The UC graduate student-led cost of living adjustment (COLA) strikes have been equal parts protest and education. Strike University (SU), an educational space created to put pedagogy into practice, is taking that effort to the digital front. 

“Once we began engaging in the strike action, it became very clear that it’s not just about a COLA,” said UC Santa Cruz graduate student Yulia Gilichinskaya, who is helping build the digital hub. “It’s about our vision for what a public university is, and what kind of education we’ll want to be a part of. We decided that we can enact our vision of a truly public, free, accessible university online.”

UC COLA strikers and supporters launched SU the first week of spring quarter. The platform is composed of programs that include lectures, organizer guides, teach-ins and community-building activities geared toward reshaping what it means to be a public university. As a self-described think tank, it’s a place to apply research and build movement-focused skills, said UC Santa Barbara graduate student Melanie Brazzell. 

“A lot of us came to grad school with this utopian fantasy that higher education is this place to have really profound, deep learning and exchange,” Brazzell said. “It’s really not. It’s a place that’s about professionalizing.” 

Brazzell first pitched the SU idea to about 25 other UC graduate students in mid-March. After several remote meetings, those organizers formed a UC-wide team to establish SU’s mission and build its website, curriculum and social media presence. 

Illustration by Ryan Tran

Every day, graduate students from different UC campuses host their own program in a rotating system guided by a “Strike Syllabus,” which outlines each day’s agenda and offers links to relevant materials. 

Georgetown University professor Marcia Chatelain led a discussion on slavery and gentrification on April 6. The next day, UCSB professor Charmaine Chua trained teach-in participants on building solidarity with Amazon warehouse workers who are fighting to secure safer working conditions during COVID-19. On April 24, UCSC will be hosting a “Wildcat Sew and Tell,” a sewing instruction that promotes reusable clothing.

The SU curriculum aims to strengthen organizational power amid the pandemic while providing access to educational resources about unions, wildcat strikes and power imbalances.  

“What we realized is that the crisis exacerbates our precarity. That is the reason we went on strike in the first place,” said UCSC graduate student Yulia Gilichinskaya. “So it feels like the pandemic gives more urgency to the strike and to our demand because if we don’t continue organizing, if we don’t support each other, if we don’t fight for fair working conditions, we are going to come out of this crisis worse off than we are now.”