The Grad Tax Shouldn’t Surprise You

Connor Gorry / The Triton

At 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29, over a hundred UC San Diego graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty allies gathered at the Silent Tree to protest the GOP tax bill that passed in the House of Representatives on November 16. Among the bill’s many provisions that attack the poor and the working class is one which would see tuition waivers treated as taxable income. This tax reform could raise graduate student taxes by thousands of dollars, making graduate education increasingly inaccessible for all, especially impacting international students and students historically underrepresented in higher education. The Senate passed a similarly cruel tax reform bill in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 2. While this tax reform is unjust and should be opposed, we should not be surprised: This tax bill is the outcome of a system that sees students as customers and education as a product to be packaged and sold.

We came together at the Silent Tree to critique the GOP’s proposed tax reform, but also to hold the UC administration accountable for maintaining an environment in which inequity and exploitation are the norm, prioritizing profit over accessible education. While we are just miles from the US-Mexico border, our university is one of the few in San Diego County that has failed to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Our campuses’ students are only 2% African American, 13% Mexican American, and 3% Latinx. Although UCSD is built on native lands, our native student population is so small that it doesn’t even constitute 1% of our overall student population. This inequity is the result of the UC’s greed. Year after year, UCSD fails to recruit and retain local students of color. Ultimately, it is more profitable for our administration to exploit international students by charging $40,000 for tuition, while failing to provide adequate support and services for our international students.

This year we have a unique opportunity to fight against the commodification of our education and to demand real structural changes. The UC Student-Workers Union will be negotiating a new contract for academic student employees. Within this contract we have the ability to dictate what we want our workplace, our university, to look like. We are only able to do so because you—student-workers—have come together to demand higher wages, better working conditions, and a more equal and inclusive campus. We hope that November 29 is just the beginning of many collective actions that will allow us to bridge our isolation, to come together, to work, and organize as one. Ultimately, the issue is much larger than the tuition tax—the issue is that in-state tuition at the UC corporation is $14,000 per year. We, as students, and as workers, must demand that the UC work for us, and not for the profit of the Regents.

For these reasons, we asked the graduate students and academic student employees of UCSD to walk out of classrooms, offices, and labs and to bring their work with them. We asked for this because, first, academia can be numbingly solitary. Our labor is often made invisible––whether it be lesson planning, grading, lab work produced for our professors under their names, interfacing with our students in office hours, and many other ways of engaging with students or knowledge production that brings value to the university. Second, if there is one thing that this past year has taught us, it is that expressive protest has its limits. We have seen record protests in 2017, from the Women’s March to the March for Science. Powerful as they were, these actions did little to stop the onslaught of absurdity that is the Trump administration, because they were based in expressions of dissent rather than conscious attempts to create coalitions capable of actively resisting injustice, such as the tax bill before us now. Now more than ever, it is time to come together to organize and mobilize against a system that is indifferent to our struggles. It is our labor—as educators, intellectuals, scientists, and humanists—that enables our university to function. We gathered at the Silent Tree to make that labor visible, to remind the state and the UC administration that our labor is essential and that it can also be withheld.

The UCSD Student-Workers Union Stewards
Alexia Arani, Anthropology
Angela Berti, Physics
Davide Carpano, Sociology
Miguel Castañeda, History
Raul Herrera, Physics
América Martínez, Ethnic Studies
Jon Paden, Visual Arts
Tara Pixley, Communications
Hosam Yousif, Physics

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