Students at Western Kentucky University voted this week to give their black peers free tuition as a way to make amends for slavery, but administrators say it's not going to happen.
President Gary Ransdell issued a statement Thursday after the student government passed its "Resolution to Support Reparations" laying out the reasons black students should receive a free education at the Bowling Green school.
"We appreciate the Student Government Association’s interest in these issues, but it’s important to clarify that their resolution is not an official position taken by the university," Ransdell wrote. "I have read the SGA resolution, and I understand that their intent was to spark a conversation, but the university will not adopt any such policy."
The two-page resolution, which got the go-ahead from student leaders on Tuesday, lists its purpose as to acknowledge "that there is a debt that will never be paid." It references an achievement gap between minority and majority students, alluding not only to slavery but also the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the fact that "standardized tests perpetuate and uphold white supremacy."
To that end, it asks for the university to create a task force to explore implementing test-optional and geographically weighted admissions policies.
"We demand reparations for the systemic denial of access to high-quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all black people (including undocumented, currently and formerly incarcerated people) to Western Kentucky University," it adds.
Though Jay Todd Richey, the president of the student government, told the Bowling Green Daily News he knew the free tuition proposal wasn't likely to come to fruition, he said he wanted the resolution to promote more equitable higher education. Nineteen students voted in favor, 10 voted in opposition and one didn't vote at all.
Western Kentucky isn't the first school to come up with such a plan.
In February, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students requested a similar task force as well as free tuition and housing for black students, a $20,000 value, according to the Associated Press.
"The university's rhetoric suggests that it is committed to diversity and inclusion, so this legislation compels the university to move towards action—which is imperative," the author of the Wisconsin-Madison resolution, Tyriek Mack, said in a news release at the time. "If no one challenges the university's empty promises, then the racial composition will remain stagnant."
About 15 percent of American college students are black, compared to 58 percent who are white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The gap in scores on tests like the SAT is also real: In 2015, the mean math score for white students was 534. For black students, it was 428.
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