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A spirit that is not afraid

Graduate students stage protest of GOP tax plan changes to graduate benefits

Graduate students and faculty gathered in a large circle on Cater Lawn chanting, "No grad tax," under gray skies.

The graduate student walk-out fits into a larger, nationwide walk-out coordinated by the American Association of University Professors in opposition to the proposed GOP tax plan and the changes it would make to graduate students' tax receipts.

Graduate students are currently able to teach or research in return for a stipend that goes toward living costs. These assistantships come with a tuition stipend that is not taxable, but with the new GOP tax plan, the waivers would be taxed as regular income.

"The beating heart of our plan is a tax cut for working families," said President Donald Trump at a press conference Wednesday. "The single most important investment our nation can make is in our children."

Lauren Clinton, a doctoral student in counseling psychology who coordinated the event in an effort to raise awareness and gather support, said her cohort and program have been concerned about the proposed tax plan and feel that the changes would continue to "systemically oppress" disadvantaged students.

The GOP has said the tax plan will lower taxes for the majority of Americas and reduce the burden on those in the middle-class. Non-partisan analyses, including one from the Senate Joint Committee on Taxation, say otherwise — that, in reality, taxes would increase over time for lower and middle class and decrease for high-income earners and corporations.

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“This would leave many of us broke and in debt,” Clinton said. “We would be taking out loans just to pay these taxes. Honestly, it would prevent most of us from continuing our graduate studies.”

Jamy Carney, department head of special education, rehabilitation and counseling, marched along from the start at Cater Hall all the way to the Student Center Chick-fil-A in opposition to the GOP tax reforms.

“What [the House] is proposing would dramatically impact the ability of students — especially first-generation students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds — to go to college,” Carney said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, who represents Auburn, said earlier this month that the legislation proposed would help fix the “broken tax code.” His statement came after the House of Representative passed the Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax package, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“I appreciate President Trump’s leadership on tax reform and am thrilled to see the House pass this important legislation today,” Rogers said. “This bill will help families across East Alabama and the nation keep more of their hard-earned paychecks and will help small business thrive and create new jobs.”

The Senate is now considering the plan, holding preliminary votes on the package this week. The plan was passed out of committee on Tuesday in a party-line vote, and if procedural votes are successful, the Senate’s debate on amendments could begin on Friday.

The Senate will likely make some alterations to the House plan.

Clinton stood in the middle of a circle of students and faculty, offering assistance and contacts to whom worried constituents could voice their concerns to representatives like Rogers. Carney said in order for something to change, the University must stand up against the proposed tax changes for the sake of future higher education.

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Carney said it will create a ripple effect through the University that will impact the overall number of students able to attend graduate school at Auburn. Clinton said she is personally concerned for the graduate students who will soon matriculate. She said many students would be unable to receive graduate education, to begin with, if the GOP tax changes were to pass.

Clinton said she is hopeful that the University will acknowledge the current situation and come out in support of students facing the opposed tax changes.

“This perpetuates this awful standard that graduate school is only for already rich and frankly, white people,” Clinton said. “I am really not about that.”

David Pascoe, professor of kinesiology, said students are already pressed for finances and taxing them on tuition waivers would limit their ability to support themselves.

Pascoe said he doesn’t see the issue as a Republican-Democrat issue, but rather an issue of standing with the future workers of America.

“I would hope the University would come out against this measure, and there have been some indications that they feel that way,” Carney said. “Universities, especially state universities, don’t do any good if we greatly limit the ability of a wide range of students and citizens in the state to get a higher education.”

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