Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Scholarships based on race protected federally, but UT System guidance says they should be reviewed amid impending DEI ban

Rong Hua Wang

Texas colleges and universities are making changes on campus to comply with Senate Bill 17’s Jan. 1 deadline, which bans diversity, equity, and inclusion offices, mandatory trainings and DEI statements at higher education institutions in the state. 

At the University of Texas, President Jay Hartzell emailed students and faculty in September a document entitled “UT System SB 17 Working Guidance,” which aims to assist the UT System’s 14 institutions with complying with the law. According to the document, the guidance is “intended to be broad and will not cover every specific situation or nuance,” however it covered a variety of areas like scholarships that may be impacted to comply with the law. 

“Scholarships based on race, color, or national origin should be carefully reviewed by the institution’s legal office to determine compliance with the law,” the guidance states. 

Mathematics junior Diego Huerta, who receives financial aid based on his Mexican citizenship, said he’s concerned about what the future of financial aid looks like for international students.  

“I am very concerned as for what (SB 17) might mean for everybody that comes after me because we all know, well it’s a popular opinion between internationals and I think a lot of Texans, that internationals are not looked upon in the best light,” Huerta said. “They are just not supported in a lot of ways that one would hope they would be, and I would not be surprised if this meant the end of a lot of programs that actually allow us to study here.” 

The financial aid Huerta receives is Tuition Assistance for Mexican Students, or TAMS, which waives the nonresident portion of a student’s tuition bill, lowering the cost. Students are eligible for TAMS if they are a “legal and permanent resident of Mexico” who demonstrates financial need along with other requirements.  

A University spokesperson said in an email statement that as a state-supported university, UT does not provide any scholarships based on race, color or national origin. The spokesperson stated that TAMS is “based on residency status” not nationality and therefore would not be impacted by SB 17.

The spokesperson said “the University can partner with external organizations to help give scholarships they distribute,” and that these are the scholarships being referred to in Hartzell’s SB 17 guidance. 

Texas Exes, UT’s alumni association, provides “Opportunity Scholarships” which according to their website “provide transformative funds for students from traditionally underrepresented groups, challenged geographic regions, and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Huerta applies to and receives TAMS on a yearly basis so he said he didn’t fear losing his financial aid for at least the next semester, but he said he wishes UT could communicate better on how or if SB 17 impacts the financial aid students receive. 

“I have not talked to anybody at UT yet and nobody from UT has reached out to me either, especially because our relief at TAMS, the aid that I receive isn’t continuous over the four years,” Huerta said. “What I’m expecting will happen, if they do have to take action, is that they might explain why they’re not renewing them anymore and just stop renewing, but there has been no announcement yet or no conversation going on about whether that might happen or not.” 

Antonio Ingram, assistant counsel at the national Legal Defense Fund, a legal organization that aims to fight racial injustice, said that the unclarity of SB 17 creates questions for students, professors and administrators alike about what changes the bill will make on campuses in Texas.  

“That’s going to be a challenge as we move into the next school year, about how schools grapple (with SB 17),” Ingram said. “I think it’s important that schools do not overly implement and that if the bill doesn’t prohibit something the school should not.” 

Ingram said that not only does SB 17 not specifically address scholarships based on race, color or national origin, the guidance sent by Hartzell cites Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law that protects scholarships that consider race. 

“There’s been no sort of federal modifications to the status of race-based scholarships,” Ingram said. “And yes, the Supreme Court passed a ruling last year that was about affirmative action, but that ruling was about admissions. That ruling was not about scholarships.”  

The office of Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, one of the main authors of SB 17, provided a statement on the intentions of SB 17.

“The legislative intent of SB 17 is to ensure free speech under the First Amendment, and foster true diversity and merit in Texas higher education,” the email states. “SB 17 specifically targets hiring practices, loyalty oaths, and mandatory trainings. The elimination of diversity, equity, and inclusion offices will result in millions in savings for taxpayers and restore a culture of free inquiry, meritocracy, equal opportunity, and genuine innovation within Texas higher education.”

Last May, the Legal Defense Fund condemned SB 17 because Ingram said the legislation represents a “regression” in creating belonging for communities of color and queer communities on college campuses. 

“Diversity, equity inclusion initiatives, and offices were erected historically, to create space for communities who were not in mind when the architects of higher education created these institutions,” Ingram said. “We think about Brown v. Board of Education, the promise of integration is that different students and groups, namely racial, could come together and learn and let that be an incubator for democracy and critical thinking.”  

While scholarships should be federally protected from SB 17, Ingram said it’s important for universities, when reviewing the legality of these scholarships, to note the exceptions the legislation has when it comes to admissions and recruitment. He said scholarships based on the criteria of race, color or national origin could be argued as a recruitment tool for marginalized communities making these scholarships even further protected from SB 17.  

“(SB 17) doesn’t define how they’re interpreting recruitment, so if you think about it, many of the scholarships that are for low-income, people of color, or queer people, they are used to entice those students to commit to a place like UT Austin,” Ingram said. “As of now, there’s no indication, at least in federal law, and even in the new state law in Texas that scholarship should be curtailed if they consider race.” 

Huerta said even with his part-time job, and financial contributions from his sister, father and grandfather, his enrollment at UT would not be possible without TAMS. Considering the importance of that funding to his education, he’d appreciate clarification from UT that TAMS will continue. The University spokesperson said UT will communicate directly with students who will lose scholarships. Fortunately for Huerta, he’s heard nothing yet.

“It’s pretty much been a community effort just to keep me afloat and I’ve also been trying my hardest to find any other scholarships or aid I might find,” Huerta said. “I put in a few scholarships from some Latino organizations, very specifically for my major … but it really couldn’t be possible without TAMS and without that support.” 

Ingram said when thinking about DEI initiatives related to scholarships, it’s important to contextualize the reason why these types of scholarships exist. 

“This is not giving an unfair advantage in an arbitrary manner,” Ingram said. “This is looking at historical patterns, looking at laws and policies that were enacted that led to these inequalities in the first place, and schools and third-party organizations saying, ‘Let’s try to restore what was stolen.’” 

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About the Contributors
Morgan Severson, Managing Editor
Morgan is a journalism senior from League City, Texas and is currently Managing Editor. Starting at The Texan in fall 2021 she's previously held the following positions: Associate Managing Editor, News Editor, News Desk Editor, City and Politics Senior News Reporter, General Photographer and Issue Designer. In her free time, Morgan is probably at a coffee shop or spin class.
Rong Hua Wang, Senior Comics Illustrator
Rong Hua is a second year student studying Computer Science and Arts and Entertainment Technologies. This is her second semester as the Senior Comics Illustrator; previously, she was an Opinion Illustrator during Fall 2021. Loving all things creative, she enjoys doodling and crocheting in her free time.