Oregon Student Files Reverse-Discrimination Case Against Community College
A Portland Community College student here has filed a reverse-discrimination complaint alleging she is being denied free tuition because she is White.
Adrienne Williams, 29, claims a teacher development program violates the college’s nondiscrimination policies because it is open only to minorities.
She sent her complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which investigates charges of discrimination on campus.
Williams enrolled at the college this summer in hopes of becoming an elementary school teacher. With little money, she worried about looming debt from five years of study, and she looked for grants and loans.
She wanted to apply to the Portland Teachers Program, which offers free tuition for minorities who qualify.
“I was pretty upset when I saw it,” Williams says. “We are talking about a program that is funded with government
The 10-year-old program was developed in response to the shortage of minority teachers. In Portland, 36 percent of students are minorities, but only 12 percent of classroom teachers are. Statewide, minorities make up 18 percent of students but only 4 percent of teachers.
In a decade, the program has provided 60 Blacks, Latinos, American Indians and Asian Americans with teaching degrees. Thirty-eight teach in Portland schools, according to Jim Williams, a Portland school administrator.
Students start at the two-year school and then go on to earn a bachelor’s degree and a graduate teaching certificate at Portland State University. They pay no tuition, but they are committed to working at least two years in Portland schools.
The tuition waivers are worth a total of about $25,000 a year at Portland Community College for the 15 students in the program, says Jan Coulton, a campus spokeswoman, plus additional money to run the program office.
Raymond Pierce, deputy assistant education secretary in the Office of Civil Rights, says the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t reviewed the issue of race-based scholarships. In 1994, the court declined to review a 4th Circuit ruling that threw out race-based scholarships at the University of Maryland, but that decision does not legally bind Oregon.
Pierce’s office has issued guidelines on financial aid that state, among other things, that race can be used as a factor in granting scholarships with the aim of creating diversity on campus.
Mildred Ollee, dean of the college’s Cascade campus, says while the Portland Teachers Program may not be open to Williams, there are many other financial aid programs for which she might be eligible.
For her part, Williams thinks having a diverse teaching force is a good idea, just not at her expense.
“It would be a shame if this had to be open to everyone,” Williams says. “That would defeat the purpose of the program. I’m not saying that it is necessary to let me into the program. I’m saying, just make it equal.”
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