COVID-19 Coalition Begins ‘Virtual Week of Action’

The NYU COVID-19 Coalition advocated for graduate student support, tuition refunds and protection for the essential workers during the inaugural event of its Virtual Week of Action.

NYU’s Covid Coalition and GSOC-UAW Local 2110 hosted a town hall Monday afternoon. The town hall encouraged students, faculty, and staff to share their experiences as the first step of many during their week of virtual action. (Image via Facebook GSOC-UAW Local 2110 and NYU Covid Coalition)

The NYU COVID-19 Coalition — a student-led activist organization — kicked off a week of virtual activism with a town hall, outlining the week ahead and providing an overview of coalition demands on Monday, April 20. 

The coalition is dedicated to advocating for a more comprehensive and understanding response from the university as students and staff navigate the ongoing pandemic. The Virtual Week of Action plans to raise awareness and advocate for coalition demands through an array of events between Monday, April 20 and Friday, April 24.

The coalition’s virtual tactics include “Twitter Storms,” which entail tweeting at various NYU representatives and officials with your demands, reading pre-written scripts in class to spread awareness, installing the coalition’s list of demands as your Zoom background during classes and calling Martin Dorph, NYU’s Executive Vice President.

The coalition’s town hall on Monday, April 20 was titled “NYU Makes Us Sick” and was set to discuss tuition refunds, universal pass, funding extensions and essential workers’ rights. 

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The event was led by members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee who introduced the Virtual Week of Action. Organizers outlined plans and programming for the week ahead. University employees, professors and graduate and undergraduate students were among the 70 town hall attendees.

“It is about bringing a larger structural change to make NYU the university we want to see,” graduate student and Adjunct Instructor Sarah Sklaw, who led the conversation, said. “None of the problems we’re seeing appeared on March 11. They were exacerbated.”

Speakers discussed existing demands and updated the audience on new advocacy missions as the pandemic and the university’s response evolves. 

More recent demands include the guarantee of a job and pay continuity for all university employees, implementation of a Universal Pass policy, creation of pandemic and natural disaster response plans, provision of hazard pay and adequate Personal Protective Equipment for all NYU’s essential workers, among other causes. 

Many of the demands originate from testimonies provided by those facing difficulties and dangers as a result of the administration’s response to COVID-19.

“I’m appalled at the lack of preparedness,” an anonymous Public Safety Officer wrote in a testimony read during the town hall. “The individuals should not be traveling to the Dental Center begging for masks while the university [flaunts] donating masks.”

The Public Safety Officers’ testimonial revealed that university-issued vehicles are sanitized only once a day, rather than after every shift change. The testimonies were recorded after Public Safety Officer Rodney Mack passed away from coronavirus-related complications on April 5.

The Day of Action for Workers’ Rights will take place as a part of the Virtual Week of Action on Wednesday, April 22.

Another recent demand was the implementation of a university-wide UP/A grading policy — known as Universal Pass — which ensures that no student can fail a class as they face the realities of completing coursework during the pandemic. This cause will be the focus of Tuesday, April 21’s programming.

Global Liberal Studies junior David McDowell detailed the need for the Universal Pass and cited examples of other universities adopting the policy. As of now, NYU School of Law is NYU’s only school to have implemented the policy.

“Students should not be penalized, especially when they unequivocally are doing their best,” McDowell told WSN. 

On Thursday, the action will revolve around supporting graduate students and demand “pausing the clock.” This means that graduate students can return to the resources needed for their research they lost access to without having to pay tuition for the next semester. The demand covers all graduate researchers, adjunct employees and teaching assistants.

Several graduate students expressed facing bureaucratic walls when trying to communicate with the university.

“I have been passed through person to person within financial aid trying to find out more about the repercussions of pass/fail on my scholarship,” an event attendee wrote in the Zoom chat. “I have been leaving messages for two weeks now.”

Concluding the week will be a Day of Action dedicated to advocating for tuition refunds. Coalition founders refute the notion that NYU is unable to afford tuition refunds and to make their point the coalition will host a “Teach-In” demonstrating how NYU would be able to afford full or partial tuition refunds, NYU ’15 alumna Ellis Garey said. 

“This is the first time I’ve been hopeful and inspired in a long time,” one of the event’s attendees wrote in the Zoom chat as the organizers explained individual action supporters can undertake.

Their sentiment was echoed by many of the attendees, prepared to put time and effort into realizing the coalition’s mission of bringing NYU to change their ways of responding to the pandemic and possible future crisis the institution might face.

“The mission of the NYU COVID-19 coalition is so important to me because as a Social Worker it is my moral obligation to stand up for equality and justice for ALL, not just students, but NYU faculty and staff as well,” Advanced Standing Social Work Graduate Student and the Coalition’s supporter Nelcy García De León told WSN in an email. “At times like this coming together makes an important difference, specially at such a big institution like NYU. I will be fully participating in all events until our voices are heard.”

Email Anna-Dmitry Muratova at [email protected] 

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