“I’d Rather be Teaching!” – Transforming Injustice into Action in a Graduate Labor Movement

Brian F. O’Neill, Hany Zayed and Heba M. Khalil

How did a group of students who “would rather be teaching,” come to organize, sustain, and finally emerge as victors in a campus-wide movement? This photo-essay analyzes the role of emotions, injustice framing, and interaction rituals in a successful graduate student labor movement at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Signage reading “Strike Imminent,” was posted throughout the campus during the 2018 graduate labor strike at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to gather students to the cause and notify graduate students, undergraduates, and the campus community of the reasons for the strike. To protect the signs and stickers from rain, snow, or non-supporters, plastic wrap was taped around the signage during the two-week strike. All photos in this essay by Brian F. O’Neill.

“I’d Rather Be Teaching”

New and seasoned graduate students may feel they are in a precarious position. On the one hand, they are aspiring scholars, teachers, and assistants, while on the other, they often represent an inexpensive source of labor for the academic system in which they aspire to professionally exist. Like other rights, those of graduate student laborers must be continuously fought for and are always subject to contestation. The 2017/2018 graduate labor movement at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is a prime example. Indeed, labor movements are increasingly taking place on university campuses in response to untenable conditions.[1] Often these laborers are struggling for livable wages, better healthcare, and especially in the UIUC case, to protect their guaranteed tuition waivers. Literature on academic capitalism has addressed the exploitation of graduate students, diagnosing changes in the contemporary academy linked to global economic forces. However, the agentic potential of those within the university system to create change and contest these forces must continue to be explored.[2]

While the difficulties of graduate student employees and their financial and professional status in the university are well documented, this paper is inspired by the question of how a group of students who, at least in part, “would rather be teaching,” came to organize, sustain, and finally emerge as victors, in a campus wide movement.

This essay examines how unequal structural arrangements are translated into actionable grievances among graduate student laborers. While the difficulties of graduate student employees and their financial and professional status in the university are well documented, this paper is inspired by the question of how a group of students who, at least in part, “would rather be teaching,” came to organize, sustain, and finally emerge as victors, in a campus wide movement. Drawing on the sociology of emotions and social movement literatures, this essay uses the UIUC campus movement as a case to illuminate how theories of interpersonal emotion management, injustice framing and interaction rituals can explain the way graduate students mobilize structural inequities into actionable grievances. In this sense, it is a story of a conjunction of elements coalescing at a particular historical moment to make certain victories possible for graduate labor at the UIUC.

The paper adopts the format of a long-form photo-essay to capture the lived experiences of the participants and their struggles. The photography gives the essay a sympathy and relevance that might not be as keenly achieved through observational, or textual means alone.[3] The photographs provide a detailed subjective collage, taken from the graduate laborer perspective. Realizing this positionality is productive in unpacking the ways we reflected on our own, as well as our colleagues’ emotional, mental, and physical ties to the movement. In this regard, the essay is a work of visual sociology, engaging theory and attempting explanations, even if only provisional, that should spark future study and debate.[4] Throughout the essay, we combine historical research on graduate labor movements with our own experiences, reflections, and observations. Ultimately, the essay provides an application of useful empirical and theoretical tools and serves as a reminder of the vital role and power that graduate students can exert in the university context. We hope that other graduate organizations can learn from the UIUC case and extend what can be achieved through their own work.

Transforming Injustice into Action

Graduate students employed at the UIUC, particularly teaching assistants and graduate assistants, are represented by a member-run union called the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) that “works for high-quality and accessible public education in Illinois” and “bargains with the University Administration in good faith toward mutually agreeable improvements to employment policies and benefits for graduate employees.”[5] When the graduate student labor strike began on Monday, February 26, 2018, many of the participants thought that it would last a few days at most, and that they would be back to work the following Monday. After all, a two-day-strike had brought victory to the same union in 2009,[6] and a strike authorization vote by itself in 2013 won the GEO its contract. Furthermore, as so many of the students’ signs and chants proclaimed: “I’d rather be teaching!” Graduate students did not foresee that the strike would last two weeks through rain, snow, and shine. Classes were moved away from picketed buildings, or cancelled. Droves of graduate students came out to bang drums, hoist posters and signs, and yell into megaphones to demand tuition waiver protections, better health care, and higher wages. To force the hand of the administration in the final days, some even occupied administrative offices overnight.

