A flawed approach to a real problem: Equity fee should not be implemented

Campbell Lutz, Senior Staff Writer

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On Oct. 29, the Tulane Undergraduate Student Body passed a resolution 24-6 calling for the administration to institute a mandatory equity fee of $240 per student. The fee would go toward funding organizations that support marginalized groups on campus. The administration should not implement this fee. 

The university unquestionably needs to do a better job of supporting marginalized communities on campus. Funding for these vital organizations is low, with negative effects predictably following for marginalized students on campus. 

Though the intention of the fee is admirable, the undue financial burden it places on students and their parents is not. The passion and effort that has gone into drafting and passing this bill would be better spent encouraging the university to reallocate the already vast funds it has at its disposal, as evidenced by its numerous construction projects

Tuition at Tulane is sky-high at $54,820 per year in tuition and fees. Fortunately, students who receive need-based financial aid would not have to pay an equity fee. Unfortunately, not everyone who does not receive need-based financial aid can afford to cough up another $240 a year.

There is a false perception that all Tulane students who would have to pay the fee are supported by rich parents, but many students are actually taking out loans and are paying their own way through college. For students who work a minimum-wage job 30 hours a week to pay their bills, for parents who scrimp and save to put their children through a prestigious school like Tulane, adding another mandatory fee is an undue burden. 

In addition to this financial harm, there is something unsettling about the idea of having all students pay a fee that supports organizations which primarily benefit a small number of students. The other fees the university has – a $640 Health Center fee, a $240 student activity fee, a $360 recreation center fee – benefit all students. Not all students go to Reily, but all students have the opportunity to use Reily. 

Some argue that the fee supports some organizations that are open to all students. Six percent of the money would go to the Goldman Center for Student Accessibility, and a smaller percentage goes to Religious Life. 

While both the Goldman Center and religious organizations are theoretically open to all, only students who have a disability or identify as religious would use them in practice, meaning some students are still barred from the benefits of an equity fee. 

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Others argue all students must pay because all students indirectly benefit. The lack of diversity on campus is harmful to all, and giving organizations that support marginalized groups more money might help draw more diversity and thus help better educate students. But this goal can be accomplished by other means. Making poor college students even poorer seems like an odd way of making campus more equitable. 

Even the phrasing of “equity fee” implies students who aren’t part of a marginalized group have to pay for or are somehow personally responsible for inequity. Tulane has a history of racial discrimination, the effects of which are still felt today. But the students who attend Tulane cannot be held responsible for the inequity. We can and should separate the culpability of the institution of Tulane from that of students. 

The equity fee is an example of the overcorrection that can occur on college campuses. Many students are passionate about issues that have to do with discrimination and marginalization, which is wonderful and helpful but can go too far and end up causing harm. Students’ zeal would be better spent holding the university accountable rather than pressing to increase tuition. 

Finally, though USG passed the bill 24-6, that does not mean it is supported by the entire student body, or even a majority of it. There is a petition, but there was no vote or widespread effort to understand whether most students support the bill. The lack of debate surrounding the USG equity bill reflects a broader issue of a lack of genuine, campus-wide discourse. 

The equity fee is harmful, unjust and not necessarily reflective of the desires of the student body at large. The administration should not implement it. Instead, the administration should take the passion and zeal of the students who created and support the bill as a sign they should reallocate more funds to organizations that support marginalized communities on campus.