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Taylor's Table Talk: Ohio University’s proposed mission contradicts stance on diversity scholarships

Scholarship applications, the FAFSA and awards banquets alert the closing of spring semester at Ohio University.

A sophomore mathematics student from a modest single-parent household started her day before sunrise. March was Ramadan, so she had suhur (her pre-dawn meal before fasting) and performed salat al-fajr, the dawn prayer. At the end of her morning, she bid her mother goodbye and began her commute to campus.

She stopped at Baker University Center to enjoy the passersby and the monotonous whirling of the escalators while she completed some homework before class. First, she flipped open her laptop to view her financial aid package for the following year, yet what glared at her was not what she expected. A bright and dedicated student, she knew she met the qualifications to continue receiving her four-year scholarship, but her scholarship was no longer available. It did not appear to exist at all. Why?

Her scholarship was one of $450,000 worth of diversity scholarships pulled for review by OU.

For the rest of the day, “Make Respect Visible” followed her across campus while she sat in class picking her nails, distracted by her discovery. “Every Voice Counts” stared at her from the wall as she searched the university jobs site for summer employment. The anxiety crept in. From gossip in Nelson dining hall, she heard other students learning what she learned: their scholarships were no longer available. She heard more gossip about OU’s new president and the Ohio Attorney General. She asked herself, “Who is the Ohio Attorney General, and what does he have to do with my financial aid?”

She opened her laptop again and navigated to the Office of the President page. Yet her eye caught the university’s mission statement, which she skimmed at first. Then, she read it a second time, closer. Confusion and betrayal set her heart pounding. She read it a third time. The mission said OU strives to “hold the door open to higher education so that all those eager to solve humanity’s most urgent challenges might enter to learn, connecting them with experiences and discovery that will help them think critically, care deeply, lead boldly and ultimately depart to serve.” So why was the door closing on her?

This hypothetical story could be the real experience of many students in the coming months.

At the March 21 university updates session, Robin Oliver, vice president of University Communications and Marketing, announced a draft of the new mission statement for OU. The new mission statement will be finalized in June by the Board of Trustees. Yet, the mission statement is contradictory to the stance the university has taken on diversity scholarships.

Approximately 130 gift agreements equating to around $450,000 for diversity scholarships were paused and are under review following Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and the University of North Carolina (2023). The decision “effectively ended race-conscious admission programs” at universities and colleges nationwide. The Court found race-conscious admissions “violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” making them unconstitutional.

However, Yost took this decision beyond admissions processes to include diversity scholarship awards. Yost’s spokesperson, Bethany McCorkle, said in an email published in the Ohio Capital Journal: “Although the Court did not expressly prohibit race-based scholarships, it indicated that ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.’” The word “scholarship” is included two times in the 237-page decision.

On Jan. 26, Yost reminded colleges and universities across Ohio to remain mindful of the decision when awarding diversity scholarships. For Ohio universities and colleges, Yost’s over-broad interpretation of the decision means the State of Ohio will not defend university employees in lawsuits regarding the awarding of diversity scholarships. 

In a news release, OU said it decided to comply with Yost’s interpretation, pausing and reviewing the selection criteria of diversity-related scholarships. However, this stance is to the detriment of OU’s students who rely on these scholarships to pursue their education. In watchdog fashion, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism faculty took to local news organizations and social media to oppose Yost’s interpretation and the university’s position.

Allowing Yost’s interpretation to go unchallenged, OU sent a clear message to students relying on diversity scholarships to pursue their education: the university would rather protect its own back than “hold the door open to higher education” for students from diverse backgrounds.

Taylor Orcutt is a sophomore studying journalism. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Taylor know by tweeting her @TaylorOrcutt.

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