Barely Holding On Being a Graduate Student in the Pandemic Times of COVID-19

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Samuel Shelton


In this paper, I address the urgency of transforming practices of care, which are often invisiblized and constantly undervalued in institutions of higher education, in order to better meet the physical, mental, emotional, and other needs of grad students during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, I describe some of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is negatively impacting the experiences and needs of grad students as well as the additional labor expectations being placed on us, both by our programs, departments, and institutions and by other students who are struggling to keep themselves afloat amid the chaotic waters of this historical moment. Following this analysis, I examine several transformative, care-centered pathways which allow for the expression of a “pandemic solidarity” towards wholeness, collective access, and collective liberation. I borrow these principles from the framework / movement of disability justice (Sins Invalid 2016). They are vital because the ongoing labor of pandemic solidarity can only be meaningful and worthwhile if the people most affected are centered in our response to it. My purpose in writing this paper is to call attention to the current state of affairs for graduate students and to suggest ways that we might collectively imagine different worlds for ourselves, both within and beyond the academy.

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The Labour of COVID