Throughout Penn’s “Graduate Student Appreciation Week” (4/3-4/7), GET-UP released testimonials from graduate student workers on multiple issues they’ve experienced while at Penn, and what a union could do to help solve them. You can see a recap of the issues discussed during the first week here and during the second week here.

The donuts from “Graduate Student Appreciation Week” may be gone, but we’re going to keep on releasing issues for the next week. Today, we’re talking about Mental Health:

I lost a year of my life (and a year of progress on my thesis project) to depression and anxiety before I got the professional aid I needed.  Penn’s mental health care infrastructure is built for undergraduate students, so I spent a lot of counseling time explaining the structure of my program and how graduate school works.  When I asked about the options for taking a leave of absence CAPS didn’t know the answer for graduate programs.  When I looked online at our student handbook about taking a leave of absence there was only a cryptic paragraph, and even that was difficult to find.  The process seemed opaque and embarrassing, so without anyone to help me navigate it I didn’t take any leave.  I was probably always going to be susceptible to brain problems, but I blame my graduate school experience for how bad it got.  I linked my self-worth to my project.  Any time I didn’t spend in lab was time I could have been in lab — time that a good graduate student would have spent in lab.  I felt guilty all the time.  Our studies aren’t supposed to be work, they’re supposed to be our lives.  That mentality made me sick.  The prevalence of mental illness among graduate students suggests that it makes others sick too.  A union will be the first step towards giving us control over our graduate employment, control that we can use to make our environment less toxic, more nurturing, and ultimately an experience that educates us while doing no harm.

— Graduate Student in Biomedical Graduate Studies

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Statement of Faculty Support for GET-UP efforts:

As faculty members of the University of Pennsylvania, we welcome efforts being made by GET-UP to unionize the graduate student workers (GSWs) in our university. We believe that graduate students have the right to unionize, a right confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). GET-UP has been active in organizing a union for over a decade now, and while their earlier effort was stymied by the then NLRB, recent NLRB rulings have allowed them to revive their mobilizing drive.


GET-UP is not just a group of graduate students, a campaign to be recognized as employees, and a venue for grievances: we are a union. A union is both a community of interest that unites for the purposes of collectively bargaining a contract and a collective of people who have each other’s backs. We believe that a contract produced by collective bargaining could address general and specific issues facing graduate students, as well as guarantee more democratic avenues for grads to participate in the institution.