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Monday, December 22, 2014

ASUNM asks students to opine on scholarship

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Jessica Peabody, a non-traditional UNM student, finishes speaking her mind on the Legislative Lottery Scholarship at the ASUNM Lottery Scholarship Forum in the SUB Monday afternoon while holding her six-month-old daughter, Morgan.

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As this year’s state legislative session enters its last week, UNM community members continue to voice grievances about increasing the Legislative Lottery Scholarship’s GPA requirements.

About 100 people gathered in the Student Union Building ballrooms for a Scholarship forum Monday afternoon.

The forum was organized by the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico.

ASUNM President Isaac Romero said he and the undergraduate student senate planned the event in a meeting Wednesday after several organizations criticized the body for misrepresenting UNM students’ stances on the Scholarship’s solvency issue.

Two weeks ago, on UNM Day at the New Mexico Legislature, ASUNM distributed cards stating that “the students at the University of New Mexico would like to see the Lottery Scholarship GPA requirement increased to 2.75.” The cards were distributed to lawmakers and attendees.

After explaining that the scandal was an oversight, Romero publicly apologized for the incident at the forum.

“I know that my stance so far has raised concerns with a lot of students on campus, and for that I’m sorry,” he said. “But my job is not always to make the easy choice or the popular one. We have to make difficult choices, but I feel like every student has a voice that needs to be represented. And if the students of UNM want our stance on the Lottery Scholarship to change, then that’s something I want to take into consideration.”

Still, students continued to express opposition to Senate Bill 150.

Israel Chavez, an Albuquerque-based community organizer, said raising the GPA requirements for the Scholarship, as SB 150 proposes, would disadvantage working and low-income students.

“The decision to support … SB 150 hurts students who do not fit in the category of being traditional,” he said. “As you know, UNM is not a traditional campus. Those are the students that we need to take into account.”

Chavez said that because Romero did not approach the ASUNM Senate about the stance printed on the card, he failed to accurately portray students’ demands.

“When Mr. Romero says ‘we,’ my understanding is that the senate was not involved in the decision,” he said. “The body that most reflects the student body was not involved in the decision on how to approach the Lottery.”

UNM student Jorge Garcia, senior program manager at El Centro de la Raza, said he echoes Chavez’s concerns.

“The reason why, as a student, I was very offended by your comments is that it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We should be polling everybody and getting the right voices of those who will be affected … As a student, I’m going to ask Isaac Romero to be more in-tune with the student body.”

UNM graduate student Virginia Necochea, who works with the New Mexico Coalition for Equity and Justice, said she demands that legislators find a way around raising requirements for the Scholarship.

“The question that we are posing to the community, to power players, to students … is ‘is this ethical?’” she said. “If we know with research — not hearsay, not my emotional story, but with actual numbers — how many of us see this as something ethical? That is the bottom line.”

According to a New Mexico State University document Necochea cited in her address, raising the GPA requirement of the Scholarship from 2.5 to 2.75 while keeping the 12-credit hour requirement would take the Scholarship away from 44 percent of presently qualified students in the state. Raising the GPA requirement to 2.75 and increasing the credit hour requirement to 15 would take the Scholarship away from 70 percent of those who are currently eligible, according to the document.

Necochea said that increasing the Scholarship requirements would be an attack on educational access in the state.

“One of the things that I have heard early on is how important hope is for our people,” she said. “Despite all these realities that we continue to face today, we continue to have that hope.

Education was, is and always will be important to us … This battle is way beyond the Lottery Scholarship. It’s a battle about educational access, educational equity (and) educational justice.”

Luis Hernandez, a high school senior at Atrisco Heritage Academy, said that although he is optimistic about obtaining the Scholarship despite the GPA hike, he believes the move would still be unfair.

“It would be better to make it accessible to everybody,” he said, “but since we’re talking about not having enough money for it to be accessible for everybody, why don’t we make it accessible to the people who need it, not to the people who want it because they can have it?”

But UNM sophomore Cristina Sisneros said she believes the opposite.

“I think we’re not putting enough responsibility on ourselves as students,” she said. “If we want to be here, we need to work for it. If the GPA needs to go up to 2.75 so extra people can stay in school, then we need to spend the extra few hours on our school work to stay here. We have to fight for ourselves.”

At the moment, Romero said ASUNM is advocating for any legislation “as long as it’s allowing for the most students to be helped in the long run.” He said he thinks the forum facilitated a much-needed last-minute conversation among students and University leaders.

“I feel much better after this forum,” he said. “It was a great opportunity what our students had to say. We heard many sides on this issue and I was happy to speak with students afterward … I think it’s great that we can continue to move forward as a student body.”

Despite the graveness of the issue, Romero said he is still optimistic that legislators will find a solution as the session ends Thursday at noon.

“I’m sending all my positive vibes up to Santa Fe for the next three days,” he said.