Student Workers “Micro-Disrupt” UW Top Administrators to Push for More Inclusive Workplace

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This week, top administrators at the University of Washington will be receiving a high volume of emails that begin like this:

Consider this email disruptive? How about hundreds of “micro” disruptions like it? Does it make it hard to accomplish your agenda? To stay on track with your professional and academic goals?

Women, people of color, LGBTQ, undocumented immigrants, international students, and others experience subtle, everyday words and actions that degrade and exclude them based on who they are. These micro-aggressions create barriers to academic and professional achievement every day they work as Academic Student Employees (ASEs)….

UAW Local 4121, the union that represents over 4,500 ASEs at UW, is organizing this barrage of emails as part of a fight to end these micro-aggressions. As a form of institutional discrimination, micro-aggressions are often more difficult to address than clear-cut and perhaps more extreme instances of discrimination or harassment, but nonetheless have a significant impact.

“When I was at UW I went through a hellish academic term because of this kind of treatment, which created real personal and professional consequences,” says Rebecca Cweibel, a Music History graduate student who has since left UW. “It would make a huge difference for UW to establish clear protections in the contract, and start to change the culture so micro-aggressions are not tolerated.”

The union has proposed concrete steps to address micro-aggressions at UW in their ongoing contract negotiations with the university, but so far the administration has been largely unresponsive to the union’s bargaining demands.

“The reticence by UW to move decisively thus far has been unacceptable,” says David Parsons, president of UAW Local 4121. “We want our Union contract to protect everyone here at UW, and to allow them to do the work they came here to do. We’re taking action because the University system needs to enter the 21st Century and become a more equitable and inclusive workplace that does not tolerate discrimination–subtle or otherwise.”

“Some people experience micro-aggressions all the time, but with no clear way of getting support and making change, they just suffer through or drop out,” says Elizabeth Scarbrough, bargaining committee member of UAW Local 4121. “This could easily be changed if UW takes some concrete steps to end this.”

As more studies show how micro-aggressions affect workers’ mental and physical health and their productivity, the Union is demanding several changes to the contract: language establishing that ASEs have the right not to experience micro-aggressions, that they have access to all-gender bathrooms campus-wide, and that UW take the same proactive steps as other universities and public agencies have to provide trainings and increase visibility around the issue.