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Western Kentucky Univ. Students Pass Bill For Free Tuition as Reparations

Black students at Western Kentucky University could potentially receive free tuition if a resolution passed by the student government is successful.

The resolution, which passed on April 18 by a 19-10-1 vote, is being considered reparations for a “debt that will never be paid,” according to reports.

Andrea Ambam, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said their main goal was to spark what she believes are necessary conversations about race at WKU.

“The resolution passing in our student government makes a huge statement to the policy makers at WKU,” she told NBCBLK. “The next step is to push our way into more formal settings on campus and create discussion, as well as writing more legislation.”

While a powerful statement, the resolution would need the support and approval of the administration at WKU and the Board of Regents governing body, which is why they are focusing on more talks and the writing of official legislation to move the resolution beyond a student body statement to actual policy.

Reactions to the resolution have been mixed across campus, said Ambam, a sophomore double majoring in Psychology and Criminology. While the resolution has been polarizing and controversial, Ambam reports that a lot of support has been shown for the resolution. One dissenting voice she has not been surprised about has been that of the university’s president, Gary A. Ransdell.

Ransdell openly rejected the free tuition aspect of the resolution in a statement.

“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,” he said in the statement, clarifying that the resolution “is not an official position taken by the university.”

Ambam calls into question the institution’s claim of being a diverse and inclusive environment. She said the school is good at making the claim, but when it comes to taking firm stances, they are usually silent.

Image: A student walks on Western Kentucky University's campus
A student walks on Western Kentucky University's campus in Bowling Green, Ken., on March 22, 2012. Alex Slitz / Daily News via AP

“We’ll have a new president this next school year so I'm looking forward to speaking to him about taking a firm stance on inclusion on campus,” she added.

Findings released by the Brookings Institution and the National Center for Education Statistics highlight student debt disparities between black and white students. According to Brookings, Black students owe on an average $25,000 more than their white counterparts in student debt. And the NCES reports that loan amounts for Black students grew 157% in two decades ($12,100 in 1989-90 to $31,100 in 2011-12) compared to students of other races.

Tuition to Western Kentucky for the 2017-2018 academic year is estimated to be $10,202 in-state and $25,512 out of state.

In February, student government leaders at the University of Wisconsin passed a similar resolution, after which the WKU resolution is modeled. According to reports, the Wisconsin resolution demands free tuition for all blacks enrolled at the school, including former inmates. The school’s chancellor has reportedly proposed one year of free tuition “for first-generation transfers from two-year schools free tuition for a year” and a recent $10 million to expand a scholarship that supports minority students.

Related: Georgetown Apologizes, Renames Halls After Slaves

Both efforts, the one at WKU and the University of Wisconsin, have taken their cues from the #StudentBlackOut movement led by the Black Liberation Collective that helped Black students draft demands of equality and equity across campuses here in the United States and Africa.

In October, NBCBLK reported that the Black Student Union at UC Berkeley secured a commitment from administrators for the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center last summer. Officials at Georgetown University apologized in September, 2016 for their link to slavery and promised admissions advantages to slaves’ descendants whom the school may have benefited from sale. And California State - Los Angeles responded to demands for safe housing for African Americans with the establishment of the Halisi Black Scholars Living Learning Community.

“Our resolution is part of the greater Black Lives Matter movement because we've managed to place reparations at the forefront of our conversations here at WKU,” she said. “The movement for reparations has been talked about for years, but I think talking about reparations through education is pivotal.”

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