Newsletter 10/19/22

Happy Wednesday, graduate workers! In this edition, you can find upcoming events, a reflection on the living wage for international students, and weekly announcements.

Over 1,500 Cards signed at UChicago! Have you signed yours?

Get Involved!

Fill out this form, get in touch with one of your department’s organizers or even email if you are interested in working at the departmental or divisional level. You can always check out our calendar for upcoming events. All meetings are open to all members. 

Calendar 10/19/22-10/24/22

⚡New Member Friendly

  • ⚡Wednesday 10/19
    • Organizing Committee, 5:30-6:30 PM at Hyde Park Union Church. The central committee meeting is where major organizing concerns are discussed. The strategizing session and beating heart of the union!
  • Thursday 10/20
    • Communications Meeting, 11 AM on zoom. Weekly communications meeting where we’ll talk comms strategy, social media, newsletter, press contacts, and more! All are welcome!
  • ⚡Thursday 10/20

We caught up with Valay Agarawal (pictured below), a PhD in Chemistry, about what a living wage means to him.

As an international student, Agarawal notes that the upfront cost of moving to the United States is prohibitive, “moving to the U.S. costs upwards of $4-5k, which is too much in my home currency and I have to borrow from family”($4-5k in USD is  411,406.75 Indian Rupees. Per capita income is 145,679 Rupees). For Agarwal and other international students, the burden of relying on family doesn’t end with the initial relocation fees. Agarwal emphasizes that even “the routine cost of living” can necessitate reaching out to their family for additional support. A living wage would help students independently pay these costs, making graduate school more accessible.

For others, the financial burden to support their families abroad can be equally prohibitive. Agarawal states that some students have to “send money home” to parents, especially “retired parents,” and that a living wage would enable students to make fewer “sacrifices.” On the current stipend, Agarwal says that “even with sacrifices, you barely have enough [to live on].”

For Agarawal,  the stipend prevents him from living his life. “I can’t start a family because I simply do not have enough income to support a dependent,” he says, “The University offers child support but it’s meager.” For travel, Agarawal says that “any travel for a week can easily set you back 1-2k if it includes a flight ticket, [when] one can barely save 10-20% of monthly income, this comes out to 3-8 months of savings to go on a single trip.” Even locally, Agarawal notes that “It’s difficult to afford hobbies. As an example, I thought I will start piano, but a good starter piano is $500, and then lessons are really costly.” These restrictions – either from leisure or from building a life – put a massive strain on graduate workers.

At the end of the day, Agarawal finds that the current stipend prevents “financial stability. If I want to invest in stocks, I don’t have enough capital buildup to do that. The University doesn’t offer a 401k which is a staple source of financial stability for many employees after retirement (read: graduation for us).”

For international students, the issues of international student support and a living wage are inextricably tied.

The stress of moving to the United States was compounded for Agarawal by a lack of support from the university. “We get our acceptances latest by 15th April, which is also when moving away from family is imminent. Our medical insurances start in October, so we don’t have access to university-funded mental health services for those 6 months,” he says. Agarawal believes that, “getting access to comprehensive mental health services from the day of acceptances is very important, especially for international students” and that “if [the University] were to provide it from the day they send out offer letters: perhaps they would have much higher acceptance rates.” This comprehensive healthcare from day one would significantly reduce out-of-pocket living costs for international students.

Agarawal also thinks the University can do more to make specific protections explicit. He emphasizes that “caste is not [an explicitly] protected category in the US, but the university has a choice to make it a plainly protected category.” He argues that doing so would “protect [from] discrimination against caste, [and] also helps with representation, political education, requires the university to have professionals trained in handling such cases.” Agarawal believes that explicit protection against caste discrimination is essential for real equity.

“While a living wage benefits everyone, further support is required to truly ensure equity for international students,” Agarawal maintains.


  1. We are seeking two Communications Secretaries to manage our internal and external communications via our communications committee. We are also seeking candidates for union co-president. The co-president serves as the face of the union, and represents GSU as needed to the University and other organizations. If these descriptions sound like you or someone you know, please consider filling out this form to nominate a candidate:
  2. Did you know that if you are a household of 1 and make less than $34k or a household of 2 and make less than $46k, you are eligible for the Cook County $500/month guaranteed income program, regardless of your immigration or citizenship status? Learn more here!
  3. The federal student debt relief application is now live! Pell grant recipients can apply for up to $20k in relief, and non-Pell Grant recipients can apply for up to $10k. Apply here!

Contribute Voluntary Dues

We fund our organizing efforts through voluntary dues from UChicago grad workers. Dues income is used to cover office expenses, printing costs, staff-organizer pay, and union social events. If you want to support our organizing but don’t have time to organize, contributing dues is a great way to help. Sign up for whatever amount you’re comfortable with at

In solidarity,

Graduate Students United