UCSB Graduate Students Strike for COLA in Front of Storke Tower

Photo by Graeme Jackson

Jessica Gang
Executive Content Editor

On Thursday, Feb. 27, more than 1,000 graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty members at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) rallied in front of Storke Tower at noon in support of a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for UCSB graduate students, who are currently experiencing high percentages of rent burden and housing insecurity.

The rally was also held to show solidarity with striking teaching assistants at UC Santa Cruz, who have been withholding grades in an attempt to force a COLA since September 2019. Thursday’s strike came just three days after UCSB’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) voted to go on full wildcat strike; until the strike is broken, participating graduate students will cease all graduate activities. 

In spite of the fact that graduate students are entering uncharted territory by participating in the strike, the mood on Thursday in front of Storke Tower was defiant, stirring, and at times even joyous. 

“I’m inspired that faculty are here with us today, as well as many undergrads,” sixth-year English Ph.D student Chip Badley said in an interview with The Bottom Line. “At the same time, I think that the fact that there are so many people here just speaks to how expensive it is to live [in Santa Barbara] and how urgent it is that we need reform, and how frustrated, tired, and exhausted academics are … in the public university sector, when they show time and time again that they don’t have our best interests at heart.” 

Badley’s sentiments were echoed by undergraduate Katelyn, a third-year transfer student majoring in communication and minoring in LGBTQ studies, who spoke to The Bottom Line about why she is choosing to support strikers.

 “I’m here because I think it’s really important that T.A. students or graduate students are getting paid what they need to be paid, especially considering all the work that they do.” Kaitlyn continued, saying that teaching assistants and grad students “obviously represent the most direct line that students have to their education, and it matters as much to them as it does to us.”

As the march gained traction and supporters marched from the lawn by Storke Tower to Mosher Alumni House, the spirit seemed to move with it. 

Student leaders wearing shirts branded with “UAW 2865” —  the UC Student-Workers Union — led chants like, “Strike with us!” and “C-O-L-A, we deserve fair pay!” heightening the sense of urgency felt by everyone present. The sheer numbers of undergraduate and faculty support were impossible to be ignored, with some faculty and undergrads even forgoing classes to participate in the walk to Mosher.

Graduate students, undergraduates, and students were not the only members of the community who turned out to show their support for the COLA strike. Notable members of the Goleta and Santa Barbara public who lent their support to strikers on Thursday included Third District county supervisor candidates Karen Jones and Joan Hartmann, along with representatives from AFSCME Local 3299, the labor union that represents UC workers. 

AFSCME Local 3299 has been embroiled in contract negotiations of their own with the UC system for the past two-and-a-half years. AFSCME Local 3299 has previously spoken in support of COLA strikers, condemning the UC’s use of “intimidation tactics” in an “effort to silence [student voices],” and urging the UC to negotiate a cost-of-living adjustment for graduate students. 

In an interview with The Bottom Line, current Third Supervisor County Supervisor Joan Hartmann also voiced her support for strikers and stressed the responsibility that the larger Santa Barbara community has to support striking UCSB students. “I thought today was enormously impressive because you had undergrads, administrative staff, faculty members, and community members saying ‘we all recognize that this is a huge problem.’” 

It’s clear that whatever direction the UCSB4COLA movement takes, the support of other members of the campus community is essential to the movement’s success. Speaking to The Bottom Line, GSA President Cierra Sorin, a fifth-year sociology Ph.D student, credited the success of the strike to “massive people power,” adding that the movement has “blossomed beautifully.” 

“We are all in this together,” Sorin stressed, adding that the UCSB4COLA Instagram account now has over 1,000 followers; a week ago, it had only 400. “[The support] is blowing our minds,” Sorin said. “More people are in this, every step of the way.”

Sofia Lyon contributed reporting to this article.


  1. The US military has always had a housing allowance to make up for the standard pay grade when moving servicemen and women from a low cost of living section of this country to one that is more expensive. The UC governing body has been lax in not implementing this same type of system within the various campus localities. The UAW has been lax in not negotiating this type compensation.

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