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OSCC & ASPSU unite to fight racial profiling

Members of the Oregon Students of Color Coalition (OSCC) and ASPSU representatives held an event to help raise awareness and rally support to stop racial profiling in the financial aid application process.

Next to an eye-catching student seated in a school desk behind bars, a table was set up with information on the issue. Members of the OSCC and ASPSU stood by to answer student’s questions.

Guest speakers at the event included Assistant Director for Admissions Reiko Williams, PSU Multicultural Center Interim Coordinator Jon Joiner, PSU Multicultural Center Interim Coordinator and ASPSU Student Government Multicultural Affairs Director Jesse Shapiro.

The event is part of a statewide effort made by members of the OSCC called the “Day of Action.” Seven other public universities in Oregon held similar events on Wednesday afternoon in a unified effort to bring potential problems with the financial aid process into the public’s eyes.

The issue being raised concerns Question #35 on the Federal Aid application, added in 1998 through the Drug Provision in the Higher Education Act, that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs?” If one answers “yes” to this question they are then asked to fill out a worksheet, which will determine if the conviction will affect their eligibility for financial aid.

The Financial Aid Web site offers a FAFSA form. When one answers “yes” to question #35, the worksheet then asks a series of questions. Depending on the answers, the applicant is given a rank of 1,2 or 3.

Receiving a 1 means that a drug conviction would not affect financial aid eligibility, receiving a 2 deems the applicant partially eligible, which means one would be eligible on Feb. 2, 2003, or sooner if one completes a drug rehabilitation program, and finally a 3 means the applicant is not eligible.

Entering a variety of answers on the worksheet revealed that regardless of how many convictions the applicant has, the result was a 1, meaning the applicant’s eligibility was not affected, if the applicant had completed an acceptable drug rehabilitation program since the last conviction.

If the applicant had not completed a drug rehab program, the applicant would still be eligible for financial aid if possessing only one prior conviction. With two convictions and no completion of a drug rehab, the applicant received a 2, which means partial or conditional eligibility. To receive a 3, or ineligibility, one would have to have more than 2 convictions on record, as well as having not completed a drug rehab program since the last conviction.

One problem Jesse Shapiro, multicultural affairs director, has found in this process is that the drug rehabilitation programs must be taken at the individual’s expense. Were potential students unable to afford a drug rehab program, they could then become ineligible for financial aid, perpetuating their hardship.

The OSCC argues that these are the people who should not be without the opportunity to attain higher education. Afram Gutema, a PSU student who attended the event, echoed their sentiment by stating, “allowing them (applicants with drug felonies) into schools helps them to become better people.”

In the 2000-2001 school year, no students were deemed ineligible for financial aid due to prior drug convictions. Sam Collie, director of financial aid at PSU, warned that this fact does not take into account how many students don’t even apply for financial aid because they don’t believe they would be eligible.

Collie also said, “Domestic drug policy agenda should not be mixed with education policy; those two don’t go together very well.”

Members of the OSCC maintain the real problem lies not in the question alone, but in a trickle-down effect that begins with racial profiling, specifically in drug policing. Reiko Williams, one of three guest speakers for the event, said, “By asking if you’ve had a narcotics charge, people of color are more likely to answer yes, because they are more likely to be convicted, due to racial profiling.”

Organizers of the event have collected student signatures on 450 yellow postcards out of their target of 1,000, which will be mailed to Oregon Congressman David Wu. They hope the show of support from students in Oregon will urge Congressman Wu to co-sponsor U.S. House Resolution 786, which would repeal the 1998 Drug Provision in the Higher Education Act.

If you agree with the charges of injustice leveled at Question #35, or just want to learn more about racial profiling in the federal application process, you can visit the ASPSU office in 47B SMC.