In solidarity with graduate students across the country organizing similar demonstrations, close to 100 graduate students gathered outside of University Hall to protest the proposed GOP tax bill, which would increase income tax on graduate student stipends and tuition waivers, effectively cutting their incomes in half.
The University is actively lobbying against the bill; President Christina Paxson P’19 has called U.S. Senators Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and is in the process of speaking to other members of Congress. On Nov. 27, Paxson denounced the bill in a community-wide email.
“The bill is about more than graduate students,” said Julie Skarha GS, the first of the event’s 12 speakers. In between speeches, protesters chanted “We are workers” and “Hey, C. Pax, we need your help to fight this tax.”
“It’s not a surprise that it’s not going to be easy to live on $13,000 a year, which is what our stipends would amount to if this tax bill were to pass,” said Dennis Hogan GS, a member of Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees advocacy group.
“Graduate students, who are living on $30,000 a year, $33,000 if they’re in the sciences, we’re flipping out,” Hogan told The Herald. “The reassurances that the University has been willing to give are not enough. My concrete demand would be to promise the students that whatever happens, our tax costs aren’t going to go up. They can make the math work.”
“We’ve been hearing a lot of vague reassurances. … And I understand, you can’t make promises before you know what the exact provisions are, but you can promise that the worst effects won’t come to pass,” Hogan said in his speech.
“Poor students are going to fall out. Some of us are already planning our exit strategy,” said Felicia Bishop GS.
Graduate students overall felt the protest was a success.
“The University runs and is affected by the presence of graduate workers, so to have people walk out and leave those spaces is an effective way to draw attention,” Hilary Rasch GS told The Herald. Rasch helped organize the event, along with Jeff Feldman GS.
“We’re here to say that we’re done with subsidizing the rich,” Skarha said to the crowd. “We call on Paxson today to speak out more about this bill and to stand up for grad students as well as others who will be affected by this bill,” she added.
“The research we do is not a luxury,” echoed Lubabah Chowdhury GS to the group of fellow graduate students. “It’s imperative.”
The event also included a sing-along to an anti-fascist song led by Annie Wentz GS.
Towards the end of the event, Chief of Staff to the Provost Marisa Quinn exited her office to come see the graduate students on the Main Green.
The administration was aware of plans for the protest, Quinn said. “Advocacy is critical to ensure that members of Congress know about the implications of the particular provisions of the bill,” she added.
“Brown is actively advocating for what’s in the best interest of students and higher education, and our hope is that as Congress continues to consider this legislation, graduate students and other members of the Brown community will continue to make their voices heard,” wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.
“Our livelihoods are being jeopardized by the proposed tax plan,” Diego Luis GS told The Herald. “If it goes through, we’re all completely screwed.” But Luis doubted the effectiveness of a protest of Wednesday’s nature. “I don’t think it’s going to do much unless we go in there and demand a response from the administration,” he said. After around 45 minutes of short speeches, the protest dissolved into smaller conversations and eventually disbanded.