At the end of the first day of the strike, participants’ voices were hoarse, and their hands blistered from the chaffing of drumsticks used to bang buckets. In the following two weeks of negotiation for a contract, graduate students had to forestall many of their academic pursuits, forego teaching duties, research and departmental obligations. For graduate laborers, having already worked without a contract for nearly 200 days, the stakes of this struggle had played out over months. What then, did each party demand and how did those demands shift over the course of the strike?

Stakes of the Bargaining Process

In February of 2017, the GEO filed their “Intent to Bargain” with the University, and the first official bargaining session began on March 30th, 2017. As represented by the GEO, the graduate students had several demands. The first and most important was that the graduate students wanted to maintain language in their labor contract that protected tuition waivers. As the protests bore out in chants, signage, and even among professors during campus governance meetings, the conditions of tuition waivers were the core factor for both sides. Additionally, the GEO demanded full fee waivers. As the wages of graduate students had remained stagnant in recent years, the third demand was initially an 8% increase to the minimum wage, to make wages more equitable amongst graduate laborers, alongside a 4% increase every year thereafter. Beyond these financial aspects, the GEO’s initial proposal included summer health care coverage, dependent healthcare coverage, and guaranteed minimum health care standards, such as have been defined by the Affordable Healthcare Act. Finally, the GEO demanded a childcare provision, whereby parents could receive a subsidy each month and be covered for access to campus healthcare for their children.

The University’s initial proposal was a stark contrast. The administration would not guarantee tuition waivers for incoming graduate students, with the university being free to alter the terms of the tuition waiver agreement in the future. This of course, came alongside the proposal not to waive any additional fees. Furthermore, the university proposal guaranteed no wage raises and if necessary, the administration would retain the ability to cut pay depending on budgetary needs. On the healthcare issues at stake, the administration would not provide summer healthcare coverage, and would create a new cap on the coverage provided during the academic year. With the GEO and administration bargaining units at such contrasting positions, it would take many months, a strike authorization vote, and an actual strike, before an agreement was to be reached.

By October, after more than 8 months of negotiations and 12 bargaining sessions, the university and the GEO pursued mediation. However, after more months of mediated negotiations, the stalemate persisted. When the GEO held a strike authorization vote in November 2017, 93% of their voting membership authorized the strike. The GEO continued to bargain with the administration well into the spring semester, and then on February 27, 2018 the two-week strike began.

This essay explains the intervening stages of the strike, but briefly, the resulting agreement can be contrasted with each party’s initial demands that resulted in the stalemate. Most significantly, the language of the new 5-year GEO contract explicitly guaranteed tuition waivers for current, as well as incoming students, effectively retaining this important aspect of the old contract. Another significant outcome was that wages were increased, albeit not at the rate demanded by GEO. The campus minimum wage was increased by 4.5% retroactively for the academic year of the strike, with a 2% increase in years 2 and 3 of the contract. University healthcare coverage increased from 80% to 87% and included partial coverage for dependents for the first time, but with no childcare subsidy.

Was this a victory? Some graduate participants wrote in the Jacobin Magazine shortly after these events to describe the nature of the GEO’s successes:

Does our new contract meet all of our demands? No. It is, however, a precondition for the possibility of a better, fairer contract in the future. Among other things, the new, five-year contract includes a “wage reopener” for years four and five. That means that when the time comes, we will have an opportunity to negotiate our wages and avoid the Campus Wage Program, which gives the university president unilateral power to set our wages. Organizing and planning for that moment has already begun. Our fight to preserve high-quality, accessible public education is ongoing. [7]

These comments highlight important issues. First, graduate students must continue to assert their agency and demand rights within an academic system that does not automatically guarantee them. As long as unions exist, they must work diligently for a fair negotiation that will avoid potentially harmful effects of campus fiscal policies. In fact, this strike was as much about the very existence of the union, as about the demands it fought for, particularly as the Janus v. AFSCME[8] decision was approaching. If a union cannot protect its members’ interests, and fight for fair wages and better living conditions, who would voluntarily opt into it when the decision of the Janus v. AFSCME case allows public employees to choose opting in or out of unions? Second, there is a concern for posterity, which could serve as a linchpin of success or failure, and which was a powerful narrative of the GEO movement. To attract top-flight graduate students, recruits should feel they are entering a secure financial and professional environment. Finally, GEO members highlighted a concern for the quality of education that the university provides, because graduate students teach a large portion of the undergraduate population and should be financially secure in order to provide the best quality of education to them.

