UNC’s fall 2018 semester was anything but ordinary. After the toppling of Confederate monument Silent Sam in August, two hurricanes in September and October and a water crisis in November, the teaching assistant strike in December seemed par for the course.
Dozens of UNC’s graduate student TAs said they would not submit their students’ final course grades until the UNC-system Board of Governors rejected the UNC Board of Trustees’ proposal to house Silent Sam in a single-purpose educational building on the site where Odum Village once stood. The BOG rejected the proposal, which would have cost more than $5.3 million, on Dec. 14, and the graduate students officially called off their strike on Dec. 17.
The faculty released a statement stating they “released all grades for the fall 2018 semester,” but there is still confusion on campus among undergraduate students about the results of the strike.
On Dec. 3, doctoral candidate and outspoken activist Maya Little asked other faculty to join her in withholding their students’ final grades to protest the BOT’s proposal.
Little did not respond to requests from The Daily Tar Heel for comment by the time of publication.
“This action was about disrupting business as usual at UNC, because business as usual was putting students, especially students of color, at risk,” said Little's fellow history doctoral candidate Jennifer Standish, who said she was an organizer of the TA strike. Standish said she did not teach a class in the fall.
Standish emphasized that all student grades were calculated accurately. She said these would have been withheld for the duration of the strike and were released as soon as the strike ended.
“Moving Silent Sam back to campus and having a mobile police force which was included in the appendix of that proposal was rejected by the Board of Governors, so they actually did by and large meet our demands. Because they had rejected the proposal as we requested, we decided that we should release our grades, and so we all did at the same time," said history doctoral candidate Lindsay Ayling.
Some TAs were conflicted, saying they wanted to protest the BOT’s proposal but did not want to harm their students in the process.
“I actually received an email from my TAs and professor saying that they may possibly be withholding our grades and asked if we could do a Poll Everywhere and vote. They called it off within a day and they apologized for any anxiety and stress it caused,” said sophomore Hailey Wall.
Wall's TAs declined to comment.
The strike’s effect on undergraduate students was a common concern amongst opposition.
“The strike opponents will always use the same language of, ‘You’re harming students, you’re harming patients.' I think in these cases, if you’re not willing to support people using labor to push for essential social causes, you’re admitting that marginalized people will never have power,” Ayling said.
The University has not received any specific reports of grades not being submitted and has not observed any irregular activity, according to UNC Media Relations. Some confusion still remains on campus, however. Many students do not know how the strike ended and wonder if their grades may have been affected.
First-year Wilson Allen was one of Ayling’s students in "Russia Becomes an Empire." His professor did not attend the final exam session and Ayling, who was open about her participation in the strike, administered the test.
“I don’t think my final exam ever got factored into my grade,” said Allen.
Sophomore Hailey Wynn, who was also in the class, said the chairperson of the Department of History emailed the class and asked them to report the grades they had received in the class throughout the semester, for purposes of calculating overall course grades.
Wynn said she thought her final grade was lower than it would have been without the confusion from the TA strike.
“My professor said she’d look into my grade more after break. I got screwed and my GPA felt it,” she said.
Ayling said those claims were untrue, and that students’ grades were all calculated accurately.
She said the chairperson of the history department may have asked those students to email in their grades in case the TAs were still on strike when final course grades were due. Because the strike ended on Dec. 17, grades were calculated normally without using the emailed-in responses.
For now, Silent Sam’s future is still uncertain. The BOG extended the deadline for a new recommendation to March 15.
“The graduate students who participated in the action remain committed to anti-racism at UNC. We will continue to organize collectively to make sure that our students are safe from white supremacy and police brutality," said Ayling.
In an email to the UNC community announcing her resignation, planned for the end of the year, Chancellor Carol Folt said she has "authorized the removal of the base and commemorative plaques from the Confederate Monument site in McCorkle Place." The base and tablets will be preserved until further plans are made.
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