SGA passes resolution supporting reparations for black students

Students with Western Kentucky University’s Student Government Association passed a resolution Tuesday supporting reparations for African-American students.

Western Kentucky University’s Student Government Association passed a resolution Tuesday supporting reparations for African-American students.

The resolution calls on WKU to create a task force to “assess the feasibility of test-optional admissions and geographically-weighted admissions,” citing research showing that using standardized test scores in the college admissions process “restricts the college opportunities for needy students, helping higher education perpetuate inequality.”

The resolution passed with a margin of 19-10, with one person declining to vote.

SGA senators Andrea Ambam and Brian Anderson wrote the resolution. Anderson said he and Ambam talked a lot about overcoming racial inequality as a society in drafting the resolution. He said they were inspired by a similar resolution endorsed by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

WKU President Gary Ransdell responded to the resolution through a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

"Student success is an important ongoing discussion at Western Kentucky University, and the recruitment, persistence and success of underrepresented minority students is a daily focus across this institution," Ransdell wrote.

"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. 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. I’ve spent much of the last year engaging in dialogue with black student leaders on campus, which has led to a greater understanding and appreciation of their experiences and priorities. Our goal is to ensure that WKU is both a welcoming place and a place that focuses on persistence and success."

Ransdell said WKU will assist low-income and first generation college students. 

"As we continue to work through elements of the campus diversity plan and on our recruitment and student success initiatives, we will focus on those things that help all students succeed," he wrote. "We will direct resources, energy and effort toward those methods that are responsible, practical and proven to achieve student success, with a particular focus on underrepresented minorities, low-income and first generation college students."

The Daily News also contacted but has not heard back from incoming WKU President Timothy Caboni and Lynne Holland, WKU’s dean of students and chief diversity officer.

The resolution’s authors contend that financial aid isn’t enough to cover the costs of college, that people of color are underrepresented among WKU’s tenured faculty and administrators and that such factors send a “message to students of color that they are undervalued at our university.”

“To their white counterparts, their expectation is that people of color work at the lowest levels of the organizations they lead,” the resolution reads.

The resolution also states that “standardized tests perpetuate and uphold white supremacy.”

“It is clear from research that students and families do not understand what this means, and that the use of test scores in admissions is a defining attribute of the institution and prominent piece of our image,” the resolution reads. “Additionally, the ‘arms race’ for merit aid only bars the low-income and minority students from attending Western Kentucky University.”

As a result, the resolution’s authors demand “full and free” access to WKU for black students.

“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.)”

SGA President Jay Todd Richey described the resolution as a “conversation starter” in a statement sent via text message.

“Due to discriminatory education, housing and employment policies that have disproportionately held back Black Americans, we believe this resolution is ultimately a conversation starter for discussing how to make college both more affordable and accessible for communities of color and marginalized people in general,” he wrote.

“People can debate the prudence of actually eliminating tuition for all Black students, and it’s extremely unlikely regardless, but the point is to have a real conversation about how we eliminate racial disparities in higher education,” Richey continued. “We need to consider making reparations in the form of more equitable college admissions policies, financial assistance and campus support and resources, and we hope this provocative statement will launch an important dialogue about how to achieve that.”

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.