But, how can we explain how the perception of injustice among graduate laborers become transformed into action? The existence of inequalities in the academy alone does not explain the drivers of social action that campus social movements embody. Drawing on the sociology of emotions literature and linking it to the ongoing concerns with the contemporary academy, the essay shows how emotions pervade such collective actions, and are interwoven and entangled in all stages of these movements.[9] Because the events at UIUC are part of a larger history of graduate labor struggles, graduate laborers should continue to draw on this history. Campus based graduate labor struggles are not isolated events. They gain strength and identity from the resources of the present, which very often are built upon the legacy of the past.

The threat to tuition waivers marked, for many students, an unthinkable injunction that ruptured their expectations of the university and drove the unprecedented mobilization at UIUC.

As the remainder of this essay demonstrates, the decision to strike, the mobilization of students, and the subsequent outcomes came at the intersection of, and coalesced around several factors. Chief among them was the severe and fear-inducing threat of cutting tuition waivers and reinstating tuition payments from student pockets, which would have been catastrophic for graduate students.[10] Second, the student-laborers maintained hope, because historically, mere threats of strikes did achieve their purposes and the actual strikes were not prolonged. For example, the 2009 GEO strike achieved its results in two days and the University guaranteed tuition waivers.[11] However, in 2018, all potential avenues of redressing the situation were exhausted; with fruitless bargaining sessions and failed mediation bleeding from one academic year into the next. Additionally, one important aspect of the 2018 struggle was the vast departmental and faculty support for the GEO in general and the strike in particular. More than 25 departments and/or centers throughout the university, in addition to faculty, supported the GEO by writing letters to the administration, voicing their position in meetings with the university and by joining student rallies.[12] Finally, there was unprecedented external support from the parent organization (AFL-CIO) in addition to other organizations/labor movements throughout the country that induced and facilitated the migration of repertoires of contention among these movements. Indeed, there have been graduate movements at multiple universities recently, such as at Duke University, Illinois State University, and Loyola University in Chicago, among others. However, it is important again to emphasize the unique threat to tuition waivers that the UIUC graduate employees were facing. Other graduate labor movements very often seek to combat administrations on the question of minimum wages, which the GEO did as well, but the threat to tuition waivers marked, for many students, an unthinkable injunction that ruptured their expectations of the university and drove the unprecedented mobilization at UIUC. As this essay will conclude, graduate organizations will likely need to face the tuition waiver question in the future as it marks a general strategy of union busting, as without waivers there is no union membership. However, this marks the importance of the UIUC case. Union membership is undergoing a serious threat since the Janus v. AFSCME decision, which allows public employees to opt out of paying union membership dues, while it forces existing unions to continue to represent them in bargaining.

Each day the strike would begin at 8 am with students gathering at 7:45am to receive donuts and coffee, provided by the strike organizers. Students would then gather at specific locations to sign in for their picket shifts that lasted for two hours, before a new group of students would take their place. Some would join “roving pickets,” groups that would meander through campus with signs and megaphones. The sign “I would rather be teaching!” was worn by many.

“The University Works Because We Do!”

On December 3, 1964 at the University of California (UC), Berkeley campus, student leader Mario Savio had the following to say about the American university:

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! [13]

The speech is noted as one of the first public critiques of the “corporate academy,” as cultural system of higher education that is undergoing significant changes due to local and global economic forces, which in turn have altered the roles of scholars. Academics are increasingly beholden to external forces, to the marketization of research, and to justify their work based on extra-academic norms. Critics of such academic capitalism argue that disturbing patterns are emerging, whereby universities represent interests antithetical to notions of free inquiry and equality. If Savio’s machine metaphor continues to be apt, then it is the graduate students who make the wheels turn by interfacing most frequently with undergraduates.

