University of Missouri students reflect on end of race-based scholarships

By: and - October 30, 2023 5:55 am

Piper Molins stands in front of Neff Hall on Oct. 11 at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. “This has been hugely impactful for my general ability to go to school,” Molins said of race-based scholarships (Devon Didjou/Missourian).

Piper Molins, a junior Latina student at the University of Missouri, remembers bursting into tears at her summer internship upon learning that the university would no longer offer race-based scholarships.

“There’s no way I would have been here or any college, to be honest, without race-based scholarships, and that’s a simple fact,” she said.

Molins, a Denver native, weighed her options before moving to Missouri for school. Being from a single-parent home, funding for higher education was the determining factor on whether she’d be able to attend university.

“Tuition for me was actually more expensive in-state in Colorado than it was to be an out-of-state student going to the University of Missouri because of that diversity scholarship, and only because of that diversity scholarship,” Molins said. “It’s the reason I moved out of state. It’s the reason I’m here at all.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action on June 29, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey ordered universities to “immediately cease their practice of using race-based standards to make decisions about things like admission, scholarships, programs and employment,” according to a UM System statement.

“These rulings make clear that disfavoring some applicants because of race is not only deeply unpopular; it is unconstitutional,” Bailey’s official letter stated. “Today’s decision finally affirms the promise the Court made 70 years ago: The Constitution requires that ‘education … be made available to all on equal terms.’”

As a result of those actions, the current freshman class at MU is the last one to benefit from race-based scholarships. These scholarships will not be offered to future classes.

According to students who currently receive race-based scholarships, the logistics around the status of their financial aid were unclear, sending them into fight-or-flight mode.

Molins, at first hesitant to tell her mother, shared that “there was very little room for the emotional reckoning” because she needed to focus on solutions.

“I think that, unfortunately, women of color are used to this treatment,” she said.

Carrington Peavy, a Black junior at MU, said she wasn’t surprised at the news but sprang into action as the potential consequences of the policy change sank in. She immediately started looking for other universities that would take her as a transfer student.

“I was like, ‘I’d need to have a plan,’” Peavy said. “Because it’s literally July, and if I lose a scholarship, I will not be able to come back to the University of Missouri.”

Peavy, a Cleveland native, is a Diversity Award recipient and said the scholarship “wipes out” all out-of-state fees. And much like Molins, the scholarship is a “major reason” she attends MU.

Peavy first heard the news during her summer internship with CNN in Atlanta. When she broke the news to her summer colleagues, her manager shed tears over the potential impact.

“They were really, really worried about me and the stability of my education,” Peavy said.

For Peavy and other race-based scholarship recipients, clarity about what the state ruling entailed was given the same day.

The UM System released a statement that the Supreme Court decision would not affect the scholarships awarded to returning students or freshmen who start in fall 2023; however, new students will not have the opportunity to apply for race-based scholarships starting with the Class of 2028.

“UM universities will honor our financial aid commitments that have already been awarded to our returning and incoming students,” according to the UM System statement.

Maurice Gipson, MU vice chancellor of inclusion, diversity and equity, shared at an MU Faculty Council meeting on Oct. 12 that any federal grants or federal authorizations for funding, such as the McNair Scholars Program, will not be affected by the Supreme Court decision.

McNair Scholars is a federal program that prepares undergraduate students for doctoral studies, targeting “first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented,” according to its website.

Molins said that while clarity was eventually given, the students of color she knew who would be potentially affected had to figure it out themselves. After MU’s decision, Molins said she set an appointment with her financial adviser “immediately.”

“It is not our responsibility to hound this university for a response; they should respect us enough, and they should respect our personhood enough, to give us a response to this. This is a life-changing policy change that they’ve made,” Molins said.

While Molins is grateful to still have her scholarship until she graduates, her emotions are not all positive.

“I got this deep sense of almost like, survivor’s guilt,” Molins said. “Even though maybe my scholarships aren’t getting taken away, that’s not true for everybody. And I felt guilty. I felt really guilty that I was keeping my funding while hundreds and hundreds of students (are) not going to be able to access that.”

The Missourian reached out to MU officials regarding the policy change, and MU News Bureau Associate Director Uriah Orland said that MU offers a “wide array of initiatives that meet the needs of the vast majority of the campus community.”

“We will continue working to ensure that the entire Mizzou community has the support they need to be successful,” Orland added.

Columbia’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer D’Andre Thompson graduated from MU in 2014. Thompson, a Michigan native, received the Diversity Award in 2010. The award was a driving force for his attendance at MU.

Thompson said that by banning funding on diversity initiatives, the government alienates people from marginalized backgrounds and creates a sense of distrust.

“If the university is not willing to stand behind diversity, the ever-evolving changing demographics and population and be intentional about that, that does impact its ability to retain quality candidates, quality employees (and) even students,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said that while some Missourians might not understand the perceived need for race-based funding, it is not the case for others. He called for increased awareness of the importance of race-based funding.

“Just because you don’t directly see its impact doesn’t mean it does not exist,” Thompson said. “Like the oxygen we breathe, we can’t see it.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion is about “honoring each other’s humanity,” and equity is what “tends to get lost” in the conversation, Thompson said. “It’s about … highlighting those disparities, highlighting the separations.”

Molins believes MU’s halt in race-based funding will not only decrease the number of students of color on campus but also people of color in different occupations.

“It will not only have an effect that is unforeseeable to us right now on this community, but also on professional communities and, I think, professional spaces,” Molins said.

Gipson said during the Faculty Council meeting that MU officials are concerned about recruitment and retention of students of color.

“We still had to be proactive in making sure that diverse students knew we want them to consider University of Missouri,” Gipson said, “and … once they got here, we would still have an infrastructure and support for them to be successful here.”

Gipson and his IDE team traveled to cities such as Chicago and Dallas over the summer to recruit diverse students. After speaking with Kim Humphrey, MU vice provost for Enrollment Management & Strategic Development, Gipson said that about halfway into the fall semester enrollment has increased by 10% “in terms of applications from diverse students.”

Gipson said that while MU is no longer able to provide diversity funding, there are other funding opportunities.

“Particularly all of our merit-based aid and then some of the need-based aid that’ll come online shortly,” Gipson said.

Need-based funding as an alternate option for diverse students is something both Peavy and Molins take issue with.

“I think that the university assuming that providing low-income scholarships is going to attract diverse students is actually an example of the way that they are inherently stereotyping people of color,” Molins said.

Gipson told the Missourian that this topic is also a concern for the university.

Around 12% to 15% of students who would have been awarded the Diversity Award would not qualify for need-based aid, Gipson said. While MU does not want to leave these students out, Gipson said, “we certainly cannot run afoul of the new law of the land.”

“We just don’t have an appropriate solution,” Gipson said. “There are a lot of variables that we’re just not certain on yet, but we are thinking about it.”

Although the new regulations from the Supreme Court and Attorney General Bailey caused disagreements among Missourians, MU students and administrators seem to at least agree on one thing — they do not want to leave anyone out.

“I think that people of color are so integral to the status of this university,” Peavy said. “The value that we add, ideas that we add. … We’re all committed to bettering our community and our society and our place in society. … We’re an asset. … I think it’s really sad that we have to continuously go through stuff like this.”

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

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Nakylah Carter
Nakylah Carter

Nakylah Carter is a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

Bryan Chou
Bryan Chou

Bryan Chou is a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.