The Cost of Being Black at UVa

Like many others, we are enraged by the brutal beating of a black UVa student by ABC agents that occurred this past Tuesday. Martese Johnson’s beating at the hands of these law enforcement officials has sparked a campus-wide discussion of the systemic racism that black students face at the University. Many black students have spoken out about the daily micro- and macro-aggressions they face at this University that highlight the intersectionality between race and class.

Institutional oppression is manifested through the University’s continued disinvestment in its low-income students. UVa is often touted as having the best value, yet in reality, UVa bears high cost for low-income students. In August 2013, the Board of Visitors (BOV) decided to make massive changes to the University’s touted AccessUVA program, forcing low-income students to take on thousands of dollars in debt because the Board voted to replace full-grant aid with loans. Year after year, the BOV votes to raise tuition. Over the last 10 years, in-state tuition and fees have increased a whopping 89%, while out-of-state tuition and fees have increased 84% (2004-05 tuition/fees, 2014-15 tuition/fees).

Not only are students crippled with debt, time and time again this institution culturally excludes low-income students through traditions that celebrate white, southern elitism without acknowledging that this university’s multi-billion dollar endowment was accrued from the exploitation of black slaves. The University has historically created an underclass of African Americans that continues to persist to this day.

What message does this send to prospective students? When the cost of attending UVa grows exponentially, this means our state flagship university is becoming a bastion of private privilege, and no longer a public good. The future of our nation depends on the education of students of color, as future demographic trends show we will no longer compose a minority segment of the population. Revolutionizing the education system to be culturally relevant is imperative to ensuring academic achievement and preparation for higher education. In order to ensure our colleges and universities are accessible to these populations, we must conduct a targeted recruitment effort and invest in sustainable, grant-based financial aid programs. The future of our nation’s workforce and economic vitality once again hinges  on the segment of our population that is too often dismissed. In order to grapple with this inevitable reality, we must envision a future that offers a more just and equitable model of higher education.

The University’s current financial aid model breeds the same class warfare that this institution was founded on. We must break away from these traditions that result in the cyclical disenfranchisement of historically marginalized populations. We must critically reconsider our budget priorities: investing in the education of students rather than expensive capital improvement projects and misguided safety initiatives.

The BOV is meeting March 24-25 to discuss long-term financial aid planning and vote on their proposal for a 3.9% increase in base tuition for all undergraduate students. We need to tell the BOV that if they truly believe that black lives matter, they must commit to fully supporting students financially.

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