Some have examined the role of graduate students, describing them as “tokens of exchange between universities and industry.”[14] However, this understanding of the graduate student position does not fully examine their agency in shaping the university of the future. The possibilities for change and challenge continue to lie in the hands of graduate students and their ability to organize for reforms. In their assessment of campus labor organizing, Dixon, Tope and Van Dyke write that since the 1990’s, the chant, “The University Works Because We Do!” has become ubiquitous in graduate labor demonstrations.[15] The phrase captures the sensibility of Savio’s speech and was echoed in the picket signs of the graduate laborers on the UIUC campus.

The pervasive statement “I would rather be teaching,” indicates the double reality of the graduate student: at once an aspiring scholar, many of whom want to work in the very institution that they may protest, but at the same time a laborer (teacher, researcher, or assistant). Graduate employees at UIUC for example receive a minimum wage ($16,360) that lies below the official cost of living in the city ($22,314).[16]

Hand-drawn signs were frequently used with themes evoking the idea that without graduate labor, the university would cease to function. This was plain to see on signs like “Our Conditions are the Students’ Learning Conditions” or more bluntly, “All Power to the Worker!” both printed in capital letters for emphasis.


Although not enough sociological attention is paid to the issue of graduate labor activism in particular, studies surrounding the topics of “academic capitalism,”[17] “universities as corporations,”[18] and a new “knowledge economy”[19] emphasize the alignment of university and corporate economic interests offer a diagnosis and critique.[20] Other phenomena have been observed, such as the corporate sponsorship of research and the commercialization of intellectual property as well. This literature notes how the contemporary university’s administrative ranks are burgeoning, alongside an increasingly rationalized focus on applied disciplines like engineering and medicine that can reciprocate corporate alignment more easily than the social sciences, humanities, and the arts.[21] If these critiques are important, it is not because of the functions in which the contemporary university have become engaged per se; but rather, that the academy’s attention is drawn away from its students, away from its faculty, and away from the ideals it represents.

Graduate labor unions constitute a growing critique of the trajectory of contemporary university values, norms, and practices. Unions place emphasis on the scholars and graduate employees making the so-called “gears” of the university turn; that is, the university works thanks to their health, well-being, financial security, teaching and research.

What is significant is the way that contemporary universities have fought against their own employees: faculty (especially non-tenured) and graduate employees. Today, the academic field is constituted by a limited number of positions for scholars, and some entry level positions that do not secure long term employment.[22] Rallying cries of “the university works because we do!” emphasize the importance of graduate labor, which allows the university to hold classes, teach students, grade papers, and produce research. In this way, graduate labor unions constitute a growing critique of the trajectory of contemporary university values, norms, and practices. Unions place emphasis on the scholars and graduate employees making the so-called “gears” of the university turn; that is, the university works thanks to their health, well-being, financial security, teaching and research. These same ideals animated the first graduate student labor organizations in the late 1960’s, just as they continue to do so today.

An Historical Struggle

The history of graduate student unionization shows that it has only been since the 1990’s that growth has been significant in membership. For example, some have reported that the 1990’s saw unionization numbers increase 175%.[23] This was sudden and unanticipated given that some unions had formed in the late 1960’s. In 1969, the University of Wisconsin (collective bargaining came in 1986) recognized the first graduate employee union for teaching assistants, which would later become affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Students at the Universities of Michigan, Oregon, and UC Berkeley followed suite in their pursuit of unions in the 1970’s. By the 1990’s, not only had major public universities begun to form unions with the help of the AFL-CIO (23 campaigns were run from 1996-2001), but private universities like Yale, began to organize as well. Alongside this, the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions formed, banding together several university groups.

The GEO union’s practices and history is rooted in this larger historical struggle for graduate labor rights. So relevant are these emerging organizations that during the GEO strike hopeful unionizers from the University of Chicago, American Federation of Teachers, as well as local unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employees International Union, came to speak at UIUC in solidarity.[24] Through social media, graduate labor organizations pledged support for the UIUC cause across the country. The effectiveness of these strategies was seen in solidarity with workers’ movements generally, such as that which occurred in West Virginia during the same time in the state’s teacher’s union. Thus, the broad base of support that has been provided by the AFL-CIO and others offers graduate labor movements important networks of resources[25] upon which to draw financial, emotional, and symbolic contributions in light of the threat to have the UIUC union dissolved.

