Monday, March 7, 2011

Do race-based scholarships successfully ensure equal access to higher education? (Also: About that whites-only scholarship)

Colorlines reports:
It’s clear for anyone who’s been paying attention to America’s conservative right wing backlash that not everyone is happy about the country’s shifting demographics. But a group of white male college students in Texas have taken their antipathy to new levels by offering scholarships exclusively for white males. Recently, one of the groups member’s members took to the media in its defense.
William Lake is an MBA candidate at Texas State University in San Marcos and treasurer of the nonprofit Former Majority Association for Equality, the group that’s offering the scholarship. Lake told MSNBC on Tuesday that white men are “one group that just doesn’t have any support.”
And there’s more. “We saw opportunities for just about every single demographic, as far as pausing for college goes, except for this one,” Lake told Talking Points Memo. “We’re just providing one for this demographic. Why shouldn’t there be money available for these people?” Read more... 
On Sunday afternoon, one of my favorite race bloggers, Mikhail Lybansky (Op Ed News, Psychology Today), invited me to discuss this report and the larger issue of race-based scholarships. And when I have the opportunity to dialogue with an educator who speaks thoughtfully about race, I jump at the chance.

Following is a transcript of our discussion, edited for clarity and better flow. We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section..

Tami: What bothers me most about this scholarship for white guys is that it demonstrates a lack of understanding for what "minority" scholarships are about.

Mikhail: Sure it does. It fails to acknowledge the reality that students of color face obstacles to success that white students don't, which is not to say that some white students don't also have obstacles -- they do -- but those obstacles are not related to their whiteness.

Tami: Right. Scholarships are not extra goodies offered to students of color or female students. Scholarships are meant to mitigate the imbalances in opportunity caused by race, gender, etc.

Mikhail: If we agree on the above, then the implication is that it is reasonable to have race-targeted scholarships for students of color and not for white students.

Tami: Yes.

It is also interesting that the difficulties faced by at least two of the men who are the face of this scholarship have nothing to do with their race. One had a criminal record. One was a poor student.

Mikhail: ...and I'd like to see educational opportunities (including scholarships) be available for members of those groups too!

Tami: Yes. Why not a scholarship for students with criminal records? But why does that student see whiteness at the root of his problem, I wonder?

Mikhail: The answer that comes to mind is that this student (and presumably many others) resent what they see as unfair advantages available to students of color. Basically, they see the policy response...but not the reason that the policy response is necessary.

Tami: I also have a problem with this Former Majority business. [Editor's note: (See article) The nonprofit offering the scholarship is called the Former Majority Association for Equality.]

Mikhail: How so?

Tami: The problems of POCs and women are not necessarily related to minority status. Indeed, aren't women slightly more than 50 percent of the population now? [Editor's note: We checked: women comprise 50.7% of the U.S. population according to he 2009 U.S. census data.] Our problems are related to racism, sexism and bias. These things can exist regardless of minority status. (See, for instance, apartheid-era South Africa).

Mikhail: I agree that it's not JUST minority status. Incidentally, women though just slightly more than 50% of population, comprise a much higher percentage of college students and an even higher percentage of college graduates [Editor's note: Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education]. Numerically, men are an under-represented group in college. There are even some discussions happening (I don't know how seriously to take them.) about the possibility of an affirmative action program for male college applicants.

Tami: The scholarships these guys compare their scholarship to exist to mitigate imbalances of opportunity and social power. I would love to hear one of these students demonstrate how POCs and women have access to greater opportunity and power than white American men.

Mikhail: I don't think that kind of demonstration is possible, but they are not thinking in those terms. As I said, I think they see the scholarships but not the reason those scholarships are necessary.

Tami: You make a good point re: men being underrepresented in colleges. What is the prevailing wisdom on why that is? I suspect that this particular scholarship does not address the problem.

Mikhail: My understanding is that men are underrepresented in college because girls get better grades in high school and graduate at higher rates [Editor's note: Readers interested in more specifics regarding why the gender different exists are advised to read this article in the New York Times and this academic paper.]. And no, this particular scholarship clearly doesn't address that since it's race-based, not gender based.

Tami: Hmmm...I am conflicted now. It would seem that, given the reasons you've shared, a scholarship for men might be a reasonable response. My difficulty, though, is that the reasoning of this particular scholarship doesn't address root issues, but appears a sort of tit-for-tat: "Black people get scholarships; we should, too."

Mikhail: I think a scholarship for men is a reasonable response. This scholarship was for white students, which is illogical (and, to me, unethical) since white students are over-represented in colleges and universities, relative to non-white students.

Tami: Agreed. And not to take us in yet another direction. The scholarship also perpetuates the idea that minority scholarships always go to "undeserving" students, who cannot get into college any other way. That simply isn't true.

Mikhail: No, it is not true at all, and that actually relates to what I was hoping we could talk about:
I want to push this in a slightly different direction, because I was pretty sure we'd be in agreement about what we've talked about so far. I’m less sure about this next part: There are (unintended) costs for both students of color and for our society of having race-based scholarship and affirmative action programs. How would you feel about getting into that? It would be less safe for both of us, I think.

Tami: No problem. Let's go there. Full disclosure. I went to college on a full academic scholarship for minority students. Shoulda mentioned that earlier.

Mikhail: That's good to know, though it doesn't change anything for me. I'll reciprocate and disclose that I did not have a scholarship, race-based or otherwise...but did work the entire time I was in college to off-set the cost.

Mikhail: Ok, so I'll start with a provocative statement that I'm not sure I believe but that I've been mulling over...

Tami: Lets hear it!

Mikhail: Race-based scholarships (and race-based affirmative action in admissions), while a much-needed help for the targeted students, ultimately do more harm than good for both students of color and for our society. I can explain...or you can just jump in now :)


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