The Boston University College Republicans group has recently announced that they intend to offer a two-hundred and fifty dollar ($250) scholarship to white student applicants. Considering that it costs more than forty-four thousand dollars ($44,000) to attend BU for one year, the students clearly don’t intend to assist white students through college: they want to make a point about privilege, division, inequity, racism, and how each of these is inherent in race-based scholarships. First, I want to say that these students fill me with pride, awe, and hope for a future full of dialogue (ooooh, maybe even compromise or something akin to fairness? Alas, that may be too much to hope for) rather than the meek surrender to “political correctness” that currently cripples open communication about how best to ensure that everyone in this country is treated fairly without consideration of their race, religion, gender, or class.
I typed that last part thinking that I believed it, but you know what? I don’t. I’m not sure that such a world is possible; though Martin Luther King, Jr. sure hoped that men, women, and children would be judged based not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character, that seems very unlikely as long as the race-based favor of programs such as college scholarships continues. How can equality be established if one race is privileged over another? And doesn’t anything that suggests a Black, Asian, or Hispanic student deserves more assistance in attending college than a white person smack of racism?
Colleges and universities have a finite number of “slots” available for students; not every qualified student can possibly be accepted because there are finite resources (from professors to housing to just plain classroom space and desks available). Does checking that little box “Caucasian” on a college application mean that person may lose one of the limited spots in an incoming class? Actually, it does indeed mean just that in many cases. Does that spot get filled by a Black, Asian, or Hispanic student who has the same test scores, high school grades, community service record, and general preparedness for college? No, not usually (probably not ever). Remember, these are student body “slots” and plenty of minorities fill them without benefit of these race-based scholarships but on their own merit. What happened to equality and fairness and equal opportunity? I do not intend to suggest that anyone from any background is not “smart enough” for college, that’s ludicrous, but I do speak to the fact (and it is a fact) that colleges and universities feel internal and external pressure to diversify, and that one of the ways this occurs is to set up a separate (but certainly not equal) application process and admittance policy.
And that’s where things become complicated for many people: this country, though we have this myth of an American Dream and tell ourselves any number of lies (that we are a classless society or that “anyone” can be president), does not provide an equal education to everyone, so not everyone is prepared for college, not everyone can compete on a level playing field. So the field is slanted, skewed, bent a bit here and there to compensate for lower income areas, second language barriers, and just plain racial difference. And that means, ultimately, that a college education is (perhaps should be) available to almost anyone, yet because of the class- and race-based inadequacies in K-12 education in this country many ill- or under-prepared students apply for these race-based scholarships, which are, after all, designed for them to apply for. These scholarships are competitive, but only within the stack of applications for that scholarship, not within the overall college applicant pool. Therefore, some of these students already have a disadvantage in their ability to compete academically with their fellow students.
Herein, I think, is yet another problem associated with these scholarships: once someone is admitted to a college or university, that institution wants to keep them, see them succeed. Sure, here they are, they made it college, but because they are not educationally ready for college level work . . . well, you tell me how that sentence should end . . . do they do poorly in college? Or does the college compensate for this by lowering its standards, inflating grades, and teaching “down”? My experience suggests that both of these are outcomes, and the latter eats away at me morally, ethically, and intellectually. Lowering standards, inflating grades, and teaching “down” ultimately robs the well-prepared student of any color of a solid education, of the education they deserve and are paying good money for.
Am I opposed to race-based scholarships? Absolutely not. What I oppose is the separate set of expectations and requirements that these currently entail. I believe that any student, from any background (race, religion, gender, etc.) should have an opportunity to attend college, and I think that there should be more grants available (such as the Pell Grant–not as it is now, but in its former incarnation) to help these students. I do not and will never support a scholarship program that is not about scholarship but is instead and solely about the color of one’s skin, including a “white scholarship” such as the one offered tongue in cheek by the BU College Republicans.
The BU students don’t intend to start a wave of “white scholarships” across the country, of course, and I think that they have done admirably what they did intend: they have us thinking and talking about this issue because it really affects us all, whether we have children or not, whether our children (or we) go to college or not. Racisim is a real problem in this country. The unacceptably low standards in higher education are a problem in this country; it’s not a coincidence or a fluke that a college degree doesn’t mean what it used to. Put these things together, and the future of this country truly hangs in the balance.
More links on the BU students’ “white scholarship” and the fall-out; it’s interesting to note that Republican leaders in Massachusetts are the loudest and most condemning of the students . . .
From the Daily Free Press: http://media.www.dailyfreepress.com/media/storage/paper87/news/2006/11/21/New…
From the Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/11/22/gop_group_at_bu_offers_a…
Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie’s negative response is discussed in this Mettera piece: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig5/mattera1.html
The photo is of BU’s Marsh Plaza, it and general information about BU are available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_University