GoFundMe seeks to help Temple University's international teaching assistants - Generocity Philly

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May 13, 2020 11:12 am

GoFundMe seeks to help Temple University’s international teaching assistants

Unable to travel home thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, or take on temporary off-campus jobs due to visa restrictions, international student workers face 'total poverty,' according to the TUGSA members who started the crowdfunding effort.

Temple University, March 2019.

(Photo via twitter.com/TempleUniv)

For the past couple of months, Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (AFT Local 6290) has been trying , unsuccessfully, to get Temple to change their contract to help its international teaching assistants impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

Now the union has engaged the greater community to provide the help the university won’t.

Earlier this month, TUGSA started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the international workers. At the time of this report, the campaign has surpassed $10,000 and raised its goal to $12,000. Donors contributed over $6,000 in the first 24 hours alone. Fellow grad workers, Temple University faculty and staff, and City Council member Helen Gym are among those who have donated.

Bethany Kosmicki, vice president of TUGSA and a teaching assistant and doctoral student in sociology, said the GoFundMe idea came about through conversations with their board and organizing committee about the urgent need to financially support the international workers.

“The administration wasn’t coming through and other options like the CARES Act and unemployment weren’t accessible,” Kosmicki said.  “International workers need relief and raising money through a fundraising platform seemed like the most direct and quick way to do that. Using GoFundMe specifically is a familiar and secure way to raise and disburse these funds.”

“Graduate workers from abroad face total poverty as they cannot travel home and cannot work off-campus,” Evan Kassof, president of TUGSA and part of the music composition doctoral program at Temple, told Generocity in earlier reporting.

Temple has not offered summer employment to them, and both travel restrictions and visa restrictions — which prohibit work outside the university —  limit other income-generating opportunities,and make it impossible for many of the international workers to support their families. Unemployment benefits and CARES Act funds are also unavailable to them.

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Kassof said that he honestly doesn’t know if Temple plans to do anything.

“[The] administration has not been very communicative with us,” he said. “We really have no way of knowing what their private conversations look like. We do sincerely hope that they are working on solutions to help graduate workers now, or will do so in the near future.”

When Generocity reached out to Temple for comment last month, the university responded that “Temple will continue to follow the terms of our collective bargaining agreement” — which makes no concession to COVID-19 impacts on any of the university’s teaching assistants since it was negotiated in 2018. Morgan Zalot, the associate director of issues management at Temple, told Generocity via email, that the university administration would not comment on the GoFundMe campaign, “as it is not a university-led effort.”

But at least one other public research university in the area is taking COVID-19’s impact on its international teaching assistant corps seriously.

Dory Devlin, senior director, university news and media relations at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told Generocity. that “Rutgers and [its] partnering institutions are providing emergency funds to Rutgers international students to help with financial hardships stemming from COVID-19.”

TUGSA’s GoFundMe campaign runs through May and is offering $500 to international graduate workers in need. For every $500 raised, TUGSA will distribute that amount to another applicant.

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