Overcoming tuition inequality should be part of Maryville College’s legacy
by Stacey Padilla
When I arrived on campus for my first-year orientation, the assignments started rolling in before classes even began. My orientation group was instructed to read “Maryville College: The Founding Story” and write a 750 word response. As my young comrades and I griped about the cruel reality of a college workload, I found myself pleasantly surprised with the reading. I learned that we admitted African American students until it was illegal, and then re-admitted them the same year of desegregation. We taught Native American and historically-immigrant students alike, and graduated the first woman in Tennessee to earn a Bachelor’s degree. As a first-year student back in 2011, I looked around my new home with bated breath, hoping this was a living history and not the stuff of dusty stories.
In my four years here at Maryville College, I’ve been part of plenty of discussions, forums, retreats and even a “summit” regarding diversity. I’ve had the privilege of being a founding member of the Latino Student Alliance and seen the sweeter side of this year’s cut to student organization funding — student organizations of all interests joining together to put on events that give justice to the intersectional heart of a liberal arts education. I may be getting sappy as my time here draws to an end, but I can’t help but want a last bit of proof that my soon-to-be alma mater lives up to its legacy.
Recently, a friend of mine brought up that undocumented students who want to attend public universities must pay out-of-state tuition, which can be about three times higher than in-state rates – -and that’s if the universities will accept undocumented students at all. I puzzled over this for a moment. At Maryville we talk about first-generation students and non-traditional students, we lament over student loans and set up tables for Meet Maryville in hopes of making a college education more accessible. Do we ever have discussions about the barriers that students without US Citizenship or visas face in getting their education?
In Tennessee, the amount of time that a student has lived in the state is not sufficient evidence to claim domicile, to claim that they are a resident of the state, if they are undocumented. Therefore, these students are not afforded in-state tuition rates. The Tuition Equality Now! campaign headed by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition aims to change the unequal rates of tuition that undocumented students face because of their inability to qualify for in-state tuition.
Our very own Latino Student Alliance and a number of Bonner Scholars are working to spread the word about the tuition equality bill that will be voted on in Nashville this spring. LSA will be leading information sessions, circulating student and educator petitions, and meeting every Wednesday at 4PM in the Multicultural Center at the third floor of Bartlett. We plan to go to Nashville in March to attend Tuition equality Day on the Hill in order to speak with our legislators about this bill, as well as place phone calls to legislators in the meantime. With much effort, we hope to connect undocumented high schoolers with a group that can raise their voices and enable them access to the type of education that all of us at Maryville are privileged to receive.
Why should Maryville, a private institution that doesn’t differentiate between in-state and out-of-state students, be involved in the Tuition Equality Now! campaign? MC has been a leader in providing and advocating for access to higher education for nearly 200 years. We should live up to our history.