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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Undergraduate students must foster solidarity and organize


Liam Bendezu, opinion writer. 

As COVID-19 clusters spring up across campus, many can’t help but feel angry and frustrated at a handful of administrators and officials who brought us into our current situation and fellow students who dangerously defy guidelines. Thankfully, despite social distancing, you are not alone. 

Your frustrations are not unique nor unshared by others. Groups of students, workers and others have been organizing and fighting to prevent our current situation from coming to fruition. The Workers Union at UNC, a chapter of UE Local 150, has been speaking on behalf of graduate and campus workers on coronavirus-related issues as early as March of this year. Throughout the summer, the union has also worked to further organize workers across the UNC System, leading efforts to acquire hazard pay, adequate PPE distribution and additional resources and services for workers. Recently, some members of the union joined a lawsuit against the UNC System, arguing that it has violated their right to a safe working place. 

As an undergraduate, it can be easy to separate oneself from the experiences of graduate and campus workers. Undergraduate life, as it is portrayed in the collective memory, is as much about our social lives and personal development as our education. We feel as though the University revolves around us, and easily allow the enormous population of workers to fade into the background. We may forget that it is these workers who carry out the essential tasks that allow the University to function. 

The increasingly dire situation that exists on campus has shaken the foundations of the imagined undergraduate experience. Reality is setting in. And among that set of facts is the realization that undergraduates have more in common with graduate students and campus workers than any other group on campus. 

We have been corralled into dorms and classes by an administration with an air of ease, two masks and some hand sanitizer. We have been brought to campus by the mandate of a Board of Governors that values tuition dollars more than the health and well-being of students and workers. Undergraduates have been seen as the aggregate mass to be managed, not as a group of human beings with interests in personal health and the health of those around them. Undergraduates and workers are more alike than different in this regard. Anger and frustration should not drive these groups apart when the real culprit is a handful of administrators and officials who put us in this situation in the first place. 

Undergraduates should come to realize that their interests lie in fostering solidarity with graduate and campus workers. Stop partying, wear your mask and follow guidelines. Organize yourselves: build coalitions, form and join groups, support mutual aid efforts among both students and workers. We are the largest single population on campus. Our size gives us power and sway. Organize, undergrads, organize!

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