The Graduate Student Government hosted a call-a-thon in Green Hall on Nov. 28 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. for students to contact key senators and ask them to vote against the proposed Republican tax plan. The bill, which would significantly increase University graduate students’ tax burdens and make graduate education unaffordable for many students across the nation.
“It’s really important that people from disadvantaged backgrounds, like my own, are able to access graduate education,” said Stephanie Zgouridi, a first-year Ph.D. candidate in the history department.
Congress’ proposed tax plan would eliminate several education credits, impacting millions of Americans across the U.S., but graduate students are particularly concerned with the bill’s treatment of tuition waivers. Tuition for graduate students at the University is technically just over $47,000, but like many other graduate programs, the University waives that cost. In addition, graduate students receive stipends ranging from around $28,000 to around $32,000, which often make up all or most of their income, and pay about a year in taxes. Because graduate students don’t actually pay the University tuition, their waived tuition is not considered a part of their taxable income — yet, the House of Representative’s new tax bill would treat the $47,000 of waived tuition as taxable income, increasing graduate students’ to over $11,000, or more than a third of most students' stipends.
Nathan Ashe, a third-year graduate student and the GSG representative for the English department, said that this bill would place an immense financial burden on graduate students already struggling with debt, adding that “whether or not this bill passes, we’re still only receiving $32,000 a year.”
However, Ashe is hopeful that the call-a-thon will make a difference, and said that it was particularly exciting to see students from different departments coming together to protect their common interests. He added that as someone studying the humanities, he felt like it was helpful for senators to hear from students conducting research in fields such as medicine, which legislators might consider more quantitatively beneficial to the nation as a whole. Ashe said that Prakriti Paul, a graduate student at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, managed to speak to both of her senators about her cancer research and reminded them that “cancer is a bipartisan issue.”
Bernat Guillen Pegueroles, a fourth-year mathematics graduate student, was described by other organizers as “the brain” behind the call-a-thon. Pegueroles, who hails from a small town near Barcelona, Spain, said that because he was neither a native English speaker nor from the U.S., senators and their aides wouldn’t take his calls or his concerns as seriously as those of their own constituents, and so he decided that organizing this event was “the best way to help.”
Pegueroles reiterated Ashe’s concerns that the bill would make graduate school unaffordable for many, adding that after paying for housing (which anywhere from $11,000 to $13,000 a year), students would have less than a third of their stipend left to pay for living expenses like food, clothes, and medical care. Graduate students with children, already struggling to find , would be particularly impacted.
Making graduate school more expensive may also make academia less diverse by creating another barrier to entry for people from underprivileged backgrounds. Zgouridi said that she doesn’t think she will be able to complete her degree if this bill is passed. She warned that the bill could stunt innovative thought and research, adding that “more homogenous academic spaces equal more homogenous ideas.”
Besides this call-a-thon, graduate students have written and faxed their senators, and several have signed a by Princeton Graduate Students United asking the University to oppose the proposed tax bill.