Boston University's Republican students group has started a scholarship for white students, to spark debate about race-based programs.
"We are trying to convey the absurdity of any race-based scholarship," said Joseph Mroszczyk, a senior from Danvers who is president of the university's College Republicans. "I don't think race should be part of any scholarship. It should be based on merit or economic need."
The $250 scholarship, which will be funded by the chapter and will do little to meet the university's base tuition of $33,330, has ignited a debate on campus about whether it is the right way to address views on race-based scholarships and affirmative action.
Kenneth Elmore, BU's dean of students, said in a statement that the scholarship goes against the university's goal of increasing diversity on campus. He agreed the issue of race-based programs is worthy of debate, but questioned the group's approach.
"It appears to me that they're trying to push a debate as it relates to affirmative action and American society," Elmore said. "I want students to know that I encourage debate and will help students foster creative debate around the university. I hope the College Republicans and other students will try to do the same."
The scholarship requires the recipient to be at least one quarter white and to have at least a 3.2 grade point average. Applicants have to submit a photo of themselves and write two short essays about their race. The first question asks applicants to describe their ancestry and the other, what it means to be a Caucasian-American today.
A note in the three-page application explains that the scholarship has been created to shine a spotlight on racial preferences, calling it one of the worst forms of bigotry in America. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in the fall of 2005, among BU students, 2.6 percent were black, non-Hispanic; 5.3 percent were Hispanic; 11.9 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander; 0.3 percent were American Indian or Alaskan native; and 53.4 percent were white, non-Hispanic. Of the university's students, 67 percent received financial aid.
The note also says race-based scholarships and other affirmative action policies send a message to members of minority groups that they are inferior and require special accommodations to be raised to the same level as others.
"Did we do this to give a scholarship to white kids?" the note concludes. "Of course not. Did we do it to trigger a discussion on what we believe to be a morally wrong practice of basing decisions in our schools and our jobs on racial preferences rather than merit? Absolutely."
Brian Dodge, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said the state party did not endorse the scholarship. "Their actions are misguided and offensive," he said.
A national party spokesman called the scholarship "highly inappropriate."
Students were divided on the issue.
Outside a university gymnasium last night, 2005 graduate Bryan Williams, 23, of Malden, condemned the scholarship as insensitive. "I understand, in order for minorities to be equal, they need to be treated equally if you are receiving a scholarship," he said. "But we spent how many years being held back, and now we are trying to catch up. It's a slap in the face."
Williams, a sales engineer for an industrial parts distributing company, is African-American and was not a scholarship student.
"It seems kind of childish to me. But it's their $250; they can do with it what they want," said Jonathan Morrell, 20, a junior from Middletown, Conn., who is majoring in manufacturing engineering and is part Jamaican and part African-American. He does not receive a scholarship. "They say they want to start the discussion, but it seems immature. It's hard to take them serious enough to get upset."
Karla Mercado, 19, a sophomore from Guam who is majoring in biomedical engineering and is on a scholarship for Asian-Pacific Islanders, had no problem with the scholarship. "I know some clubs that offer scholarships for certain racial backgrounds, so I see no problem with it," she said.
Boston University College Republicans is the second such group to start a white scholarship. College Republicans at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., began a scholarship two years ago to spark the same debate, drawing national media attention and charges of racism from some students on campus. The group ultimately dropped the scholarship.
Jason Mattera, president of Roger Williams College Republicans at that time, is now spokesman for Young America's Foundation, a nonprofit that is encouraging campus activism on conservative issues. He encouraged the BU group to start the scholarship.
"Hopefully, it will get the campus talking about racial preferences," said Mattera, who is Puerto Rican.
"I don't believe we have a right to endorse or censor a group," she said. "We want to have an open discussion on the implication of the scholarship and a larger conversation on affirmative action."