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(COLUMBUS) – To increase access, retention, and graduation rates for students of color at flagship universities in the Great Lakes region, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, with support from the Joyce Foundation, launched the REASON Project in Ohio today. REASON is an acronym for Recruitment, Equity-in-practice, Accountability, Social-inclusion, Opportunity culture, and Networks, which are all areas of higher education that the project will focus on improving for students of color.

The REASON Project is designed to identify targeted, sustainable strategies to increase access and opportunity for students of color by bringing together key stakeholders and oft-ignored voices into the decision-making process. The project convenes a multi-sector group of civil rights, education, advocacy organizations and engages with higher education leaders, policy experts, student-organizers and other leaders to propose new, comprehensive strategies for increasing racial equity at flagship universities in Illinois and Ohio. The project also seeks to identify root causes and structural barriers to accessing and completing higher education and raise awareness about promising high-impact state public policy ideas for advancing racial equity in higher education.

The Ohio REASON coalition formally launches today with a collective that includes 15 organizations and several individual supporters and allies. The project’s overall goals are to:

  • Collaborate with university stakeholders to reach a shared understanding of how to build on current commitments to racial equity;
  • Raise public awareness of the critical resources available to students and families of color;
  • Provide recommendations based on student and alumni feedback on how to enhance diversity and recruitment strategies; and
  • Build shared commitments to racial equity between coalition partners and university stakeholders.

“For too long, efforts to resolve access to higher education for students of color have marginalized the voices of students and communities of color,” said Mayah Emerson, Higher Education Coordinator at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The REASON Project seeks to leverage the strength of students and communities, along with key stakeholders, in hopes of partnering with flagship institutions like The Ohio State University to deconstruct barriers to higher education and propose comprehensive, lasting change. The Ohio coalition is eager to advance greater racial equity and opportunity for communities of color.”

“For decades, flagship public universities have become less representative of the nation—racially and economically,” said Stephanie Banchero, Education Program Director for the Joyce Foundation. “This is worrisome, given the overwhelming evidence that degree attainment leads to economic mobility. As the country’s leading voice on race and college admissions, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is well positioned to support Ohio advocates, policymakers, and higher education leaders as they chart a better course forward.”

According to a 2020 report from the Ohio Board of Higher Education, while Black students represented 15% of high school graduates in 2019, they only accounted for 10% of first-time college students. Latinx students are similarly underrepresented, accounting for 5% of high school graduates that year but less than 2% of first-time college students.

The REASON Project coalition members include:

  • Center of Hope Family Services
  • LULAC Ohio
  • National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc. Central Ohio
  • Ohio Conference AAUP
  • Policy Matters Ohio
  • United Pastors for Social Empowerment
  • OSU National Society of Black Engineers
  • Student Advocate: Anagha Valemakanni
    • NAACP Ohio Conference
    • Esperanza Inc.
    • Ohio Organizing Collaborative
    • Save Ohio Higher Ed
    • OSU Latinx Student Association
    • OSU National Pan-Hellenic Council
    • National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc. Greater Cleveland
    • OSU Native American and Indigenous People’s Cohort

    The following are quotes from Ohio REASON Project coalition members

    Policy Matters Ohio

    “Policy Matters is excited to work with the REASON Coalition to expand opportunities for all Ohioans by breaking the barriers that have blocked Black and brown students from Ohio’s public colleges and universities, especially our flagship, Ohio State University. Enrollment data clearly show that Ohio State is out of reach for too many students of color or those with low family incomes. If Ohio is to be a state where everyone, no matter what they look like or where they live, can thrive and succeed, we must work together to address this challenge.”

    AAUP: Ohio Conference

    “The Ohio Conference AAUP has long fought for increased higher education funding that would provide all students with the opportunity to attend a college or university and learn from world-class faculty. The REASON coalition is an excellent opportunity to bring together stakeholders from groups that may not otherwise work together to advance specific policy goals for the state and campuses.”

    Jill Galvan, board member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter at Ohio State; organizer at Save Ohio Higher Ed (SOHE): “As a leading public university, Ohio State should make it a priority to improve its admission of students of color. AAUP faculty and SOHE members look forward to working with REASON to ensure that all Ohioans have clear educational access and strong support from our flagship institution.”

    Save Ohio Higher Ed

    “As a leading public university, Ohio State should make it a priority to improve its admission of students of color. AAUP faculty and SOHE members look forward to working with REASON to ensure that all Ohioans have clear educational access and strong support from our flagship institution.”


    “NAIPC is a student-led organization at Ohio State which prioritizes a Native and Indigenous community of students at OSU. We work to create an inclusive space and we discuss issues that impact our community. As members of the REASON Ohio coalition, we look forward to realizing these goals for the students and communities we serve.”

    Center for Hope

    “For 25 years, Center of Hope has developed and implemented State Award winning after-school programs that have quadrupled the number of African American males reading at grade level, and have reduced suspension rates from 32% to 6%. Through published books and our core curriculum and a product and service suite, we expect to become a national leader in closing opportunity gaps to a quality education for children of color. We look forward to partnering with REASON to strengthen and expand equity from elementary through higher education, and beyond.”

    Anagha Velamakanni: Student Advocate

    “Equitable education and resources, especially pertaining to higher education, should be a right, not a privilege. Moreover, this should be a right given to students of all backgrounds, with an emphasis on low-income, BIPOC communities. Higher education must be an easily accessible pathway for all students, and opportunities presented at these higher education institutions must be inclusive and welcoming. Working with the Lawyers’ Committee on the REASON Project, pushing for a positive initiative to emphasize Students of Color, has been an amazing and empowering experience. I look forward to continuing to hear and utilize diverse sets of perspectives through the Coalition. These conversations are essential to make educational experiences and opportunities available to all students.”

    The Illinois REASON Project previously launched in June 2021. Find out more about the REASON Project.





    About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit