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Black Kent State students worry about loss of scholarships, student orgs with Senate Bill 83

Black Kent State students discuss their experiences on campus and why Senate Bill 83 could endanger campus supports and resources they need.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
Black Kent State students discuss their experiences on campus and why Senate Bill 83 could endanger campus supports and resources they need.

More than 50 students, faculty and administrators attended a forum at Kent State University Friday, where Black and LGBTQ students spoke out about fears of losing scholarships and cherished campus student organizations if Senate Bill 83 passes in Ohio.

The forum, put on by a collective of student organizations including the Black United Students and Sister Circle (a student organization for women of color), also served as an informational seminar to educate listeners on the proposed bill.

The bill would have wide-reaching effects on Ohio’s public colleges and universities – and private institutions of higher education as well potentially. The main concerns highlighted by students and faculty Friday with the bill were:

  • A provision that would ban mandatory diversity and inclusion training for students and staff.
  • A ban on the ability for campus staff and faculty to go on strike
  • A requirement that colleges could not provide any advantage to hires or admissions based on gender, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion, or any other “advantage or disadvantage” based on those qualities
  • A prohibition on policies that “segregate” faculty , students or staff by the identities mentioned above, including in orientation, majors, financial awards, housing, employment and extracurricular activities

Deanna Bacchus, outgoing president of the Black United Students organization at Kent, summed up her opposition to the bill simply, which was echoed by many other students.
“All these scholarships that were here to support us will be gone; all these student groups that support us will be gone,” she said.

A common message from Black students like Josiah Ragin, a Black sophomore and VP of the Male Empowerment Network on campus, who spoke out during the event was that they had a hard time feeling accepted on the majority-white campus. Only about 8% of Kent State’s student body is Black.

“Being in classes where I’m the only one that looks like me, walking around and I don’t see many faces like me, it can be discouraging to be the true authentic me,” Ragin said “It can be challenging to want to share my experiences because more often than not nobody could really understand what I’m going through, but then when I get in these spaces with my peers, with people who can relate to me… I feel at home.”

Supporters of Senate Bill 83, including Jerry Cirino, R-Kirkland, have argued the bill is necessary because Ohio’s colleges and universities are not accepting places for conservative students and ideology. Cirino did not respond to a request for comment emailed Friday, seeking clarification on if the bill would in fact outright ban Black student organizations and diversity-centered scholarships.

Professors and administrators also voiced serious concerns with the bill during the forum. Ashley Nickels, an associate professor in the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, said many programs at Kent State and across the state will likely run the risk of losing their accreditation if Senate Bill 83 goes into effect, due to requirements for diversity and inclusion efforts to be embedded into curriculums from national accreditation agencies.

Stephanie Smith, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism, said the bill will have far-reaching costs due to enforcement down the road that all taxpayers – not just college students and faculty – should be concerned about.

This is not a conservative bill,” she said. “This is a bill that broadens the reach of Ohio government and that comes at a direct cost to taxpayers.”

Smith said she’s heard some Ohio colleges are seriously considering forgoing state funding instead of complying with the bill if it’s passed, although about 23% of Kent State University’s funding comes from state sources, an administrator said during the meeting.

Amoaba Gooden, vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said the university’s initiatives to advance equity and to better serve vulnerable groups of students is layered throughout many departments at the university, not just the division she serves.

“It’s programs, it’s initiatives, it’s scholarships,” Gooden said. “It’s just the way in which we actually operate not only as a division but also as a university.”

Some of the students of color who spoke up, several of whom are members of the LGBTQ community, noted they already don’t feel very safe on campus with various incidents over the last years. One Black student said she was called the N-word and a homophobic slur by her former roommate. There have been incidents reported over the last several years of racist and antisemitic graffiti being found on campus buildings and on the campus graffiti rock, as well as homophobic flyers passed around campus, students said.

Josiah Regan, the sophomore with the Male Empowerment Network, said he likes Kent State because of the friends he’s made there through the student groups he’s participated in; without them, his college experience would be far worse, he said.

“There’s a sign on the library that says you belong here; I want to belong here,” he said.

More than 500 opponents of Senate Bill 83 came out to an opposition hearing on the bill last week, and bill sponsor Cirino has told a WEWS reporter he was considering changes to the bill.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.