Duo creates ’White Scholarship’ as protest

Thursday, April 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:10 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

An MU sophomore says he is offering a $200 “White Scholarship” available only to students of “European-American descent” to express his opposition to minority scholarships.

Colin Kerr said he is protesting “race-based scholarships,” which he would like to see replaced with scholarships based on socio-economic factors. 

The White Scholarship is set up to “mimic” MU’s minority scholarship programs, he said. This is not a stunt, he said. “It’s the real deal.”

MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said Kerr’s scholarship is not sanctioned by the university. She said MU administrators had no further comment.

Gator Bell, a senior at MU, saw one of the fliers posted on a campus bulletin board. “It’s trying to ridicule a scholarship for first-generation and underrepresented students, but the way they’re basing their argument shows what they know about these is wrong,” Bell said. “The scholarships they’re trying to ridicule they know nothing about.”

MU has three scholarships for members of underrepresented ethnic groups. Recipients must have high test scores and high class ranking.

“I think most people who aren’t familiar with the minority community have the impression that minorities are just handed scholarships on the basis of their being minority,” said MU junior Jesse Berrios, chairman of FourFront, a council made up of presidents of minority student organizations at MU. “Most are very deserving regardless of being minorities.”

Kerr 'missed the history of America'

Caroles Taylor, an MU financial aid advisor, said that to him, the scholarship “is a sign of individuals who have missed the history of America and how it has played out and how it continues to play out. The whole nature of race-based scholarships is more of a historical argument than based on mere color of skin.”

Kerr said he hopes to draw scholarship applicants through word of mouth and fliers he has posted around the MU campus. But, he acknowledged, “They’re getting torn down just about as fast as we can put them up.”

According to the fliers, applicants must “write a 500-word essay explaining how your European-American heritage affects your perception of minority race-based scholarships.”

They must also submit a photo. “We considered the possibility that someone might apply for the scholarship that isn’t of European-American heritage,” Kerr said.

MU senior Crystal Pernell, a member of the Legion of Black Collegians, said she would apply for the scholarship if she weren’t graduating in May.

“I have European descent in my bloodline, so to say I couldn’t get it would be discriminatory,” said Pernell. “Many African Americans have European background in their history, too.”

Scholarship not affiliated with any organization

Kerr co-founded the scholarship with MU sophomore Dirk Otis under the name Kerr-Otis Partnership for Socio-Economic Scholarships.

However, Otis said he decided on Tuesday night to no longer be involved with the scholarship but to keep his name attached.

“Something has come up, and I had a conflict of interest, and I had to disassociate myself from the scholarship,” Otis said, declining to explain the conflict.

Both Kerr and Otis are political science majors and contributors to the independent campus publication Equitas. Otis is the vice president of the MU chapter of Delta Upsilon fraternity, according to the pair’s Web site. Kerr calls himself a “Colsonite Conservative,” and Otis calls himself a “Compassionate Capitalist.”

Most of the donors are from Missouri, Kerr said. He declined to give their names.

“It’s something a lot of people support, but they don’t want their names attached to it,” Kerr said.

A small portion of the money was given by Jason Mattera, a student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Mattera, along with the campus College Republicans there, sponsored a $250 White Scholarship in February. After the university received complaints, it terminated the College Republicans’ funding.

Although Kerr said he is an inactive member of the MU College Republicans, he said the White Scholarship is not affiliated with any campus or national group.

“I think that the White Scholarship is a unique way of raising important questions about important issues in our society today, specifically questions involving race and racial relations,” said Brian Johnson, president of MU College Republicans. “There may be more profitable ways out there to address some of these questions, but I think if it’s something that causes people to think about these issues in ways they haven’t thought about before, then it serves a purpose.”

Kerr said he thinks that some people will be offended by the White Scholarship but that “if someone examines the nature of the scholarship and the intent behind it, they’ll find some liberal concepts.”

“We’re trying to get the point across without being offensive,” he said.

Scholarship could spread

Kerr said he thinks scholarships should be awarded based on criteria such as neighborhood crime rates, geography, high school graduation rates, class rank and family income level. He does not believe race should explicitly be a factor.

“That way you’re not discriminating against anyone who is white, Asian, Hispanic, etc. but you can essentially make it a black scholarship still,” Kerr said.

Berrios disagreed. “This guy obviously doesn’t have a clear understanding of the fact that ‘minority’ doesn’t mean ‘low socio-economic bracket.’ They’re not mutually inclusive terms,” he said.

In the 1990s, MU changed the qualifications for its three minority scholarship programs, making them available not only to black students but to members of any “underrepresented ethnic group in higher education.”

Diane Schachterle, public affairs director for the California-based American Civil Rights Institute, which opposes racial preferences, said she agrees with Kerr’s position but not the scholarship.

“Technically on its face, he is violating one of our basic tenets,” Schachterle said, “although, understandably his motivation is to make a statement.”

Kerr said that if he collects any more donations, he plans to use them to help other campuses start White Scholarship programs. He said he also hopes to see the White Scholarship become an annual award at MU — although he plans to transfer to Westminster College in Fulton next semester.

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