NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Advocates are calling it an injustice.
Tennessee State University is reportedly owed more than $2 billion in back pay, and it has left many wondering what is next for the university.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of issues in these past years like the housing crisis, not having enough money for scholarships, the effects of these older buildings, and our students have been forced to continuously pivot and work around these issues, and that is not fair to them whatsoever,” said Chishonda O’Quinn, a senior at TSU and the executive vice president of the TSU Student Government Association (SGA).
One by one, students with the university’s SGA spoke before a crowd Tuesday afternoon, detailing how the back pay would have benefitted students.
“We have to demand more; we have to understand that that money is our money and we need to find a way to work with the people to get this to TSU,” said Shawn Wimberly Jr., a TSU student trustee.
The press conference was held in response to the U.S. Education Secretary sending a letter to 16 governors, notifying them their states have not been properly funding certain historically Black colleges and universities. In Tennessee, TSU was listed as being owed $2.1 billion.
“It is evident now that historically Black colleges and universities have had an injustice inflicted upon them based on the lack of equal funding as their white counterparts,” said Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump. “These students wanted to know their legal options and they wanted to know if they could go forward with their legal options, and I shared with them that they have absolutely every right to demand equality in the funding, to demand equity in the funding of their education; they have every right to demand respect as a whole student in the state of Tennessee not to be treated as two-thirds of a student or three-fifths of a student. No, they are whole students and they should get whole funding.”
Recently, Crump has been on national headlines following the brutal killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. Crump is now known for his reputation for handling civil cases.
“We will not cower; we will speak up because this is the moment in history that these students were brought to Tennessee State University for, and they’re going to meet the moment,” Crump said.
Advocates have argued that if the university had received the funds owed to them, the school would be in a stronger and better position to serve students and the state.
“We have facilities on campus that have not been developed yet; we go to other schools in Tennessee and they are continuously developing. How does that make sense, right?” questioned O’Quinn.
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During the press conference, the university was asked what steps had already been made.
“The president is in conversations as we speak so there are some conversations that are taking place, but again it’s very early on. We recognize and we realize that the governor is aware; we recognize and realize the legislature leaders are aware and those conversations are starting,” answered Frank Stevenson, the vice president over student affairs.