Ellie Rodriguez, a junior English major and member of the Carolina Young Democratic Socialists, said she proposed the idea for the panel about two weeks ago.
"It was just like sending emails all the time," she said. "Talking to professors one-on-one, reserving the room, making the Facebook event. The payoff was tremendous.”
The panel discussion lasted for about an hour and first covered what the House tax bill is and how it would affect everyone if passed. The event then moved into the specific implications for graduate students and higher education. The panelists emphasized the importance of activist work in universities, including that of undergraduates, to prevent the bill from passing.
According to the panelists, under the current tax code, graduate students do not pay taxes on tuition waivers they receive in exchange for teaching classes and conducting research.
Locicero, who is pursuing a doctorate in economics, described how the new bill would mandate that graduate students pay taxes on the dollar amount of the tuition waivers.
He explained the numerical implications of this situation as if he were an out-of-state student, for whom tuition is about $29,000 per year.
“So if I’m a non-resident, I am now going to be taxed as if I’m making my stipend plus $29,000 a year,” he said.
Percy, who is pursuing a doctorate in geological sciences, reiterated that graduate and professional students who never actually pocket tuition waiver money will be expected to be taxed on it.
“It goes from one account in the University to another account in the University,” she said. “But suddenly we could get taxed on that. It just deeply concerns me."
While organizing the panel, the Carolina Young Democratic Socialists contacted 18 professors to participate. All 18 declined, and Lester was the first to agree to speak on the issue.
Lester said if the new tax bill goes into law, it will negatively impact diversity and elitism within America’s universities, creating a bigger disparity in who can attend graduate schools.
“What makes the U.S. economy competitive is our universities and what comes out of them,” he said. “Hitting universities is hitting the golden goose. It’s a dumb idea.”