COGS ‘die-in’ to protest UI’s COVID-19 management

The graduate student union, COGS, hosted a “die-in” protest outside of the Old Capitol Building to protest the university’s COVID-19 mitigation and published a letter of demands they say will make campus safer.


Meg Doster

Members of COGS protest the lack of mask mandates on campus at the Pentacrest on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Meg Doster, News Reporter

On Thursday, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students held a “die in” to protest the University of Iowa’s the state Board of Regent’s COVID-19 policies. The policies include the regents’ decision to mandate masks or vaccinations against COVID-19.

The protest began at 10 a.m. on the Pentacrest. COGS, a union for graduate student workers, posted a public letter of demands for the university, calling for stricter COVID-19 mitigation measures and greater flexibility for instructors. 

“The protest is to stand up to the administration, and to demand they take a stand and do the brave thing,” Caleb Klipowicz, a member of COGS said. “The science is very clear that combining vaccines and masks, at least in the classroom, will keep people safe. It’ll limit the spread.”

Regents President Mike Richards lifted a state of emergency in May, making mask-wearing strongly encouraged at all regent-governed institutions. 

On the Pentacrest, protesters dressed in black and COGS distributed disposable masks to passersby. The group had art supplies available for those who wanted to join the protest by making their own signs.

Fifteen minutes after the protest began, representatives of COGS started asking fellow protesters to lie on the ground to have their bodies outlined in chalk. 

By the end of the protest, 23 chalk outlines were drawn onto the sidewalk in front of the Old Capitol Building.

Klipowicz, the main speaker at the die-in, led protestors in chants and reiterated the group’s demands of the UI administration. Other teaching assistants spoke up about the difficulty of instructing in conditions where they are constantly worried for their own health and safety.

“[The UI administration is] taking a completely reactive approach,” Klipowicz said. “It’s too dangerous, and the hospital’s filled, and there are no beds, and no more ventilators, then we’ll have instructors throw everything online last minute, and immediately try to upend this semester to stop it, and we’ve already been too late.”

Glenn Houlihan, a first-year doctoral student, said he was disappointed with the lack of attention the university has put toward safety during COVID-19.

“I just think that it’s absolutely extraordinary, and quite disgraceful, how little the university administrators are doing to mitigate the flow of what is, as we all know, a lethal virus,” Houlihan said. “I just found it absolutely shocking.”

Mengmeng Liu, a teaching assistant, said COGS wants the university to mandate masks and vaccines.

“They mandate MMR, the measles vaccine, and then on their website they say vaccination is a personal choice,” Liu said. “So I don’t understand.” 

Liu said that it’s difficult to get students in her classes to wear masks as she has classmates that choose not to do so. She said it is the university’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of students, instead of their teaching assistants. 

“Before school started, all I have been thinking is how I can keep myself and the people I care, or even people I don’t care [about], safe,” Liu said. “I don’t want anyone to get sick, and I have to keep constantly thinking how should I mandate a mask.”