First Fasting Replacement Steps In

Christopher Peak PhotoAfter nine days of consuming nothing but water, the Yale graduate student-teacher fasters have made their first substitution.

UNITE HERE Local 33 member Julia Powers, a graduate student teacher in the comparative literature department, has left the “33 Wall Street” makeshift encampment at Beinecke Plaza for unspecified medical reasons, the union reported Thursday..

Alyssa Battistoni, a fifth-year doctoral student in the political science department, has stepped up to take her place. It’s been a call that she said she was prepared to receive. She got it earlier in the week.

“So far things have been good,” she said. “I have been a little nervous about starting. It’s been challenging to transition, but there has been a lot of support around me from our support team and our medical team.”

Markeshia Ricks PhotoThe fasters are protesting to try to convince Yale to negotiate a first contract with the union, which represents some of the graduate students who teach undergraduate courses. They have grown visibly weaker over the first nine days, as a community of supporters has risen up around the protest shed across from the university president’s office. The fasters have said from the beginning that once they determine they are in medical danger, they will begin eating again and have other protesters take their place.

On Thursday, a quite zone had been established under the 33 Wall St. shed where several fasters camped out, alternately dozing and just trying to conserve energy. Outside the quiet zone, people were chatting quietly at tables, or quietly clicking away on their laptops in the sun.

Battistoni said in her five years at Yale she has watched fellow grad students, particularly women, struggle to finish their degree and juggle their families. Though she doesn’t have children, she said it is important to her as a woman in academia for such gender equity issues be addressed. She said it also has been troubling to her to see cuts to pay for upper-year graduate students who should be compensated properly for the work they do.

She said in those five years she has watched the evolution of the fight to get union representation and to have that representation recognized by the powers that be at the university through the act of negotiation.

“All of the fasters have committed to fasting until we get a chance to negotiate,” she said. “There are those of us who are prepared to step in and carry the fast forward. I am the first one to do so and I am honored to join the fast.”

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posted by: BevHills730 on May 5, 2017  7:59am

Thanks for your sacrifice Julia!  Thanks for jumping in Alyssa!

posted by: OhHum on May 5, 2017  8:24am

Bobby Sands died on this date 36 years ago. He did not ask for a replacement. He did not eat when hungry. He did not live like these protesters. And he did not drink Fiji water sitting on couches or easy chairs.

posted by: BevHills730 on May 5, 2017  9:31am

Instead of anonymously attacking a graduate teacher who is fighting for something she values, perhaps you should find something you value and fight just as hard for it.

posted by: BeaverhillTom on May 5, 2017  9:35am

“I strongly support the value of free expression on this important question, as on all other questions. But threats of self-harm have no place in rational debate when an established dispute resolution process still exists. Respect for law and legal process, civil argument and persuasion: these are the hallmarks of airing and resolving disagreements at a university. “

Peter Salovey
May 3, 2017

posted by: robn on May 5, 2017  9:36am

Will a day go by without a NHI article gushing with admiration on this public display of self-harm?

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 5, 2017  10:31am

Union 33 wants:

1. Free child Day-Care
2. Mental Health treatment
3. Full stipends/pay for sixth year
4. Health Care Coverage for a spouse when no kids. (right now Yale pays only 1/2.)

Am I missing something?

As an outsider, it’s hard to read if the whole Union 33 push is truly about the above, or if it is pretty much fully-driven by Union 34 & 35’s desire to hold even more cards against Yale. (The last strike in 2003 showed that the University can function without 34 & 35. But undergraduate classrooms would grind to a halt without grad student TA’s).

It doesn’t really seem like any of the above should warrant a hunger strike, when usually such strong actions are usually reserved for civil rights’ grievances. And I have to say that the current theatrics are actually making me less sympathetic to the Yale Unions’ cause. They should instead be initiating a walk-out,—if they had the numbers.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 5, 2017  11:18am

Whose idea was it to turn this debacle into an unending Relay Race of Empty Intestinal Fortitude…..?

And remember—Sip, don’t Slurp. 
Beware The Quiet Zone Police!!!!!!

posted by: OhHum on May 5, 2017  1:46pm

BevHills730 - I couldn’t find that name in the phone book. I guess you can’t see that I’m fighting against the hypocrisy of calling this “hunger strike” a “HUNGER STRIKE” . This 1/2 an action demeans people like Bobby Sands who truly went to the end fighting for his values. These faculty wannabes are fighting for dollars.

posted by: BevHills730 on May 5, 2017  3:13pm

OhHum.  So you are going to designate yourself as the anonymous spokesperson for Bobby Sands?  You are going to appropriate his struggles to attack graduate teachers who are simply fighting for a basic labor right?

posted by: OhHum on May 5, 2017  4:23pm

BevHills730 said: ‘So you are going to designate yourself as the anonymous spokesperson for Bobby Sands?  You are going to appropriate his struggles to attack graduate teachers who are simply fighting for a basic labor right?’