Mobilizing Grievances

In our reflections following the strike, we realized that existing theories could only partially explain the graduate labor movement we experienced. We wanted to understand how such structural inequalities came to be transformed into actionable grievances. The fact that inequalities exist in the academy alone does not explain the drivers of social action that these campus social movements embody.

The GEO movement was able to mobilize emotional appeals, injustice framing and produce ongoing solidarity through interaction rituals.

Through chants like “What’s Disgusting…Union Busting…What’s outrageous…Graduate Wages!” and signage imploring participants and the administration to take graduate labor seriously, the GEO movement was able to mobilize emotional appeals, injustice framing and produce ongoing solidarity through interaction rituals. Below we describe and apply these theories to understand the GEO strike. It is important to note that the paper does not purport to provide a causal story of why the GEO “won” in their strike, per se, rather the following sections interrogate this victory through the lens of interpersonal emotion management.


We bridge our understanding of the contemporary university with scholarship on social movements and the role of emotions. Unequal structural arrangements in and of themselves do not produce grievances. Actionable grievances emerge through persistent campaigns that aim to inform perspectives. Grievances, “outrage regarding the way authorities treat social problems,” are produced when those arrangements are defined/framed/perceived as unequal, and include an emotional component.[26]

The study of emotions has emerged relatively recently in social movements scholarship. While the collective behavior paradigm (mis)understood emotions as irrationality, structuralist theories mostly ignored them.[27] Slowly, social movement literature began to pay attention to emotions starting from the mid-1990s. This new attention realized that emotions are an essential component in how people deal with their social and political environments. It underscored how emotions pervade collective action,[28] are interwoven in all stages of social movements, and are entangled with other social movement elements such as resources and opportunities. Particularly, there is a concern with emotional management – the conscious work of controlling emotions through cognitive, physiological, expressive, and labelling components. Emotion management can be either intrapersonal or interpersonal. Intrapersonal emotion management involves regulating one’s emotions, while interpersonal emotion management involves regulating and articulating emotions of others to instigate action. Interpersonal emotion management includes the dimensions of injustice framing, moral shocks, blame attribution, moralization, interaction rituals, emotional displays, fear and hope mobilization, and identity work. These elements are not dissociated but are constantly interwoven into the fabric of social movements. Below we highlight two elements of interpersonal emotion management in the context of the recent GEO strike: injustice framing and interaction rituals.

Injustice Framing

Accentuating some dimensions and attenuating others, framing is “an interpretive schemata that simplifies and condenses the ‘world out there’ by selectively punctuating and encoding objects, situations, events, experiences, and sequences of actions within one’s present or past environment.”[29] Framing includes a cognitive, normative and an emotional component as to how we should feel towards an object.

One important frame to the graduate labor movement at UIUC was the injustice frame: the perception that existing arrangements or configurations are unjust. Injustice frames include the cognitive components of perceiving a situation as unjust and attributing responsibility to a certain party. Such awareness that there is someone to blame, facilitates the instigation of outrage and indignation that can eventually lead to participation.

The injustice frame was a core component of the GEO movement. The graduate laborers came to understand that it was the responsibility of the university administration to protect full tuition waivers and provide livable graduate wages. Without such assurances, the student laborers felt a sense of betrayal that was incongruent with their vision of the university as a place of knowledge, research and independence. It also constituted a kind of moral shock in the sense that graduate students could never have imagined that when they were brought into the university as graduate students and employees, that their wages, waivers, or those of future graduate students that might be joining their ranks, would be threatened or taken away. In this situation, the University was the party to blame. The struggle to negotiate a fair contract thus was also a struggle for posterity, for future graduate students. These themes are clear in the signage and chanting in the movement that took place throughout the strike.

The injustice frame was manifested in signage during rallies that took place each day of the strike.


