NORMAL — An Illinois State University graduate student was among nine people arrested during a protest against the tax bill outside the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday.
Geoff Ower, a doctoral student in biology from Zion, sat on the floor with seven other graduate students and another supporter, after no one opened the door to Ryan's office.
The students were there to protest the impact of the tax bill on higher education, particularly a provision that would treat the tuition waivers of graduate teaching and research assistants as taxable income.
The protest was part of a series of demonstrations that have taken place nationwide related to the tax bill. A rally is planned for noon Wednesday on the ISU Quad.
The nine people outside Ryan's office were arrested when they failed to leave after being warned by Capitol Police that they were violating the law. They were charged with crowding and obstructing and posted $50 to forfeit as a fine instead of requesting a court date, according to a U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman.
About two dozen people were present at the protest in the Longworth House Office Building, across from the Capitol. Only those who sat on the floor refusing to leave were arrested.
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Ower said, “We decided to engage in non-violent civil disobedience,” when they were denied entry to Ryan's office.
Ower said he was nervous about being arrested but, “I think it was definitely worth it given how bad this bill is for higher education.”
In addition to the provision in the House version of the tax bill that would tax graduate student tuition waivers, other provisions in the House bill would tax employer-provided education assistance and end the tax deduction for interest paid on federal student loans.
Ower and others argue that these changes harm access to higher education and could make it impossible for lower-income families to afford higher education.
“This bill would effectively make it so only really well-off people would be able to afford graduate school,” he said.
Ower said, “I'm hoping they (members of Congress) heard our message.”
Video of the protest was livestreamed on the Facebook page of the Service Employees International Union's Faculty Forward project, which organized the protest.