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Matteras Scholarship ForWhites Only: A Statement Against Affirmative Action Roils A Campus... Puerto Rican Student Creates Scholarship ForWhites Only... Club Offers Whites-Only Scholarship
Matteras Scholarship ForWhites Only: A Statement Against Affirmative Action Roils A Campus
February 15, 2004
The Providence Journal. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved
The College Republicans group at Roger Williams University says its $50 scholarship is making a statement against affirmative action.
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BRISTOL - The application for the scholarship being offered at Roger Williams University reads like no other.
To be sure, it asks for all the standard information the applicant's name, age, year of graduation, grade-point average and a list of accomplishments and accolades but the topic of the essay sets it apart.
"In 100 words or less," it says, "write why you are proud of your white heritage and explain what being white means to you.
"Must attach recent picture to confirm whiteness," it adds. "Evidence of bleaching will disqualify applicants."
It may sound like a bad joke, but the White Scholarship Award, a $50 grant for a "student of non-color," is real, and Jason Mattera, the 20-year-old junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., who is behind it, says it's more than a publicity stunt for the College Republicans, a group that has gained notoriety on campus with its aggressive brand of conservatism.
As Mattera sees it, by offering the token scholarship, the student group is at once parodying minority scholarships at Roger Williams and making a broader statement against affirmative action.
"White kids are at a handicap," says Mattera, the president of the group. "Handing out scholarships based on someone's color is absurd."
How the Republicans' initiative has been received has had as much to do with its tone as its substance.
"I think they should engage the issues in a more academic manner," said June Speakman, an associate professor of political science and the group's faculty adviser. "We do need a discussion on whether race-based scholarships are a good policy or a bad policy. I just don't agree with their tactics."
CONSERVATIVE student groups across the country have taken a similarly combative approach to advance their arguments at universities they believe are dominated by liberals.
In Texas, California and Washington state, students have held "affirmative action bake sales," where brownies or cookies were offered at different prices to different races. Lawsuits in other parts of the country have sought to overturn diversity policies and student codes of conduct.
But Speakman says the white scholarship could be the first of its kind.
Typical of the College Republicans' past actions, the white scholarship has angered some people at the university.
After the Republicans handed out fliers on campus advertising the scholarship two weeks ago, members of the Student Senate questioned whether they had violated the university's Student Equality Act.
The act is a nondiscrimination policy that requires all campus clubs and organizations to treat all students equally without regard to race, gender or sexual orientation. If the College Republicans are found to have violated it, they could be fined or have their charter revoked.
"I understand that satire is one of their central tenets," said Erin Bedell, president of the Student Senate. "Personally, I think [the scholarship] needs to be evaluated."
The Student Senate has yet to make a decision.
The Faculty Senate also took up the issue during a meeting Feb. 4 but tabled it for further discussion.
The College Republicans are pushing forward despite the fuss.
"They wouldn't be so stupid to mess with us," Mattera said. "We'll give out the scholarship no matter what they say."
The group took out a full-page ad in last week's issue of The Hawk's Herald, the university's student newspaper. It advertises the scholarship and the visit on Wednesday of Reginald Jones, a critic of affirmative action who calls himself "the nuclear reaction to Jesse Jackson."
It's clear that the Republicans are delighted by the attention. A headline in a press release issued by the group last week said: "1st Annual Whites-Only Scholarship Ignites Controversy."
THE GROUP is certainly no stranger to trouble.
The university administration temporarily froze the College Republicans' money in the fall during a fight over a series of articles published in its monthly newsletter, The Hawk's Right Eye. In the past year, the newsletter has published stories attacking Democrats, Muslims and, recently, Kwanzaa.
The articles in the September issue accused homosexuals of squelching free speech by pushing for hate-crimes legislation and alleged that a well-known gay-rights group indoctrinates students into homosexual sex.
The issue also included an article from the WorldNetDaily Web site that describes the violent rape of a young man by an older man.
University President Roy J. Nirschel called the issue "pornographic in nature, puerile" and "mean-spirited" and said the university would "not condone publications that create a hostile environment for our students."
In the end, the matter became a question of free speech. No action was taken against the Republicans, and Mattera, the editor of the newsletter, landed on the cover of USA Today.
In regard to the scholarship, the university has chosen to stay out of the debate.
