LuLu Victoria-Lacy and Randi Spiker | Grad Wages and Rights at FIU
Life in Miami as a graduate student is a financial struggle. After paying monthly rent, I (Lulu) am usually left with $120 a week to cover groceries, transportation, wifi, etc. $50 each week goes back to FIU to pay semester school fees, leaving me $70/week.
Like many of my colleagues, I rely on credit cards and student loans, but I am one of the lucky grad students. Many international students aren’t able to take out student loans, and I have many coworkers who face homelessness.
Recently, the University Graduate School decided to throw grad workers a couple of bones; first was the Spring semester “bonus”. UGS promised grad workers a one-time payment equal to 5% of our stipend, though they excluded Masters students.
Disbursement of the bonus was a nightmare; many workers did not receive the bonus or received less than 1% of the promised amount. After being flooded with calls and emails, UGS attempted to fix the discrepancies, but it was weeks after the original promise date. In the end, many students reported giving that money straight back to FIU to pay semesterly fees.
In March, UGS announced a housing scholarship “subsidy” for doctoral students (masters students again excluded). Departments selected Ph.D. students to compete for these awards, and 40 will be awarded a $1500 scholarship toward on-campus housing. There are currently 1,485 Ph.D. students at FIU; this alleged scholarship will be available to less than 3% of us.
Scholarship or not, on-campus housing is still wildly unaffordable. One bedroom in a shared 4 bed/2 bath unit costs $10,420/year. A single studio costs $11,110/year. The only option for students with a partner or dependent is a 2 bed/1 bath at $23,600/year. Meanwhile, most doctoral workers make less than $23,000/year.
UGS is avoiding the obvious: paying graduate students a living wage. According to the MIT cost-of-living calculator, a single person with no dependents needs a wage of $39,000 to survive in Miami. FIU can afford it – our football coach gets paid $750,000 per season. Graduate stipends had a minimal 3.5% increase in December 2022, but these small actions are not going to rectify the ongoing structural issues workers face.
UGS and FIU more broadly should be embarrassed by how poorly they treat grad workers. FIU needs grad workers – we teach many of the approximately 46,000 undergraduates, bring in grant funds, perform and publish high-quality research, and keep offices across the campus running. It only benefits FIU to improve our working conditions.
Luckily, as grad workers, we have our own power.
Many universities across the country are experiencing movements for grad student rights, and FIU is not immune to this shift. Despite Florida being a right-to-work state, every student, including international students, has a protected right to organize for better working conditions and a living wage. Keep connecting across and within your departments, because together we are stronger.
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