We, the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective at UNC, come to you hopeful that we can work together in these next crucial days and weeks before Aug. 3, when undergraduates begin returning to campus. We also come to you exhausted from months — and for many of us, years — of taking great risks to make this campus safer.
We come to you, afraid for our lives, and motivated by the relationships we have cultivated with campus workers, graduate workers and undergraduates, whose fears we are also acting upon. We are asking you to act, too.
White tenured faculty members, we ask you to refuse to teach this fall unless the semester is remote by default, and unless the administration commits to move forward without furloughs or cuts to graduate students’ and low-paid workers’ pay and benefits. We are specifically calling those with the most privilege to take the first step in withholding labor.
As Black, Indigenous and all people of color have been asked to shoulder the burden of "diversity and inclusion" work in departments, and as many BIPOC faculty took a significant risk in their work on and support of the Roadmap for Racial Equity at UNC this summer, we see this ask as one way for white tenured faculty to step away from protecting their power through silence and inaction. Furthermore, as faculty at the UNC System’s flagship school, UNC-Chapel Hill faculty have more security than their colleagues at other UNC schools, who face greater precarity in this moment.
Students returning to campus will, without question, increase the rate of sickness and death within the campus community and beyond. According to a recent talk given by infectious disease experts, UNC has capacity for 164 students to be quarantined on campus. Before the majority of students have even returned, we have reached a quarter of that capacity with the summer football conditioning outbreak. This summer, UNC has continually failed to deliver on promises to protect and care for the wellbeing of students and staff through coronavirus relief and prevention resources, including a total lack of transparency with students’ CARES Act funding, requiring staff to reuse limited and inadequate PPE and not extending testing resources to exposed staff. The University has still not decided or announced when their “off-ramp” would occur or what it would look like.
It is also inevitable, as many have noted, that campus will be forced to return to full online instruction before the end of the semester. Students will again be asked to uproot themselves and further spread COVID-19 to their home communities — and to continue paying for the University housing contracts or off-campus leases they have no choice but to sign to attend on-campus courses at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Saving lives and reducing harm must be our priority. The only reasonable choice is to halt reopening before thousands of students, workers and faculty return to campus. White tenured faculty, you have the power to refuse to implement a deadly reopening plan before the crucial moment when undergraduates return en masse to Chapel Hill.
To date, members of the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective have worked in different ways and with different strategies to do what we can to prevent campus from reopening. We developed an extensively researched petition presenting three simple demands and — recognizing that budget cuts were always going to be announced — outlining practical ways to pursue them without harming the most marginalized among us. This document registered our hope that the campus community would prioritize health and wellbeing over profit or protection of its multi-billion dollar endowment. This means protecting not only the lives of campus workers and graduate students, but their livelihoods, too.