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Florida A&M Students Sue State, Alleging Decades Of Underfunding And Discrimination

Essence 9/26/2022 Melissa Noel

Students at Florida A&M University (FAMU) are suing the state's university system, alleging that the public Historically Black University is underfunded and subject to discriminatory practices.

According to the Associated Press, the federal lawsuit filed in Tallahassee last Thursday claims the state is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by engaging “in a pattern and practice of intentional discrimination ... by maintaining a segregated system of higher education.”

The class action lawsuit alleges that the state takes years to complete infrastructure improvements at FAMU compared to predominantly white schools in the state, duplicates programs at nearby Florida State University that discourages attendance at FAMU, does not provide sufficient resources to recruit and retain students, and fails to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff. The lawsuit names six FAMU graduate and undergraduate  students as plaintiffs and Florida's higher education system, including Chancellor Marshall Criser III, as defendants.

A graduate chemistry student, FayeRachel Peterson, told CBS News she filed the lawsuit after realizing early last month that her friend at Florida State University does not have to worry about working while studying for a master's degree, while she is paid very poorly for her work as a research assistant at FAMU. Peterson believes her graduate stipend is so low because FAMU isn't receiving the same amount of funding as the other Florida public universities. 

"Even if I can't get more funding, I would hope in the future that other students can have better opportunities," Peterson said.  

The lawsuit is also significant because FAMU and the University of Florida , a predominately white school, are the state's only public land-grant universities.This means they should receive equal per-student funding under federal law. However, according to the complaint, state leaders have created a $1.3 billion funding gap between UF and FAMU over the last 30 years.

“Our school has always made a little go a long way, but we shouldn’t have to,” said Britney Denton, a first-year doctoral student at FAMU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Studies in a statement.  

“There are bright and determined people here who deserve the same level of support and quality of resources as FSU next door or any other state school in Florida. We’re proud to be here, and we want Florida to be proud to support us, and other HBCUs, equally,” Denton, who is a named plaintiff in the suit added in a statement.

The students who filed this class action lawsuit are asking the Florida court to order state leaders to repay FAMU the state aid it should have received all those years and to begin providing the school with the same amount of per-student funding as UF within the next five years. They also want a special referee or mediator appointed to make recommendations for correcting the state's statutory and constitutional violations.

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