences and is growing its social media presence. Grad workers and allies from all departments are welcome to join.  

There is clearly a mismatch between the work that graduates put in and the support they receive from the University. If FIU wants to continue recruiting and retaining top-tier students, it is time to pay graduate students a living wage. Students are less able to produce quality research when they are concerned about meeting their basic needs, as one student shared. “I am trying to produce shiny results to make FIU famous and improve its ranking. How can I do this if I don’t have a home or enough food for eating?” 

Letters to the Editor are not written by PantherNOW Staff. They are submitted by readers of PantherNOW, and the views presented are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community. You can submit your letter of up to 500 words to our editor at egregg@fiu.edu.

1 Comment on "FIU grad students are organizing for a living wage amidst housing and food insecurity "

  1. Connect with us on twitter @gradwagesfiu and Instagram @gradwagesrightsfiu

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