Graduate Students

Grad student rally
Anne Danahy / WPSU

A group of graduate students at Penn State was hard at work.

They weren't getting ready for an exam or preparing a paper for a conference. Instead, they were making signs and strategizing. Their goal is to unionize graduate assistants who work for Penn State.

Garret Ducharme is working toward a PhD in physics. He wants to see a union.

“I’ve noticed a lot of problems in my department, things like unequal pay, unequal teaching responsibilities, unequal work responsibilities among graduate students,” Ducharme said.

Grad student rally
Anne Danahy / WPSU

"What do we want? Unions! When do we want it? Now."

That chant was part of the demonstration Penn State graduate student employees who want to unionize held Wednesday in front of Old Main, the university administration building. 

Among those clapping and cheering at a pro-union rally were faculty, employees and politicians.

Derek Fox, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics, said graduate students have voted to unionize at other institutions and the sky hasn’t fallen.

Anne Danahy / WPSU

Penn State faculty, grad students and supporters rallied at the Allen Street gates in State College Wednesday. They were protesting a tax hike for graduate students included in the GOP House tax plan. 

One member of the group, Margarita Hernandez, is in her first year working toward a PhD in anthropology.

“We already get paid enough to live or so. But, that extra tax is going to make that so it’s not feasible anymore,” Hernandez said.

Adriana Rizzo, a first year PhD student in geosciences, said the change would be an economic hardship for a lot of students.

U.S. Capitol

On Nov. 16, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Republican tax plan. It would make changes including counting graduate scholarships and tuition discounts as taxable income. That has raised concerns for some, including the administration at Penn State.

Sheila West, a professor of biobehavioral health and nutrition at Penn State, is also the parent of a college student. Her son is in his first year at Penn State. He wants to become an architect.