February 17, 2017 9:23 am

Wisconsin university should give black students free tuition, student body says

Abraham Lincoln Statue on University Of Wisconsin Campus, Madison, Wisconsin.

File photo via Getty Images
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MADISON, Wis. – Black students should be offered free tuition and housing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison because blacks were legally barred from education during slavery and UW-Madison remains out of reach for black students today, the student government said Wednesday.

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The Associated Students of Madison said in a resolution that students from suburban high schools are overrepresented and that the consideration of ACT and SAT scores in applications restricts opportunities for the poor and thus upholds “white supremacy.” Race relations have been a contentious issue at the Wisconsin’s flagship campus for months and the university has proposed some measures aimed at improving diversity.

“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 resolution’s author, ASM Student Council Rep. Tyriek Mack, said in a statement. “If no one challenges the university’s empty promises, then the racial composition will remain stagnant.”

The resolution demands free access to the university for all black people, including former inmates. That means free tuition, free housing and no fees, Mack said. It says 10 per cent of donations to the university should go toward bolstering financial aid and studying the feasibility of test-optional and geographically weighted admissions.

Black students currently make up about 2 per cent of Madison enrolment. University spokeswoman Meredith McGlone noted the proportion of “students of colour” has grown from 11 per cent to 15 per cent over the last decade. She said the school supports the spirit of the resolution but that it’s unclear whether the methods it proposes are legal or the best way to accomplish those goals.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank has proposed giving first-generation transfers from two-year schools free tuition for a year, contingent on funding in the upcoming state budget, and a recent $10 million donation will be invested in expanding the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, which supports minorities, McGlone said.

ACT and SAT scores are not the only factor in UW admissions, but their inclusion is required under regent policy, McGlone said.

Last spring, pictures of swastikas and Adolf Hitler were posted on a Jewish student’s door, someone hurled racial slurs and spat at a black student in a dorm, and police arrested a black student during class for spray-painting anti-racist messages on campus buildings. Minority students spent the semester pressuring administrators for change.

Last month, a student who was imprisoned for burning down two black churches tried to start a white supremacist group on campus. He abandoned his efforts following intense backlash, but the student government criticized Blank for saying he had a legal right to express his views.

The university in August proposed building a black cultural centre, introducing discussions about social differences and expanding ethnic studies courses and diversity training for all faculty and staff.

In-state undergraduate tuition has been frozen for four years and Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a 5 per cent tuition cut for resident undergraduates in the second year of the upcoming state budget. Representatives of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee haven’t responded to an email Thursday seeking comment.

Mike Mikalsen, an aide to state Sen. Steve Nass, a Republican and one of UW’s most outspoken critics, called ASM a waste of student fees.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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