By Natalie Jones
University of Maryland graduate students rallied on McKeldin Mall in solidarity with other graduate students across the country to protest the Tax Cuts and Job Act on Nov. 16.
Led by chants such as “GOP, kill the bill,” “no taxation without compensation” and “we’ve got to fight, education is a right,” university graduate students marched from McKeldin Library to the Administration building to draw attention to the tax reform that will make their education unaffordable.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a congressional bill that alters the tax rates for individuals and businesses. It’s the Trump administration’s major tax reform, which is projected to add $1.5 trillion or more to the national debt, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The bill treats tuition waivers for graduate students as taxable income, resulting in increased taxes for students already struggling. The bill will also eliminate the $2,500 tax deduction for student loan interest that low and middle-income students can take, making graduate education unaffordable to many students.
Cara Snyder, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in women’s studies, makes a “criminal income” of $19,000 as a graduate student, teaching 50 students this semester. The university doesn’t recognize her as an employee.
“Even though my income is only $19,000, which is already an impossible salary to live on in this area, I would now be taxed as if I were making $50,000 a year,” she said.
Under the tax reform, graduate students would be taxed based on their tuition remission, not their actual income.
Graduate tuition rates at the university for a full-time student enrolled in 12 credits are $8,991 for Maryland residents and $18,483 for non-Maryland residents. The tuition rates have graduate students working multiple jobs and taking advantage of any opportunity to make money.
Snyder rolled up her sleeve to show a pink bandage on her left arm, describing how she participated in a study earlier that day to make some extra cash.
“They had to draw my blood for six hours, every hour, to test the effects of broccoli, and I got paid $150 for this,” she said. “That’s just one example of how graduate students are literally pouring their blood, sweat and tears into this university and getting treated like crap…like we don’t matter.”
Sabrina González, a history Ph.D. student at the university and a worker at the Latin American Studies Center, emphasized that education is a right for every student. She urged students to acknowledge their positions as graduate student workers at the university.
“I come from a country where education is free,” she said. “It is our job then, every day, to talk with our colleagues, to ask questions, to be critical intellectuals, to think what our role is in the university, inside campus and beyond.”
The bill passed in the House of Representatives an hour before the rally began, making its effects more imminent than before. Caden Fabbi, a Master’s degree student in public policy and the chief of staff of the University of Maryland graduate student government, encouraged the graduate students to reach out to legislators and the governors to demand that they take a stand against the bill’s provisions.
“The fact is that we run this university,” he said. “Our work matters.”