Margaret Kamara, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 9, 2007
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.
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.
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.
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.”