One does not have to “designate” ones self as anything or “appropriate” the struggles of an Irish Hero to draw comparisons of the real struggles of an individual, verses the theatrical performance of the fraudulent hunger strikers.
And everyone knows who I am. I’m your conscience.

posted by: Katargyna on May 5, 2017  5:44pm

The English had a storied history of attempting to eradicate Irish culture, starving the people, and completely subjugating Catholics in particular. Bobby Sands grew up in a segregated society and as a child had bottles and rocks thrown at him for being Catholic. He died to be considered a political prisoner in a country that denied him basic human rights like the right to have a job, the right to practice your religion, or the right to speak your language. He didn’t die so his able bodied wife wouldn’t have to pay for half of her benefits at a college that holds white tie parties for teenagers. The ten men who starved themselves to death at Long Kesh prison were not members of the elite who received special treatment in life because of their place in society. Catholics were driven out of Sands’s part of town, and then he joined the IRA. These modern fashion terrorists like to glamorize revolutionaries but they never do end up with jail sentences like their poor counterparts. They are so removed from
the struggles of regular people that they built a safety bubble on the most policed part of their cloistered campus. People walk by with shopping carts while you project your highly produced message on your boss’s house. Talk about living on a glass floor. We’d all get fired and you guys can’t even get arrested if you try!

posted by: BevHills730 on May 5, 2017  8:53pm

Wow your anonymous list of self appointments grows.  Congratulations!

posted by: 1644 on May 6, 2017  10:46am

How is Julia Powers a “member” of local 33?  I had thought the union decided NOT to seek recognition in her department.  Is she working in English this semester, and a member by virtue of helping teach an English class?
Anderson:  Why do you believe undergraduate classrooms would grind to a halt?  There are very few classes actually taught by graduate students.  The discussion groups for many humanities classes are pretty expendable, often blown off by the undergrads.  The grad student led labs are important, but mist of the sciences departments were not unionized.  Geology and Rocks for Jocks would be one of the few courses that would have a hard time going forward, but most courses would be little affected by a 33 strike.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 6, 2017  11:56am


A walk-out sounds like a pretty damn direct and potentially effective method for these students to redress their ‘grievances’. 

Instead of looking for people to step in and carry the fast forward, maybe the organizers should be looking to hit the rewind button instead.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 6, 2017  8:21pm


I have absolutely know idea as to how you can construe ‘Oh Hum’s’ timely history lesson as ‘appropriation’.

Your past argument renders future comments inadmissible in the court of public opinion.

Methinks you are breathing the fumes of privilege….

posted by: BevHills730 on May 7, 2017  10:55am

Major civil rights leaders who have engaged in monumental actions have endorsed this action.  I’m not aware of historical civil rights leaders condemning this action. 

The detractors who claim that this fast is distasteful do not seem to have the same histories behind them. 

I would add that I respect the direct actions that you have taken Bill.  You have brought humor and courage to the issues that you think are important. I would hope that even if you disagree with the goals and tactics, you still appreciate people who are committed to standing up, making sacrifices, and fighting for principles that they hold. 

At the end of day these folks are up against a $25 billion organization that is relying on Trump to deny very basic labor rights.

posted by: Edward A. Snyder on May 7, 2017  12:40pm

3 questions for 33:

1.  Yale has the right to appeal 33’s “micro-unit strategy”.  Does 33 believe that Yale is appealing *because* of the Presidential election? 

2.  I believe in the teacher - student relationship.  Does 33 conclude, therefore, that I am part of “Trump University”? 

3.  Does 33 believe that their strategy and tactics —ironically orchestrated from the bubble on Beinecke—helps or harms the overall reputation of Yale graduate students?

Edward A. Snyder

posted by: relucto on May 7, 2017  5:02pm

Anderson Scooper,

You got most of it, but we’re fighting for something else as well: to build academic worker power. Each year, Yale admits more graduate students than will ever get work as traditional academics, while refusing to add tenure lines and hire faculty (despite educating more and more undergraduates every year.) Student teachers want a seat at the table to call a spade a spade and be acknowledged for what we really are: workers and educators without whom the University would be unable to continue to operate at its current margins.

We deserve to be compensated fairly for our work, insured like adults (and not undergraduates), and to bargain collectively when we’ve elected to do so. The fasters aren’t protesting just for better childcare or better access to mental health, but to have this fact acknowledged.

As for the teacher student relationship: local 33 seeks to bargain with the administration. They write our checks, not our professors.

posted by: 1644 on May 7, 2017  6:35pm

relucto: (1) Would you be happier if Yale admitted fewer grad students and used non-ladder faculty and adjuncts to perform teaching now done by graduate students? Won’t raising the cost of graduate students push Yale to substitute cheaper, adjunct labor?
(2) Yale departments publish the placements of their PhD graduates.  Looking at English, for example, I can clearly see that many do not enter ladder positions, but get visiting professorships, secondary school placements, etc.  The imbalance between academic positions and PhD supply has existed since the mid-1970’s.  The cause is not just, or even primarily, Yale, or its peers, but the massive expansion of doctoral programs field by easy, federal loan programs.  Did you not know what you were getting into when you decided to pursue a doctorate?
(3) Isn’t one of 33’s demands that Yale offer MORE teaching fellowships to “senior” graduate students.  Doesn’t the fact that there are more students wanting positions than positions mean undercut your argument that Yale admits too many candidates to exploit their labor?
(4) While you are negotiating with the administration, isn’t one of the goals of that negotiate to turn the student teacher/mentor/coach (professor) relationship, at least in the context of your teaching fellowships, into one of worker /supervisor?  Isn’t the crux of 33’s argument is that your teaching fellowships are not an opportunity to learn how to teach, but simply labor, analogous to working on an assembly line?