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Minority Scholarships Fall Victim To Fear Of Anti-affirmative Action Lawsuit

Starting this fall, a scholarship created to boost Black student enrollment at Northeastern University will be open to White students, one of several policy changes the university has taken to avoid becoming the target of an anti-affirmative action lawsuit.

The Ujima Scholars program will also fund far fewer student this fall than it has in past years, although officials say the change is intended to more fully cover college costs. The changes have Black students on the campus ill at ease.

“We thought it was a mistake at first, whether Caucasians can receive the Ujima scholarship, but we were told it wasn’t,” says Lula Petty-Edwards, the associate dean and director of the African American Institute, which has housed the Ujima Scholar’s program since 1972. Ujima is Swahili for collective work and responsibility.

“If Northeastern is already predominately a White university, why should the Ujima programs be used for White students, is the question [Black students] are asking,” she says.

The Boston institution is not alone. Numerous schools nationwide have chosen to open their once racially targeted scholarships to White students in an effort to avoid equal protection lawsuits.

“To some colleges and universities, it’s a matter of protecting their programs, others to comply with the law. You get variations,” says Donnie Perkins, the dean and director of Northeastern’s Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity.

The scholarship, which funded up to 65 students in previous academic years, will be awarded to only 40 students in fall 2006. Each award, however, will be increased from $15,000 a year for four years to $25,000.

While the scholarships will not be awarded based on race, they will target students from an urban background, says Dr. Philomena Mantella, Northeastern’s vice president for student affairs. The university has increased funding for the program by $250,000 in an effort to fully fund scholarship recipients’ needs.

“My goal is to put students in a position where their ability to make an academic commitment is not at stake because of funding,” she says. “To me it makes sense to commit the appropriate level of funding that will sustain a student until they graduate than to spread the dollars too thin.”

Although a few White students from urban areas have been awarded the scholarship in the past, some students fear including White students in the outreach effort will only create more competition for scholarships minority students have come to rely on.

Devin Phillip, a senior Ujima scholar majoring in African American studies, says the extension of the scholarships to White studentss does not bother him, but the decreased number of recipients does.

“The Ujima scholarship has been the avenue for admitting students of color, and now I am upset that the numbers were dropped by 25,” he says. “They are raising tuition 5.3 percent, why can’t the tuition increase go towards the Ujima scholarship?”

Northeastern officials acknowledge that complying with race-neutral scholarship demands could impact the diversity of the student body, of which 22.2 percent are minorities.

“Anytime there’s reduction in the number of students [with] a diverse background, it impacts the environment and the ability to provide a total diverse education,” sys Perkins. “We need to admit there’s an impact, we need to find other means of fulfilling that need.”

–Margaret Kamara

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