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STEM Graduate Students Stand Up to Proposed Tax Plan

photo: Blakeley Hoffman, a 2016 GHC Scholar, who’s protesting a tax bill that will hurt grad students.

From the New York Times to Twitter, members of the tech community are speaking out against a bill that would penalize poor and working-class students in order to fund a massive corporate tax cut. Should the legislation become law, taxes on tuition waivers — the barter system that allows most graduate students to attend free classes in exchange for research and teaching assistance — would be calculated as if they were actual cash income.

The bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week. Students, educators, and public-policy experts point out that this congressional action would decimate the American collegiate system.

Blakeley Hoffman, a 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration scholar pursuing her master’s degree in Media Arts & Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Media Lab, is one of these outspoken students. In a recent Recode column, she writes:

“If TCJA passes, my fiancé and I would be forced to drop out of grad school; we could not afford to live in Cambridge on $46,000 a year. But we’re just two people out of hundreds of thousands of grad students who would be affected. TCJA would decimate the population of America graduate students, and the impact on tech-related fields would be particularly dire. The American Council on Education reports that 57% of waiver recipients are graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines.”

At AnitaB.org, we stand with Blakeley and all of the hardworking grad students whose educational careers would be derailed by this ill-considered piece of legislation. Like her, we’re deeply troubled by the longer-term implications to academic research that this bill would cause.

As Dr. Fei-Fei Li discussed in her 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration keynote, a lack of diversity in computer science and engineering has already put us on a path toward irreparably biasing inputs that power artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. Eliminating lower- and middle-class grad students out of the pipeline will create an even larger diversity crisis in both research institutions and the tech industry. That’s a cost we cannot afford to even consider.

> Read Blakeley’s full column on Recode