Graduate students abandoned sections, experiments and labs on Wednesday at UC Santa Cruz. About 150 people rallied in Quarry Plaza as part of the nationwide walkout against the proposed graduate tax in the Republican H.R. 1 tax plan.
H.R. 1 would classify tuition waivers received by graduate students for research and teaching as taxable income. As of now, these waivers go directly toward living costs and student fees.
“Grad students already don’t put this money in their pockets, it goes directly back to the university,” said Ronan Gillespie, staff member of the local UC Student-Workers Union. “But suddenly they would have to be paying taxes on it.”
Organizers of the walkout at UCSC demanded Congress reject the proposed tax plan, support higher education institutions and draft a new tax plan that prioritizes higher education. The Graduate Student Association unanimously voted on Tuesday to endorse the nationwide Grad Student Walkout.
Oarteze Hunter, a researcher and second-year doctoral candidate in molecular, cell and developmental biology, walked out of an experiment in protest of the graduate tax.
“I do graduate research for the university and I create knowledge for the university. I feel like me walking out and putting that to the side for one second and just saying I can have my own voice and be heard is super powerful,” Hunter said.
An estimated 30 percent of UC graduate students and their families rely on untaxed waivers. The UC reported that 23,000 graduate students earned $250 million through waivers in 2015-16, an average of less than $11,000 per person.
The House passed H.R. 1 with a 227-205 vote on Nov. 16. If passed in the Senate, it would cut corporate taxes by 35 percent while reducing individual deductibles. The bill is now moving on to the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate bill doesn’t include the graduate student tax but it could still be a danger to students if this version passes because the Senate and the House would still need to compromise on the plan before a final vote.
UC President Janet Napolitano wrote letters to both the Senate and the House earlier this month urging them not to support this taxation of graduate students’ waivers. Napolitano, Student Regent Paul Monge and Student Regent-designate Devon Graves released a statement condemning the plan on Nov. 27.
“[Graduate students] are our nation’s future and deserve congressional support — not a tax hike,” according to the UC Office of the President (UCOP) press release. “We stand in solidarity with students as we work together to advocate for fair tax policies and to advance our shared mission of supporting higher education.”
Despite this response from UCOP, protesters at Wednesday’s walkout, like teaching assistant and graduate student Karla Cativo, believe UCOP could be doing more to support its graduate student community.
“We don’t see the administration really being supportive of our needs as students, much less as grad students since we are such a small population,” Cativo said. “I think [UCOP] could be allocating more money to graduate school. We don’t get enough.”
The Student-Workers Union urged protesters to call representatives and sign the petition rejecting the GOP tax plan.
From private schools such as University of Southern California to public schools such as Ohio State University and UC Berkeley, an estimated 40 walkouts happened across the nation on Wednesday.
“A walkout particularly, the physical act of that, just stopping what you’re doing, stopping the production of what you contribute to the university and having your voice be heard is very important,” Oarteze Hunter said. “[…] That’s the most effective way to bring change.”
Additional reporting by Chloe Reynolds