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Demonstrate or celebrate? Rutgers students weigh their options during historic strike

University students reflect on their decisions to attend class, join picket lines or catch up on work as the Rutgers faculty strike continues.  – Photo by Uriel Isaacs

As the University's first faculty strike enters its fifth day and classes continue to be canceled, undergraduate students across the Rutgers—New Brunswick campus reflect on this historic moment.

Sarah Tubbs, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said all her classes were canceled this week, but even if they were not, she does not think she would have attended.

"If people don't show up to classes, it's still supporting the strike," she said. "I think it's just really important to support the strike. Even if I'm not going to the marches … I think it's still important."

To that end, Joe Lisa, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said most of his classes remained in session this week, but he chose not to attend them in support of Rutgers' striking faculty unions.

He said he is still doing assignments because he expects that Gov. Phil Murphy's (D-N.J.) involvement in the contract negotiations between the University and unions will expedite a resolution and end the strike.

Leo Affouf, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said each of his professors informed their classes beforehand whether they would be participating in the strike.

He said that out of the 5 classes he is taking, 3 of them were canceled, 1 class shifted to an online lecture and 1 class continued as usual. Affouf said he considered whether he should still go to class during the strike but concluded that it was probably best for him to attend.

"I need to keep attending these classes because if I didn't go to classes, there are two classes where that material is going to keep going, and I don't want to fall behind. I have to keep the grades up in those classes," he said.

Affouf said the class he decided to attend took place on Monday in Voorhees Hall on the College Avenue campus — a few feet away from where striking faculty and supporters were picketing.

He said he could not hear the demonstrators from inside his classroom, and the picketing was not disruptive to the class.

Lauren Kness, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, said all her classes were canceled this week, and she has spent her newfound time being outside and working on assignments that are still due.

"(I am) not bending over backward to focus on school. I'm also taking the extra time that I have to get outside more ... It's a little bit confusing to know what to do as a student," Kness said.

Though one of Kness' instructors has been providing regular updates on the strike, most of her professors' communication has been inconsistent, she said.

Kness said she is not sure if she should attend picket lines and feels that many strike-related issues affect instructors more directly than students. Adding to Kness' confusion on the situation is what she views as conflicting information about the strike.

"We get emails from (University President Jonathan Holloway), but those are convoluted (and) a little bit (of the) opposite of what we hear from our professors," Kness said.

Off campus, students have leveraged a week of canceled classes due to the faculty strike to throw parties and visit local bars offering special promotions.

Danny Nolasco, a Rutgers Business School senior, said students are taking advantage of this unprecedented period of free time. Nolasco said he has attended a party every day this past week.

"It's kind of been an excuse to just day drink and party and not do your work," he said.

Nolasco said each of his four classes took a different approach to the strike, with one class canceled, one moved to an asynchronous format, one removing assignment deadlines and one continuing in-person instruction.

He said he went to one of his classes because there was an exam worth 33 percent of his grade, but he will not attend class otherwise.

Additionally, Nolasco said he attended demonstrations led by striking faculty at Voorhees Mall and respected the passion union members had for their cause.

"I was pretty impressed. It seemed very well-organized ... The speakers were very passionate about what they were demanding," he said.

Paige Taylor, a School of Arts and Science first-year, said she had no class this week and felt it was confusing to determine if classes were still scheduled or had been canceled.

She said her mother is a public school teacher, and she feels strongly about the need for instructors to be paid a fair wage.

"I'm an avid supporter of teachers and unions, and I think it's extremely important that teachers get paid because historically, teachers have always been underpaid and underfunded," she said.

Taylor said that as an out-of-state student, it is frustrating to see her large tuition payments not be distributed to her instructors and, thereby, not be distributed to her education.

"Where's my money going? Because it's clearly not going to the professors," she said. "It just makes me mad that they're clearly not using their funding in a healthy way to support … all their faculty."

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