The moral-emotional appeal at blame, regarding the intentionality and responsibility of the administration that resulted in injustices to graduate students, was also manifested clearly in the picket signs and chants.


Interaction Rituals

Other processes linked to the mobilization and sustenance of movements are interaction rituals. Interaction rituals represent face-to-face situations where people act together in ritual-like, synchronized and coordinated practices.[30] Particularly relevant to this case is “collective locomotion” and music,[31] elements of these interaction rituals in which people sing, dance and move together. People generate and strengthen emotional connections and collective identity, create enthusiasm, and reinforce solidarity (e.g. love and friendship) while establishing opposition to antagonistic parties.[32]

Durkheim conceptualized this through his notion of collective effervescence. He argues that the “very act of congregating is an exceptionally powerful stimulant. Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation.”[33] In this exalted state, individuals’ “vital energies become hyperexcited, the passions more intense, the sensations more powerful.”[34] The individual self diffuses, and they become bound to a collective social entity (e.g. GEO).

Every day on the picket lines, interaction rituals – singing, chanting, dancing, picketing, rallying, drumming – provided a reinforcing dimension to the movement that kept existing picketers and strikers motivated, aroused solidarity and love between participants, anger against the University and mobilized more participants. In the buildup to important speeches during rallies, music, dancing and singing commenced, lasting often for five to ten minutes to energize the crowd of gathering students. Furthermore, although interaction rituals refer to within-movement interaction i.e., different participants in the strike, one way to conceptually extend this idea is through including interactions between strikers and the non-participating audience. In the context of the GEO strike, this meant that large crowd gatherings, as separate from the 8 am to 5 pm picketing, were also important to draw attention to the crowd and served as rallying points for recruiting supportive professors and community members.

Interaction Rituals were evident through the constant use of music, solidarity, and group gatherings at specific times of day.


In addition, a prevalent emotional expression of solidarity was made in terms of an appeal to duty and obligation. Especially during rallies, students would come up to a microphone and provide personal testimonials about their commitment to the University and academia, expressing that the University administration should reciprocate and address their needs and concerns. Graduate employees often spoke about their classes, their students, their departments and how much they enjoy being part of the campus community, and how committed they are to their scholarly work. Defending their rights as laborers was often interpreted as defending the rights of undergraduates receiving better education at the hands of economically secure educators and mentors.

Appeals were made consistently as to the responsibility of the University in terms of providing tuition waivers.

The Future of Graduate Labor

The goal of this article was to analyze the case of the recent graduate labor movement on the UIUC campus. By using the format of the photo essay, we showed that through emotion management, injustice framing, and interaction rituals, grievances needed to be constructed and maintained for students, who might otherwise not have been so ardent in their support for the movement, to sustain the strike. The threat to waivers and the large membership of the union contributed to an effective labor response. We applied our sociological tools to reflect on our observations and experiences and analyze the GEO strike. We argued that although theories of social movements and academic capitalism explain certain dimensions of such struggles, pairing these to the emotional dimensions of such movements can show how grievances are mobilized and maintained as social action.

We would be remiss if we did not mention a supreme court ruling that threatens the sustainability of public unions, including those on university campuses. The case Janus vs. AFSCME haunted the GEO strike and other public unions since 2015. The case involved a state employee who argued that union activities are political, and therefore he should not have to pay dues, because such payments violate first amendment rights. The collection of dues allows unions like the GEO to sustain campaigns such as the one we described in this essay. It helped support collective action that stabilized the socio-economic position of graduate laborers. Public unions are legally obligated to represent all workers in their bargaining unit, members and non-members alike. The rule in favor of Janus in the summer of 2018 created a major financial issue for the future of public unions. Additionally, they must face a free-rider problem, where fair-share paying members will now be responsible for bettering the work and living conditions of everyone, including those not paying fair share dues. The Janus v. AFSCME decision is thus ushering in a new era for labor movements in general, and public university graduate employees particularly. The organizing challenges grow, but the grievances are not coming to an end.

The UIUC strike was not the first, nor will it be the last of such labor movements. With these movements on the rise across the country, and even taking place globally in recent years, research and engaged scholarship into graduate labor should not be a forgotten dimension of campus struggles. Rather it is a becoming a growing reality that has far-reaching impacts for universities, employees, and students. [35]

Graduate Students, undergraduates, professors, and staff of the UIUC community routinely gathered at rallies and to picket, gaining momentum through shared solidarity.


