A blog I wrote for CEM recently featured the story of a restaurant owner using his social media presence as a weapon for destruction. The restaurateur publicly shamed individuals on Twitter for neglecting to cancel their dinner reservations. This probably didn’t surprise a lot of people; a recent survey concluded that 88% of users believe people are ‘less polite’ online. But today we can breathe a sigh of relief, because the world still sees social media as a tool that can be used for good. Through the work of graduate students in Facebook petitions, tweets to the mayor, and widely circulated memes, University of Houston’s MFA teachers are finally getting a pay raise.
Making Their Voices Heard
The problem was based on the low stipend of graduate instructors in the MFA program, and related student fees. The university’s neglect has been a longstanding issue, with more than a few teachers who have not received a raise in the last 20 years. Now making $11,000 a year, and bound by contractual limitations denying them additional employment elsewhere, the TAs decided to make their voices heard. “By collectively offering our signatures, we express our discontent at the current situation and indicate our support for department representatives and students who advocate for change,” the iPetition read, outlining the UH group’s united sentiment.
Teachers and students from across the nation stood in solidarity. With the help of Facebook, the petition was widely circulated and received 300 signatures, far above its goal of 50. But they didn’t stop there; upon seeing the response to the petition, many supporters changed their Facebook profile pictures to an image of the UH mascot, dressed up as a bondservant drudging over an assembly line. With the words “UH English TAs, Making $11,000 Since 1993”, the brilliant demonstration served as a recruiting tool for the movement. It also gained the attention of an untold number of prospective students, which no doubt increased the pressure felt by university officials.
We’re Not Going Anywhere
A Facebook and Twitter account for UH English TFs UNITE was then created. A picture of an April 3rd peaceful sit-in at the university president’s office was posted and circulated from the page, boasting 76 shares and over 100 likes, furthering the protest’s momentum. Public messages were sent to a mass of public figures including the mayor, and Houston-native Beyoncé. A shared meme amplified the discontent reading, “A Tier One School: Where Your English Teacher Can’t Pay Rent”. In the first few days alone, their efforts were rewarded with the attention of the Houston Chronicle and Houston Press.
A Crucial Breakthrough
The following days marked an incredible development. On April 8th, UH President Khator announced she would be allocating an additional $1 million annually to raise the wages of the program’s graduate instructors. Her response to the online demonstrations would go down in the all-time social media win book. Though a concrete wage offer will not be made until April 19th, the group is hopeful that the administration will stay true to its word.
This certainly isn’t the first time that social media has helped to bring attention to an important issue, and delivered results based on the viral nature of social media sharing. It won’t be the last time, either. The results remind us of our power in numbers, and the revolutionary potential of social media. With all the negativity that can be found on social media platforms today, most users seem glad to participate in something positive and purposeful.
In what ways can you use social media to change your circumstances for good?