UW-Madison’s approach to this semester was detailed in their Smart Restart Plan, which included everything from free on-campus testing, to physical distancing in classrooms to designated quarantine dorms. But, the plan neglected to acquire input from Teaching Assistants (TAs).
“The school did not ask for our opinion about opening the school and they’re not listening to our concerns now,” said Griffin Loya, a Ph.D student and teaching assistant in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
In response, teaching assistants have proposed an alternative plan for a “Safe and Moral Restart,” which urges for fully-online classes, for the closure of dorms and on-campus housing until there are zero cases of COVID-19 for fourteen consecutive days and for UW-Madison to provide every Madison citizen with free testing and contract tracing services.
Students and TAs have sent many emails and petitions to Chancellor Blank and Dean Olstad; these have also been echoed by some departments, including The Wisconsin Black Student Union, Link-Madison, Sunrise Movement-Madison, Black Umbrella Global and Impact Demand.
The TAs did not support a full work stoppage, but a scholar strike that would include not responding to emails on Tuesday and Wednesday, joining the rally to defund the UWPD on Thursday, and showing support for the Madison chapter of Black Lives Matter. TAs also supported live streamed classes about racial inequality.
“We want to make sure our support can be heard nationally. We are using our platform to show issues involving racism in Madison,” said Loya.
United Faculty and Academic Staff representative Hannah Eldridge describes Smart Restart as a “racial justice issue,” calling specific attention to BIPOC employees and low-wage university staff. In an interview with Madison.com, Eldridge emphasizes the belief that UW-Madison lacks empathy toward organic diversity.
“We are protesting for many reasons, but they all come down to we are fighting for the equal treatment and equal opportunities for all students,” said Loya.
Students have also sent a petition to Chancellor Blank and Dean Olstad with a list of demands aimed at better supporting students of color. Some of these demands include the removal of the Abraham Lincoln monument, the removal of Chamberlin Rock and the defunding and eventual abolition of the UWPD. The petition, which has garnered over 2,800 signatures, did not originate from the TAA, but is a collaborative effort among groups located within the UW-Madison as well the greater Madison community.
“We are still developing a plan and will continue making our demands known until they are all met,” said Loya.