Brian F. O’Neill is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When not interested in social movements, his core areas of interest are in environmental sociology and political ecology. He focuses on the water politics of the American Southwest and the globalization and financialization of large-scale water supply technologies. He has several works forthcoming on these issues in books and articles. He has so far contributed works appearing in Bourdieu’s Field Theory and the Social Sciences (Palgrave 2018), Water Bankruptcy in the Land of Plenty (Routledge 2016), Water Regimes: Beyond the Public and Private Sector Debate (Routledge 2016), the Journal of Political Ecology, VertigO – la revue électronique en sciences de l’environnement, and the Natural Areas Journal alongside his various collaborators.

Hany Zayed is doctoral student in Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA). He holds a MA in Politics, Economics and Philosophy from the University of York (UK) and his research lies at the intersection of Political Sociology, Collective Behavior and Social Movements, and the Sociology of Education.

Heba M. Khalil is a PhD Candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (USA). She holds an LLM in Public International Law from the University of York (UK) and a BA in Political Science and History from the American University in Cairo (AUC). Her research focuses on social movements, legal activism, rural politics and the Political Economy of Egypt.

References and Footnotes

  1. Wood, R and Gruenberg, M. “Union organizing takes off on college campuses across nation”. People’s World. Published on June 02, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/union-organizing-takes-off-on-college-campuses-across-nation/
  2. Fran M. Collyer. 2015. “Practices of Conformity and Resistance in the Marketisation of the Academy: Bourdieu, Professionalism and Academic Capitalism.” Critical Studies in Education56(3): pp. 315-31.
  3. Douglas Harper. 2012. Visual Sociology. Pp. 18-9. New York, NY: Routledge.
  4. Howard S. Becker. 1974. “Photography and Sociology.” Studies in Visual Communication1(1): pp. 3-26.
  5. For more information see https://www.uigeo.org
  6. For more information on the history of GEO strikes see http://uiucgeo.org/history/
  7. Ashli Anda and Adam Edwards. 2018. “Learning on The Job. Jacobin Magazine. Published on March 15, 2018. Retrieved from https://jacobinmag.com/2018/03/uiuc-graduate-union-student-workers-university.
  8. The Janus v. AFSCME case, short for Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) – will surely continue to generate scholarly articles other commentaries. In addition to these citations, some of the Supreme Court documentation can be found at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1466_2b3j.pdf
  9. Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper. 2006. “Emotions and Social movements.” In Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions (eds.) Jan E. Stets and Jonathan H. Turner. pp. 611-635. New York, NY: Springer US.
  10. From the purview of communication, for fear appeals to have an effect on behavior i.e., be persuasive, they need “not only depict a serious and imminent threat but must also provide the individual with a way of avoiding that threat” (Mongeau 2012: 3). See Mongeau, Paul M. 2012. “Fear Appeals.” Pp. 184-199 in The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion: Developments in Theory and Practice, edited by James Price Dillard and Lijiang Shen. SAGE Publications, Inc.
  11. See for example http://www.labornotes.org/2009/11/university-illinois-caves-after-two-day-grad-strike
  12. See for example https://uiucgeo.org/2018/02/27/uiuc-departments-support-geo/
  13. For a citation of this speech in the graduate labor organizing literature, see Robert A. Rhoads and Gary Rhoades. 2005. “Graduate Employee Unionization as Symbol of and Challenge to the Corporatization of US Research Universities.” The Journal of Higher Education76(3): pp. 243-75.
  14. Sheila Slaughter, Teresa Campbell, Maragaret Holleman, & Edward Morgan (2002). “The ‘traffic’ in graduate students: Graduate Students as Tokens of Exchange Between Academe and Industry.” Science, Technology, and Human Values, 27(2): pp. 282-312.
  15. Marc Dixon, Daniel Tope and Nella Van Dyke. 2008. “The University Works Because We Do”: On the Determinants of Campus Labor Organizing in the 1990s. Sociological Perspectives51(2): pp.375-96. For more on collective bargaining see Grant M. Hayden. 2001. “The University Works Because We Do: Collective Bargaining Rights for Graduate Assistants.” Fordham Law Review. 69: pp.1233-64.
