Today, U.S. Congressional Republicans passed a tax bill that is expected to hurt the poorest and most marginalized taxpayers and help cripple the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka. Obamacare). The GOP tax bill could have a devastating impact on higher education.
Noel Gordon is but one of many student activists around the country working to preserve higher education for all. He is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota (UMN) pursuing a dual Master’s degree in Public Policy (MPP) and Business Administration (MBA). He also has a background in organizing for LGBTQ communities and communities of color around social justice issues.
We had the chance to talk with Gordon about the tax bill, what it will mean for students and how people can respond to its ongoing student debt crisis.
Hornet: What are the practical implications of this tax bill on your higher education?
Gordon: As I understand it, I am looking at a 400% tax increase if the GOP does not abandon its mean-spirited attack on higher education. That amounts to several thousand dollars a year in taxes I don’t actually have. Most students I know are barely getting by as it is (myself included), so a graduate student tax of this kind would force me — and many others I know — to seriously consider dropping out of school altogether. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.
What’s the current environment on campus been like as the tax bill moved through Congress?
Many of the students I know are anxious because there’s been no discussion at all of what will happen to us if the GOP tax bill passes with the graduate student tax still in it. The University of Minnesota, for instance, has been frustratingly silent on this question. Even so, I’ve been encouraged by the student activism I’ve seen on campus lately, particularly from UMN Grad Students United.
What prompted you to pursue this tactic of activism? How have students and faculty reacted to your activism?
I wanted to put a human face on the issue for my friends, family members and classmates. Many of them had no clue this bill would affect me so deeply. As a low-income, first-generation college student, I don’t have really have much of a safety net to fall back on should this bill pass.
That said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction I’ve received from graduate students at the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan, New York University and elsewhere.
Choosing to withhold your classroom participation in order to do social activism is a big and risky step. What will this mean for your education?
In most of my classes, participation accounts for approximately 10% of my overall grade. So yes, I suppose there is some “risk” involved here. But the points are worth sacrificing if it reminds people around me about the very real and immediate dangers of this bill.
What impact will the GOP tax bill have on students of color at the university?
As I understand it, tuition breaks are often used to attract meritorious students of color who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of an advanced degree. This is particularly true at the PhD level. The GOP’s tax on graduate student education would amount to a white-washing of higher education at precisely the moment we should be doubling down on our commitment to equity for all.
How can people support you in your efforts to seek support and assurances from the administration at the University of Minnesota?
They should ask the University President (firstname.lastname@example.org 612-626-1616) to immediately make clear his plans for protecting UMN graduate students from the economic burden the GOP tax bill may foolishly create.
(Editor’s note: Students of other schools can also contact their institution’s respective presidents to ask the same question.)
What’s the next step in this campaign to rally students and pressure the administration? How will your campaign evolve now that the bill has passed?
Folks should follow me on Facebook for the latest updates. But rest assured that more will be coming on this issue and several others.
Featured image by tomazl via iStock