Assembly amendment sparks debate over race and scholarships

An otherwise average session of the Wisconsin State Assembly spiraled into a longwinded debate over a proposed amendment to a bill that would remove race from college grant applications.

The discussion, which lasted all night and into the morning, resulted with the amendment’s approval 57-34, but the debate seemed to have happened all for nothing. The Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) stopped referencing race in applications a year ago.

Originally the qualifications for the Wisconsin Talent Incentive Program, a program that provides grant assistance to students planning on attending a college or university in Wisconsin, included economic status, educational disadvantages, first-generation college students and race. But after a complaint was filed, HEAB stopped using race as a determining factor in grant applications.

Robert Lowe, professor in the College of Education, believes removing race from applications takes away possible education and diversity opportunities.

“When you remove race from applications, you are ruining the possibility for a student who cannot economically afford to go to college to receive money that could potentially help them,” Lowe said. “You also are losing the economic and cultural diversity universities could have.”

Lowe said eliminating race from applications and the Assembly’s decision make the assumption we have achieved a colorblind society.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to get rid of that particular category,” Lowe said. “To take it off the table is to mask the issues.”

Lowe said even though the United States and Wisconsin have obtained legal racial equality, there are still obstacles.

“In some populations there are still burdens that go along with race and unequal educational opportunities before college,” Lowe said. “These are then compounded by sentiments that exist in society and intellectual confidence of certain groups.”

Lowe said what strikes him are flagship universities like University of Wisconsin–Madison where there is a lack of diversity.

“Only 7 percent of UW-Madison are Latino or African-American, combined,” Lowe said. “Yet in the most elite private schools there is an infinite more diverse population that recognizes the value, importance intellectually and importance of building multiracial leadership and democracy.”

Julianne Pope, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, believes removing the race factor is not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think it provides a level of equality across the board,” Pope said. “No one receives preferential treatment and I think our society is trying to be fair to everyone regardless of their race.”

Lowe said Marquette’s campus is not as diverse as one would hope.

“Private institutions are more concerned with their student body composition,” Lowe said. “Marquette is doing a good job but we could do an even better job in regards to both faculty and students.”

Pope agreed with the sentiment.

“Marquette is not as diverse as they make it seem,” Pope said. “Removing race from applications will give everyone an equal opportunity to the funds that are out there and I believe Marquette attracts people of all color and economic standing through its character, not by how much money they can give.”