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Purdue graduate workers discuss struggle to pay for rent, groceries

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Third-year Purdue PhD candidate Rob Weiner discusses the impact of low wages on his life during an open mic Tuesday. (Ben Thorp/WBAA News)

Purdue University graduate workers are advocating for a living wage, arguing that their university stipend isn’t enough.

Roughly 40 people gathered at the Purdue Graduate Student Center Tuesday to discuss how inflation and the university’s pay have left many student workers struggling to cover the basic costs of food, rent, and health care.

Last year, Purdue increased the minimum stipend for graduate students to roughly $24,000 per fiscal year. But during this week’s event, graduates argued that a living wage would be closer to $31,000.

Grad students paid on an academic year basis can make even less – with a minimum set at under $19,000.

Marisa Yerace is a PhD candidate in the English department. She said she’s taken on a second job to help cover costs.

“My rent continues to increase, the cost of groceries continues to increase, and this is something that all grad employees I know face,” she said.

Olivia Gearner is co-chair of the Greater Lafayette Democratic Socialists of America and a graduate student at Purdue. She said the living wage push extends to more than just graduate workers.

“We are wanting to push the university to raise the minimum wage on campus for all workers on campus,” she said. “Here what we’re trying to do is gather testimonies of basically low-wage workers at Purdue.”

Several Purdue professors, including West Lafayette City Council member David Sanders, attended the event and spoke of standing in solidarity with Purdue student workers.

Sanders said the fight for better pay is one he’s been involved with for a long time.

“We have an opportunity with a new administration, but we will lose that opportunity unless we come together,” he said. “I’m glad to see the large number of people here today, but we need more.”

Tithi Bhattacharya is an associate professor of South Asian history at Purdue. She said many students on college campuses – including Purdue – experience food insecurity.

(Researchers say data on food insecurity among college students are complicated - but rates are significantly higher than the national household average of about 10 percent.)

“This is a Research 1 university and people are hungry, they are asked to go to food banks. The obscenity is that Purdue as a technological haven has invested in food robots,” she said. “There are food robots that walk around campus delivering food in a campus where students and employees are hungry.”

Purdue President Mung Chiang has indicated the university will be evaluating graduate student stipends.