Op Eds

Harvard, Hear Us: We Need a Contract for Gender Equity


Today, Harvard will hold an all-day event entitled “Harvard Hears You: The 2019 Summit for Gender Equity.” This event will feature several panel discussions and talks by speakers including University President Lawrence S. Bacow and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76. Hopefully, this summit will inspire productive conversations. However, despite the administration’s claim that it “hears us,” Harvard has consistently ignored student workers’ calls for substantive policy changes that would promote gender equity on campus.

We don’t need empty rhetoric from Harvard’s top administrators; we need a strong union contract. Our union, Harvard Graduate Students Union—United Automobile Workers, is calling for strong contractual protections against discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, immigration status, disability, and other identity characteristics. Specifically, student workers are calling for such protections to include a fair and neutral grievance procedure. In negotiations, the administration has consistently refused to agree to these protections, even after hundreds of students and workers across campus rallied for our civil rights.

The University insists that its current internal procedures for addressing discrimination and harassment are sufficient; and yet, these procedures enabled high-profile professors such as Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez to allegedly abuse at least eighteen women with impunity. Undergraduate and graduate students in the Government department have called on the University to conduct an external review of the Dominguez case. However, just last week, Bacow announced that Harvard would not conduct such an external review until the end of its internal review — a seemingly indefinite process. If Harvard is serious about promoting gender equity, it should agree to a union contract that includes strong discrimination and harassment protections.

Student workers are also calling for wage and salary transparency for all open research and teaching jobs on campus. Such transparency is essential for promoting gender and racial pay equity. However, in negotiations, the administration has not yet agreed to such transparency. To work towards genuine gender equity, the administration should sign a union contract that includes pay transparency for all open positions.


Our union is also calling for guaranteed, paid parental and family leave; subsidies for student workers with children; and affordable dependent healthcare. In the United States, our lack of parental leave and affordable childcare is a major contributor to gender inequality, as women disproportionately drop out of the workforce to take care of their children. Guaranteeing parental leave, childcare support, and dependent healthcare for parents of all genders would provide crucial support to student parents and help ensure that nobody would need to choose between pursuing a graduate degree and having a family. However, Harvard has not yet responded to our proposals on these issues. In order to advance gender equity, Harvard should agree to a union contract that guarantees paid parental and family leave and provides adequate financial support for student workers with children.

Additionally, student workers are calling for a comprehensive, affordable healthcare package that includes coverage of reproductive services as well as transgender healthcare and gender-affirming support. However, the administration has failed to respond to our healthcare proposal. Harvard should foster intersectional gender equity by signing a union contract that ensures that student workers of all genders and gender identities can access the healthcare that we need.

Across campus — and at the negotiating table — student workers are telling Harvard what it should do to promote gender equality. Yet instead of adopting these reforms, the University is ignoring us. Showy summits might create good publicity for the University, and they may even generate useful discussions, but without concrete steps from the administration and without a timeline to enforce accountability, these events will not make Harvard a more equitable institution. In order to build a truly equitable campus, Harvard must sign a union contract that includes contractual protections against discrimination and harassment; pay transparency; paid parental leave; financial support for student parents including childcare support; and comprehensive healthcare for all student workers and their dependents. The time has come for the administration to take real action on gender equity.

—Marisa J. Borreggine is a first-year graduate student in Earth and Planetary Sciences and organizes with the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW Time’s Up Committee. Evan C. MacKay ’19 is a Sociology concentrator in Currier House and a member of the HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee. Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15 is a second-year student at the Law School and a member of the HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee.