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OU has sued over racist practices in scholarship representation

A class action lawsuit has been filed in federal court accusing the University of Oklahoma of basing scholarship aid on the basis of race, violating the constitutional rights of many students.

The class action lawsuit legal action seeks compensatory damages for affected students, alleging that OU violated students’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Despite previous court rulings, including a 2023 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned the use of race in college admissions, the complaint states that “racial preferences continue to exist at the University of Oklahoma.”

“Instead of determining who is admitted based on race, the University of Oklahoma uses race to determine how much financial aid it provides to students,” the complaint states. “This is illegal.”

As evidence of unlawful racial discrimination, the complaint cites a statistical analysis of publicly available data that “indicates that the University of Oklahoma takes race into account when awarding financial aid to its students.”

The analysis found that black students received greater scholarship aid than similarly situated non-black students.

“Based on the University of Oklahoma’s published enrollment data and the financial aid data it reported to the Department of Education from 2009 to 2022, a statistical analysis shows that Black students receive even more institutional aid from the University of Oklahoma than other students,” if factors such as family income should be taken into account as much as possible,” the complaint states.

Without this “sophisticated statistical analysis,” the complaint states that “the University of Oklahoma’s systematic racial discrimination in financial aid would not have been disclosed.”

Because scholarship funds are limited, providing greater support to a favored group based on race means that other students receive less financial aid than would be the case if financial aid were based on race-neutral factors, the lawsuit says.

Three OU students are represented in the lawsuit: Kayla Savage, Logan Rhines and Brayden Johnson.

Savage is a senior who transferred to OU after attending community college. When she applied for financial aid from OU, she self-identified as white and non-Hispanic and did not receive financial aid from the university. The complaint states that “a University of Oklahoma admissions officer told plaintiff Savage that financial aid was generally not available to students like her, but that it would have been had she been African American.”

Rhines is a junior at OU and a first-generation college student. Rhines identified himself as white and non-Hispanic when he applied for financial aid at the University of Oklahoma. He received a merit scholarship of $1,000 per semester based on his ACT score and GPA, but received no other scholarships or financial aid from OU.

Johnson, an undergraduate student in an accelerated master’s program at OU, self-identified as white and non-Hispanic when he applied for financial aid at the University of Oklahoma. He received a merit scholarship of $4,000 per semester and two smaller scholarships totaling $1,000 and $1,750 per year, respectively.

The complaint notes that all three likely would have received additional financial aid had the OUs not passed larger aid amounts to other similarly situated students, allegedly based on their race.

In 2023 Opinion In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard CollegeThe U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-based college admissions procedures violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court opinion stated bluntly: “The elimination of racial discrimination means the elimination of all discrimination against it.”

“For too long, many universities have mistakenly concluded that the test of an individual’s identity is not the challenges they overcome, the skills they build, or the lessons they learn, but the color of their skin,” the statement said. “The constitutional history of this nation does not tolerate this election.”

The OU lawsuit argues that awarding scholarships and financial aid based on race is also illegal.

“Racial discrimination in financial aid was illegal before the Supreme Court decision SFFAand it remains illegal after the Supreme Court decision SFFA“ says the complaint. “This is because ‘(racial) classifications are simply too harmful to allow for any other than the most accurate connection between justification and classification’.”

The lawsuit filed against OU notes that the university’s race-based financial aid practices “have all the deficiencies of race-based admissions practices that are considered unlawful.” SFFA: They rely on imprecise and irrational categories; They assume that members of each racial group have the same need for financial assistance and that this assistance will have the same impact on each member of the group; and they rely on the demeaning stereotype that black students need more financial aid than non-black students.”

“Furthermore, there are less restrictive means available to ease the financial burden of Black students,” the complaint states. “Providing adequate, need-based financial aid to all students, regardless of race, alone would ensure that Black students admitted to the University of Oklahoma are not deterred from attending by the associated costs. There is no legitimate basis for prioritizing the financial needs of students of one race over the financial needs of students of other races.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Cooper & Kirk, a law firm based in Washington, DC

Ryan Haynie, general counsel for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, is the local attorney for the lawsuit.

(For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, see AimHigherOK.com.)

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