Opinion guest column

I’m voting yes for the Graduate Student Union because MIT continues to fail its student veterans

Without a union, graduate students will continue to be seen as a resource to be managed rather than individuals who deserve a seat at the table

Before coming to MIT, I served in the U.S. Army as an infantry soldier. Most of my time in service was spent deployed in Eastern Europe, conducting NATO ally reassurance missions and counter-Russian aggression operations after the annexation of Crimea. Since being accepted to the MIT AeroAstro program in 2019, however, MIT has failed to correctly certify my Veterans Affairs (VA) educational benefits. MIT was noncompliant with federal regulations and unresponsive to my calls to action. These educational benefits are guaranteed in the Post-9/11 GI bill, which provides tuition and housing allowances to veterans who honorably served the country. These benefits enable veterans to gain skills that will help them transition to civilian life through educational and economic support. These benefits have allowed me to begin a new career which is useful and exciting. I joined the MIT Student Veterans Association (SVA) to advocate for the improvement of this situation for all MIT veterans.

Since August 2020, the SVA has highlighted the lack of support for and neglect of the veteran community here at MIT. This has included the lack of a Veteran Support Office, access to coordinated VA healthcare, and data on the identity and number of veterans we have on campus. Even with strong support from the Institute Community and Equity Office and faculty like Professor Amy Glasmeier, the issues brought forth by the SVA are largely ignored or marginalized.

The problem was left to fester for over two years, and in Fall 2021, reportedly at least 20 student veterans did not receive their VA benefits worth approximately $3 million in tuition, nor did we receive our $3,000 per month stipend. I personally lacked the funds to pay bills and living expenses, which required me to use emergency savings. I spent countless hours having to coordinate and navigate VA offices, VA policies, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education staff, and federal regulations. This took significant time and attention away from my research. Other veterans with families who relied on the stipend for income faced further financial hardships as they had dependents to support. MIT’s administration did not respond to questions or provide support or assistance for months. It wasn’t until the story was covered by military.com that MIT’s administration began to respond in an attempt to deflect the negative press and poor optics. MIT frequently left even the president and other leaders of the SVA out of conversations, meetings, and planning sessions regarding veterans issues.

I joined the MIT Graduate Student Union because without a union, graduate students will continue to be seen as a resource to be managed rather than what we truly are — workers and partners in research who deserve a seat at the table. It is clear to me after working with the highest levels of MIT’s administration that graduate students still lack legitimate power and a voice in the policies and decisions that affect us. Despite the administration’s claims, the existing avenues accessible by student groups like the SVA, Graduate Student Council, or Black Graduate Student Association do not have sufficient power to affect change on behalf of graduate student-workers. As the leaders of these organizations will attest, student groups have the power to make suggestions for improvement, but without the accountability our union would provide, MIT often delays acting on or completely dismisses student feedback. By forming a union, graduate student-workers at MIT can ensure that our problems are taken seriously by MIT administration and that our rights are protected by a legally enforceable contract.

MIT is failing to meet the federal expectations they agreed to. Having the VA benefits that veterans are entitled to at MIT would make the institution more accessible for all veterans. I would be spending less time worried about my finances and more time focused on my coursework and research. Join me by signing your union card today and voting yes on forming a union.