Graduate students describe ‘chaotic’ arrest protesting tax plan on Capitol Hill

Two days after being arrested on Capitol Hill protesting the GOP’s tax bill, third-year doctoral student Scott Ross said he has no regrets.

Ross, a student in the anthropology department, was arrested along with seven other graduate students from across the country Tuesday for protesting a provision in the House of Representatives tax bill that would make graduate tuition waivers taxable income, potentially forcing graduate students to pay thousands of dollars more each year in taxes.

Ross said the the students, who were detained outside House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, anticipated being arrested and were proud to draw attention to the impact the bill would have on already cash-strapped graduate students. The group included Ross and Kimberly Probolus, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the American Studies department.

“One thing that a small group of us realized was that the extent of which we want to voice our concerns and tell people what’s wrong because they are not always willing to listen, so it takes a little bit extra,” Ross said.

The Senate passed its version of the tax bill Saturday, which didn’t include the proposed tax on tuition waivers.

Ross said demonstration began at about noon when protesters knocked on the door of Ryan’s office and demanded to see the House speaker. When no one answered the door, the group sat down in the hallway and U.S. Capitol Police warned them they could be arrested.

Each member of the group planned to tell Ryan how the tax bill would affect them personally, but police interrupted the first graduate student speaker and began making arrests. No others were able to tell their stories before being restrained.

“We were not able to say our piece as much as we had wanted but we were able to show our concerns and I think really show to the extent to which we want to stop this because it affects a lot of people in a lot of ways,” Ross said.

Ross started an effort to form a graduate student union at GW in September amid concerns about stagnant wages, unequal pay among peers and costly health insurance.

The group was restrained with plastic zip tines, processed and released with a few hours, he said.

Probolus said the anticipation of possibly going to jail before the demonstration was more nerve-wrecking than the protest itself.

“I was nervous the night before because I hadn’t thought about it and what it actually meant to be risking arrest and going to jail for a little bit of time,” she said.

Probolus said being placed under arrest was “chaotic” but the ordeal was over in a short period of time. She said she wanted to risk arrest to stand up for graduate students, who she said are integral members of any university with graduate programs.

“When my faculty succeed, I succeed,” she said. “We are dependent on each other and when I am going to be taxed on my tuition, which is money I never see on my bank account, that is going to be really detrimental to my ability to support myself.”

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