  16. According to the GEO, UIUC's published cost of living stands at $22,314, while the graduate employees’ minimum wage is $16,360. [https://uiucgeo.org/2018/01/17/for-immediate-release-graduate-employees-organization-geo-of-uiuc-rallies-at-alma-mater-after-filing-unfair-labor-practice-charge-against-university-of-illinois-administration-for-failure-to-bargai/]
  17. Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades. 2004. Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  18. For several years now, major news outlets have run pieces on these topics. For a blunt example see the following piece in Time from May 22, 2014 at http://time.com/108311/how-american-universities-are-ripping-off-your-education/
  19. Walter W. Powell and Kaisa Snellman. 2004. "The Knowledge Economy." Annual Review of Sociology 30: pp. 199-220.
  20. Gary Rhoades and Robert A. Rhoads. 2003. “The Public Discourse of US Graduate Employee Unions: Social Movement Identities, Ideologies, and Strategies.” The Review of Higher Education26(2): pp.163-86.
  21. Elizabeth Bullen, Jane Kenway and Simon Robb. 2004. “Can the Arts and Humanities Survive the Knowledge Economy : A Beginner's Guide to the Issues.” In Jane Kenway, Elizabeth Bullen & Simon Robb (eds.), Innovation & Tradition: The Arts, Humanities and the Knowledge Economy. Peter Lang Publishing, NY: pp. 10-22.
  22. Johanna Hakala. 2009. "The Future of the Academic Calling? Junior Researchers in the Entrepreneurial University." Higher Education 57(2): pp. 173-90.
  23. Scott Smallwood (2001, July 6). Success and New Hurdles for T.A. Unions. The Chronicle of Higher Education, A10-A12.
  24. Bailey, M and Johnson, M. “Support Graduate Student Employee Strike at University of Illinois”. Socialist Alternative. March 05, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.socialistalternative.org/2018/03/05/support-graduate-student-employee-strike-university-illinois/
  25. Nick Crossley and Joseph Ibrahim. 2012. “Critical mass, social networks and collective action: Exploring student political worlds.” Sociology46(4): pp.596-612.
  26. P.G. Klandermans. 2014. “Identity Politics and Politicized identities: Identity Processes and the Dynamics of Protest.” Political Psychology35(1): pp.1-22.
  27. James M. Jasper. 2011. “Emotions and social movements: Twenty Years of Theory and Research.” Annual Review of Sociology37: pp. 285-303.
  28. Emotions are “decision-making processes, which accept inputs, such as appraisals of information, and then output directions for behaviors.” See page 4 in Dillard, J. P. 2012. “Affect and Persuasion.” Pp. 150-166, in James Price Dillard and Lijiang Shen. The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion: Developments in Theory and Practice. SAGE Publications, Inc. Emotions primarily involve cognitive, physiological, behavioral and labelling components. They are primarily social; constrained and enabled both by structures and culture. See Kathryn J. Lively and Emi A. Weed. 2016. Chapter Three in Barrett, Lisa Feldman, Michael Lewis, and Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones, eds. Handbook of Emotions. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.
  29. David A. Snow and Robert D. Benford. 1992. "Master frames and Cycles of Protest." in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, edited by A. Morris and C. McClurg Mueller. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, Pp. 137.
  30. Erving Goffman. 1967. Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face-to-Face Behavior. New York, NY: Anchor Books
  31. Clark McPhail and Ronald T. Wohlstein. 1986. "Collective Locomotion as Collective Behavior." American Sociological Review (51) 4: pp. 447- 463.
  32. Goodwin, J. and Jasper, J.M., 2006. Emotions and social movements. In Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions (pp. 611-635). Springer US.
  33. See page 217 in Durkheim, E. 1995/1915. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. K. E. Fields. New York: Free Press
  34. See page 424 in Durkheim, E. 1995/1915. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. K. E. Fields. New York: Free Press
  35. Roderick A. Ferguson. 2017. We Demand: The University and Student Protests. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.