"It is not the typical place of a university to take an official stand on issues of public or campus debate, but rather to oversee that the arguments put forth by all constituencies are done so within university policies and in a nonviolent and nonthreatening manner," said Provost Edward J. Kavanagh. "All those members of the Roger Williams University campus have a voice that deserves to be heard should they choose to speak out."
"Further, the initiative is an independent action by a student organization and is not endorsed by Roger Williams University."
SOME SAY the College Republicans have been disingenuous in making their stand against minority scholarships.
Speakman and others at the university have pointed out that Mattera himself is the recipient of a scholarship open only to a minority group.
Mattera, who is of Puerto Rican descent, readily admits that he was awarded a $5,000 scholarship from the Hispanic College Fund. He also receives an annual scholarship of $8,000 from Roger Williams.
He says he was given the money because of his academic achievement adding that he has a 3.9 grade-point average and plays down the role his ethnicity played in the scholarships being awarded.
And Mattera contends that his ethnic background only strengthens his position.
"No matter what my ethnicity is, I'm making a statement that scholarships should be given out based on merit and need," says Mattera, whose group also includes a Cuban and a Guatemalan. He says they support the white scholarship.
Roger Williams offers a handful of minority scholarships. They are paid for by either private foundations or families. The vast majority of the university's scholarships are open to all students, regardless of race, and many benefit from them.
According to Lynn Fawthrop, the university's vice president for enrollment management, a third of the university's 3,400 students receive annual scholarships of between $4,000 and $15,000.
THE COLLEGE REPUBLICANS thought up the white scholarship last spring when the university's Intercultural Center sent out a list of scholarships available to minorities.
Group members donated their personal money for the scholarship, and they waited until Jones' visit to offer it.
He was invited, the Republicans say, in observance of Black History Month. A poster announcing his visit says that "Black History Month is a ploy to spread socialism."
The topic of his lecture Wednesday evening? "How the civil- rights movement destroyed the black community."
Mattera says he has received several scholarship applications. Jones will announce the recipient of the scholarship before his talk.
Scholarship, 'Whites Only,' Roils A Campus
By ELISSA GOOTMAN
February 17, 2004
Ever since Jason J. Mattera first came from Brooklyn to Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., he has stirred things up on the quiet campus of 3,400 undergraduates.
Mr. Mattera, 20, founded the College Republicans, which soon became one of the largest groups on campus. Under his leadership, the club started a publication called The Hawk's Right Eye, which upset college officials with its critiques of Islam and homosexuality.
But nothing else has attracted as much attention as the club's scholarship for whites.
"Only students who can truthfully answer yes to the following question may be considered for this award: Are you a student of noncolor, Caucasian descent (white)?" reads the application for the scholarship, whose winner, it said, would receive $50. "In 100 words or less, write why you are proud of your white heritage and explain what being white means to you."
The scholarship, Mr. Mattera said, was intended as a parody of scholarships available only to minorities. It was conceived this summer, he said, after he learned the university had compiled a list of such scholarships.
"If you are a white student on campus, you don't have anyone helping you, there is no one compiling a list of scholarships just for you," he said. "Why is it that only students of color have this?"
Most of all, said Mr. Mattera, a junior, the scholarship was intended to encourage debate on campus over affirmative action and race-based scholarships. "It's definitely ruffled feathers," he said. "It's definitely challenged the status quo on campus, which I think is good."
On Sunday, The Providence Journal published an article about the scholarship, which has since become the talk of Bristol and beyond. Mr. Mattera spent yesterday fielding calls from reporters and requests to be a guest on talk radio. Even "Today" called, he said.
A man from nearby Lincoln drove to Mr. Mattera's dormitory and delivered a check for $200 to supplement the scholarship, and since then Mr. Mattera has received dozens of e-mail messages offering donations of $5 and up.
"Your Caucasian Scholarship idea is genius!" one supporter wrote.
A California man who offered to donate $1,000, wrote, "Kudos for your efforts to expose the hypocrisy of affirmative action."
June Speakman, a political science professor who is the faculty adviser to College Republicans (and College Democrats, she notes), said that she sometimes disagreed with the club's tactics, which she called "excessively provocative," but added that the club served an important role on campus.
"Once the turmoil dies down, it will probably be a more active and inquisitive campus," Ms. Speakman said.
On campus, some of Mr. Mattera's critics have pointed out that he received a $5,000 Sallie Mae Fund scholarship for Hispanic students.
"You should practice what you preach," said Maria Ahmed, 20, president of the university's Multicultural Student Union.