Responding to concerns over how the University’s budget cuts and the contingency plan after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the University’s race-conscious lawsuits will impact students of color, Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper and Dean of Students Ed Willis met with students of color on Friday to answer questions.
Harper and Willis expressed their commitment to services directly affecting students and the need for student input on any changes made based on the court’s ruling. “We aren’t going to make any decisions until we have some legal guidance from the court. But we do know we want students involved and student affirmation on changes,” Harper said. Willis added that if students are not on campus during the spring and summer term when changes would be made, there would be opportunities for students to voice their opinions in the fall.
Students expressed concern that certain programs would not maintain the integrity of providing services to students of color if the programs were no longer legally allowed to use race as a factor in instances such as minority recruitment and retention programs.
“How do we know that the University will not strike race-based programs, especially when not everyone in the faculty cares about diversity as much?” asked RC senior Monique Luse, who was facilitating student questions.
Students’ concerns were sparked earlier this month at the Virginia Technological Institute, which eliminated many race-conscious programs after the administration decided to stop using race as a factor in admissions in an attempt to ensure the university aligns with the changing legal landscape.
Some participants said they are also worried that in response to the University’s expected 10 percent cut in state funding, some positions in the office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs would not be filled in an attempt to reduce costs. Reducing the amount of coordinators working in the office would make the service less effective, students said.
Harper said operational costs and “strategically-selected programs” would be cut before positions were cut. Harper added that she has no present plans to cut MESA’s budget, calming the worries of students who utilize the office’s services.
“The budget cuts could go up higher, depending what comes from the state. But my principle is a commitment to guard the services that have a direct effect on students,” Harper said.
Another issue discussed was hate crimes in the residence halls. But because Department of Public Safety incident reports are kept isolated in the residence hall where the incident occurred, DPS is sometimes not informed. Harper responded by agreeing with students that hate crime incident records should not be kept within the residence hall where it occurred.
“It’s true that the administration doesn’t get the sense of the total experience for minority students – something needs to change,” Harper said.
During a debriefing session, LSA sophomore Brandon White said minority communities should continue talk to administration about their specific concerns and issues.
“We just have to keep following up on details, even if we say the same thing as other minority communities,” White said.