Work & Refuge: Creating Graduate Futures at UCHRI

By Sarah Goeppner, UCHRI Graduate Student Researcher

Disabled graduate students mark the limits of the university’s idealism about itself, which can remain a perpetuum mobile only so long as it can ignore the very real bodies it crushes under its wheels.

— andy king (UC Berkeley)

The ideas I once held of the academy—as somehow above the dictates of private industry and the profit motives—feel harder to sustain than ever. The recent graduate student strike threw light on the roiling tensions between the academy’s aim to be a beacon for research and teaching and its insatiable appetite for cheaper labor.

— Rosie Dwyer (UC San Diego)

These are just some of the tensions that graduate students from across the UC will explore in a new UCHRI program, Work & Refuge: The Future of Graduate Student Professionalization. UCHRI has a long tradition of supporting work that addresses unethical university labor practices. Initiatives like Hum@Work, a graduate-led career research initiative, charts the economic outcomes and career trajectories for humanities PhDs. Hum@Work networks like  PhDs in the Humanities connect students and graduates amidst the systemic problems in PhD training that inadequately prepare students for the current job climate. 

As part of UCHRI’s recent theme on Refuge and Its Refusals, Work & Refuge brings together 10 graduate students selected through our competitive grants program to think about refuge, hospitality, and scarcity in the lived experiences of scholars and in the current state of graduate education and the post-degree job market. Building on the data and insights gathered by Hum@Work, Work & Refuge addresses the lack of resources and opportunities for graduate students by offering professional development workshops, intercampus networking, and access to a professional editor to help them shape their work for a paid online publication through Foundry, UCHRI’s platform for humanities research.

The success and wellbeing of working scholars relies upon institutional practices. Amidst the changing landscape of graduate education, we hope that this program will offer helpful resources and a strategically curated cross-campus network for those who are thinking critically about the university and exploring different career options while faced with dwindling resources and increasingly burdensome requirements. In the current post-strike climate, the program speaks directly to graduate students’ persistent call for increased research and professional development support and for spaces in which they can confront the university’s labor practices and critical methods. Arranging quarterly meetings over Zoom and an in-person retreat with an editor at the end of the academic year, the program supplies an intellectual refuge for students seeking critical-creative community in response to the scarcity that conditions participation within the academy.

Program participants will conduct work on self-determined topics like managing diversity work in the academy, tracking the digital traces of minoritarian graduate student precarity, and exploring practices of homemaking in literatures of exile. Other work centers queer migrations of the global south, crip labor in the academy, and poetic strategies for deinstitutionalizing interpretation in the neoliberal university. 

In her creative-critical project “Baggage Claim: On the Grief We Can and Cannot Carry,” Work & Refuge participant Nirvana Shahriar (UC Santa Barbara) bridges the genres of creative nonfiction, literary and cultural criticism, and personal essay to follow a travelogue from London to Tehran and imaginatively journey “from the places my parents called home to the home I look for in those places.” She writes, “My own desire for refuge unravels as I link these ideas, revealing the latent refusals lodged within the search for belonging.” For Shahriar, exile ends when we begin to interrogate its fictive counterpart, home. 

In “But Does My Labor Love Me Back? Toward Refuge in Love, University-Social Practice, and Poetry,” Kendall Grady (UC Santa Cruz) considers the love labors of poets’ search for sanctuary within a university that remains contested, qualified, and accessible to but a few, issuing a call for “transforming the academy into a more accessible, public-facing harbor for labor and love rather than a reluctant port for labors of love.” 

Image credit: Brandi Redd