For Immediate Release: Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Contact: Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Graduate Student COVID Unrest at Texas A&M
Partying Undergrads Shun Masks and Risk Super-Spreader Events
Washington, DC — Hundreds of graduate students at Texas A&M University are demanding COVID-19 safeguards as the campus reopens, according a petition penned by Graduate Aggies for Worker Safety (GAWS) posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The grad students want Texas A&M to allow all of them the option of teaching remotely, in addition to the university–provided personal protective gear for grad students working on campus and portable HEPA filters for classrooms.
Nearly 600 grad students and 18 graduate student organizations on campus have endorsed a petition to Texas A&M President Michael K. Young and other university administrators expressing concern about their health in returning to campus:
“The University’s plan to return to in-person teaching will place its workers in immense danger. This is of particular concern for graduate teachers, who teach a large number of core classes and, as a result, come into contact with a significant amount of the student body…However, at present, graduate workers and other employees are being forced to risk their health and the health of their communities in the reopening process.”
Like other universities across the country, Texas A&M has adopted policies to restrict the size of student gatherings (at Texas A&M the limit is no more than 10 persons). Unfortunately, undergraduate students are ignoring these restrictions, which are largely unenforceable off-campus. A Twitter feed documents lack of social distancing and refusal to wear masks among undergraduate Aggies.
Faced with outbreaks and risk of super-spreading events from partying undergrads, campuses, such as University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are putting the brakes on reopening plans.
“It is imperative that universities provide safe alternative for all of their students,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, noting that Texas A&M allows undergrads to take classes remotely but will only allow some graduate students to teach remotely for undefined good cause. However, graduate workers have told GAWS that requests for accommodations have been denied by the University despite they themselves or someone in their house being in a high risk category. “Graduate students should not be forced to risk their health for bureaucratic reasons.”
The petition contains six “demands” for safeguarding graduate teaching assistants and other campus workers, as well as protections for international grad student financial aid and immigration status. Another demand is for an “institution-wide system for reporting protocol violations…with clearly-defined consequences.”
“Texas A&M graduate workers deserve the right to manage their exposure, regardless of medical need,” added Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Ivory towers confer no immunity to infectious disease.”