Whites-Only Scholarship: Is Columbia University’s Fellowship Program Racist?

By Philip Ross on May 15, 2013 2:02 PM EDT

whites-only-scholarship
Columbia University, a private Ivy League institute established in 1754 in Manhattan, N.Y., started awarding a whites-only scholarship in 1920. (Photo: Reuters)

Columbia University is taking legal action to change its whites-only scholarship, which limits recipients to Caucasian students from Iowa, over 90 years after the grant was first established.

International Business Times reports that the Ivy League institution filed an affidavit with Manhattan's Supreme Court to amend the Lydia C. Roberts scholarship, which was created in 1920 following the death of Iowa native Lydia C. Chamberlain. She left her $500,000 estate, now managed by JPMorgan Chase, to create the grant.

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The New York Daily News reports that the affidavit was filed by the university's associate provost Lucy Drotning.

"Columbia University is now prohibited by law and University policy from discriminating on the basis of race," the filing says.

According to New York Daily News, when the grant was first established, it offered a full year's-worth of tuition, just $691. The school, however, hasn't awarded the fellowship since 1997.

Gothamist posted what looks like an excerpt from the Lydia C. Roberts fellowship's official guidelines. It reads:

The Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowships shall be awarded only to persons of the Caucasian race, of either sex, born in the State of Iowa, who, having been graduated from a college or university located in the State of Iowa, shall be selected because of their scholastic standing, seriousness of purpose, moral character and real need of financial help, to pursue the advanced and graduate studies in Columbia University.

In a bulletin on the Columbia University's website, the Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowships does not stipulate race as a requirement for the scholarship. "Open to persons born in Iowa who have been graduated from an Iowa college or university," the description reads.  

The scholarship was first challenged back in 1949 when the NAACP questioned the scholarship. Then-president of Columbia University Grayson L. Kirk reportedly defended the fellowship. He said the university did not want to deprive some students from getting "restricted grants" based solely on the premise that the grant was not available to all.

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