Perhaps James Baldwin’s most-quoted saying is that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced.” Explicit in this quote is a call for courage. Implicit in this quote, given the context within which it was written, the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, is a call upon the nation to reckon with its messy, violent, and uneven past and finally wrestle with what scholar Eddie Glaud, Jr. aptly calls, the “Value Gap” or the ways in which our country values white lives above all others. This legislative session, through the leadership of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, our state took an initial step towards facing the inequities in higher education funding and then changing them. The passage of Senate Bill 815, thanks to the tenacity, energy, courage, and collaborative spirit of Senator Kimberly Lightford, and Representative Carol Ammons, finally allows conversations about public finance of our state’s public universities to happen in the open and, as importantly, will produce recommendations for how our state should center equity in the way our state’s higher education system is funded.
Similarly, through the leadership of Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus and Senator Karina Villa, and House Representative Maura Hirschauer, Illinois took a major step towards ensuring that our states undocumented students are well supported on their respective campuses through the passage of House Bill 3438 requiring public universities and community colleges to designate a undocumented resource liason, and encouraging campuses to create undocumented resource centers on campus.
Taken together, these two pieces of legislation mark important steps towards facing and changing the things that need to be changed in our state’s public colleges and universities. There is still much more work ahead, especially with regards to increasing the overall appropriations to our state’s higher education system, but we are heartened by the steps that our legislature is taking to reverse the decades-long, downward trajectory of higher education in Illinois. Like with the passage of SB 815 and HB 3438, our collective voices; students, higher education leaders, advocates, community organizations, and others will need to boldly and aggressively make the case that investment in our state’s higher education system and its students is as high a public priority as investments in early childhood and K-12 education. Indeed, only when we begin to see our state’s education system as one, can we as a state truly build the kind of education system that will prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D.
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