The DePaulia

PhD students take a stand against the lack of affordable healthcare

A group of DePaul's PhD students have released this statement, calling for adequate healthcare benefits as compensation for their dedication to the University.

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(Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia)

(Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia)

(Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia)

DePaul PhD Students

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If you are someone who believes that healthcare is a right and not a privilege, you may have felt especially hopeless and helpless over the past year. Together, the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have worked relentlessly to jeopardize the already precarious and problematic healthcare system in this nation. Our country’s most vulnerable individuals — those living in poverty, those with disabilities, those with preexisting conditions, queer and trans people, women and people of color — continue to be ignored as they plead with leaders of the richest nation on Earth to use some of its vast resources to provide affordable healthcare to its citizens.

A similar battle for affordable healthcare is taking place with university administrators on this very campus.

Unlike the majority of large, private universities in this country — including those in the Chicago area like Northwestern, Loyola, and the University of Chicago — DePaul University does not provide its PhD students with a subsidized health insurance plan. To get health insurance during the 5-7 years (on average) that we are at DePaul, we have to either be under 26 and on a parent’s insurance plan, have a partner whose insurance plan we can join, or pay for it ourselves through the ACA marketplace (aka Obamacare). Given the costs of healthcare, coupled with the low living stipend graduate students receive through their nine months of funding, many must choose to either go without healthcare, pay high amounts for decent insurance plans, or settle with “disaster” insurance which covers minimal procedures and appointments. Graduate students conducted a healthcare survey, for example, in which 29 percent of those surveyed stated that they do not have full medical coverage, 64 percent said they lacked dental care, and 69 percent said they lacked vision care. With the looming uncertainty concerning the future of the ACA, these numbers are likely to increase soon. Add to this the fact that 42 percent of those surveyed have a chronic medical condition, and the situation looks even worse.

DePaul University’s PhD student-workers struggle immensely to access and afford healthcare, and they have been fighting for university-provided healthcare options for years with little success.

This year, a new team of graduate student-workers from DePaul’s three PhD-granting colleges (Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Science and Health, and Computing and Digital Media) have collectively organized to demand that the university provide all of its full-time PhD students with adequate healthcare.

We assert that healthcare is a human right and a workers’ right. All people, in the dignity of their personhood, carry a right to adequate healthcare. Additionally, we assert, in conformity with Catholic-Vincentian values, the preferential option for the poor upon which Catholic Social Teaching grounds itself.

Graduate student-workers teach a vast number of undergraduate courses, conduct professional research, mentor students, publish their work, and move on to positions in the private sector and higher education which help to establish and solidify DePaul’s reputation as a prestigious institution of higher education. Despite these contributions, many graduate students are forced to live on extremely meager stipends, sometimes even qualifying for food stamps and Medicaid. As an employer, and particularly as a Catholic employer, DePaul owes it to all workers — graduate student-workers included — to provide adequate health care. While the university has cited budget cuts as a reason to evade its duty to provide all of its workers with proper healthcare, we find this reasoning inadequate. First, the cost of providing its graduate student-workers with healthcare is extremely low (less than $1 million per year) compared to other endeavors that have been approved by the university, such as its investment in the Wintrust Arena ($70 million) and the new School of Music building ($80 million). Second, this reasoning fails to acknowledge the immeasurable value that graduate students add to the university by graduate student-workers. We are asking the university to allocate some of its vast resources to provide affordable healthcare to its PhD students.

If you have felt helpless in the national healthcare battle, you can rest assured that you are not helpless at DePaul. If this university only cares about its bottom line, then you, a tuition-paying student, have the ultimate power. We urge anyone who supports our cause and believes that PhD student-workers should be entitled to adequate healthcare to directly contact President Esteban’s office in order to voice their support. You can contact him at depaulpresidentsoffice@depaul.edu or via phone at 312-362-8850.

Read more about graduate students’ fight for healthcare in the article by Benjamin Conboy entitled “Graduate students look to band together” on depauliaonline.com.

We thank you for your support.

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PhD students take a stand against the lack of affordable healthcare