Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

In an effort to “encourage discussion” on race-based scholarships, a student group called the Boston University College Republicans (BUCR) has instituted a controversial $250 “Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship“. Applicants must be at least 25% Caucasian, have a 3.2 GPA, and submit an essay on what it means to be a Caucasian-American in today’s society. BUCR argues that scholarships that are preferentially given to members of a certain race, and excluding others, are a form of bigotry no matter which way the discrimination swings. By their own definition, this scholarship is meant to be a token to raise awareness of their position (“the worst form of bigotry confronting America today”) rather than a bona fide “scholarship for white kids.”

(Continued below the fold………..)

However, those considering applying for this scholarship may want to take heed of the situation of a similar winner, Adam Noska. A group at Noska’s college, Roger Williams University, awarded him a similar “whites-only” scholarship in the amount of $250, however he received more than just money. He also received notoriety. After receiving the scholarship, Noska was largely shunned by the campus and has been branded the ‘Big Racist’ on campus.

”I’m not a racist or a white supremacist,” Noska said last weekend, after deciding to donate the $250 and pledging to raise more for charity. ”I wasn’t prepared for the level of disappointment people have shown me. I mean, I’ve been overwhelmed. I became a minor celebrity on campus, and for the wrong reasons. I saw this splitting the campus community, and I’m worried that the school name could become synonymous with a whites-only scholarship. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Although he applied for the scholarship tongue-in-cheek, he quickly realized that the issue of race still demanded a higher level of sensitivity. However the scholarship was meant to be portrayed, as a tool for discussion or fuel for

But how is a scholarship meant for “whites only” any different than affirmative action which preferentially accepts minority applicants or bestows minority-only fellowships? The difference may exist in who holds the power in our society, and to what purpose such preferences are put into place. Cultural, socioeconomic, and gender barriers all exist to some extent in American culture–perhaps best evidenced by the startling low 6% enrollment of minorities at Roger Williams University itself. In order to ensure that universities, and students, benefit from a diverse education, often pro-active techniques are utilized to recruit minorities. These sort of actions are more difficult to justify when the demographic in question is already at 94%. The goal of higher education should be to broaden horizons, not just of one slice of America, but of the whole. While a discussion on how that can best be achieved is a significant one, that goal is only undermined when significant biases which persist in our culture are ignored rather than corrected.

(Note: cross posted here)


  1. #1 Elf Eye
    November 22, 2006

    “at least 25% Caucasian”

    Wouldn’t many (most?) “African-Americans” qualify for this scholarship?

  2. #2 Joshua
    November 22, 2006

    God, why do these idiots have to be at my alma mater? Why can’t they just move to Alabama and hang out with all the other nutjobs?

  3. #3 Kagehi
    November 22, 2006

    The problem is “how” to correct for, “significant biases which persist in our culture”. Sadly, a significant part of that bias is generated “by” the people to which the system is biased. If you grow up convinced you will never get anyplace, told the same by your own parents, and constantly hammered with the idea that the system is stacked against you, the “real” bias can be much smaller, or even non-existent, and you will still fail. Among some cultural groups in this country, this “is” the biggest issue, and can’t be corrected by bending over backwards to create an illusion of “fairness” that’s not fixing anything.

    The people in the post are still morons though for failing to consider how it would backfire, but heck… They are Republicans, which is often almost synonomous with, “What? How could anything I do annoy anyone?” As usual, the all too often used stance of the opposite end, “What? How can you say that, someone might be offended by it!!!”, isn’t any saner, since it misses the point even more, but intentionally stepping on someone’s toes without even thinking about the consequence is just dumb.

  4. #4 Roy
    November 22, 2006

    I find people like that really frustrating. On the one hand, the issue they’re bringing up is certainly one that deserves attention. Regardless of your stance on preferential treatment practices or affirmative actions policies, I think that it’s reasonable to have a discussion about them- do they work? What’s the best way to use them, if they do? How will we know when they’re beyond useful? What groups should they apply to? Etc.

    The problem is that groups like BUCR come across as being really insensitive about the issue. Maybe it’s just the article, but they almost always end up sounding like jerks about it. “Well, it’s not fair. Why do they get to be discriminatory but I can’t?”
    The impression often seems to be less about being fair, and more about why they aren’t allowed to discriminate. I hear the same kinds of things when people talk about racist language (which has obviously been big news this week, too). The argument is rarely “How do we move beyond this” but more often “Well… how come I’m not allowed to use it?” It’s like… they’re not so much bothered by the racism, as they’re bothered by the fact that they’re not allowed to use racist language while someone else (arguably) is.
    And that is messed up, to me.

    I’m sure that there are people out there who oppose affirmative action programs, and oppose them for perfectly rational, well thought-out reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with wanting to maintain class/race/gender inequalities and that have nothing to do with wanting to be able to discriminate against other people… it’s just frustrating that I so rarely see them.

  5. #5 RPM
    November 22, 2006

    A private group has the right to provide whatever restictions it would like on any scholarships it provides. I think problems arise when the government promotes or discourages certain ethnic or gender groups from applying for positions. Attempting to remedy the problem with benefits to counter other actions is a band-aid, not a long-term solution.

    I, personally, find the use of the term caucasion to be the most offensive item in the entire article (see here for a history of the term — it’s rooted in concepts of racial superiority).

  6. #6 Charlie (Colorado)
    November 22, 2006

    The 25 percent thing may provide an interesting comment on how flawed the whole construct of “race” is. I’m as whitge-looking as anyone you know, but I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation, and also have a black ancestor … so I’m “colored” but could “pass”, at least as the rules were defined when I was a kid. As is pointed out above, the 25 percent rule means a whole lot of “black” people qualify.

  7. #7 Shelley Batts
    November 22, 2006

    I agree with what most of you guys are saying: sure, the issue should be discussed, but they don’t have to do it in a politicized and offensive way. A good argument could be made that racial preferences are only a bad thing when it hurts at least one party involved. White people have had the upper hand in income, education, jobs, etc for a long time. How can we complain when we’ve had SO much for SO long? Are we really so stingy and insecure that we aren’t willing to equalize the playing field, to compensate for ingrained biases WE have instituted? Its easy enough to rig the game, hold all the cards, and then declare its “unfair” if other parties don’t play by our rules.

    A key American ideal is certainly ‘best person for the job’ or ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ as part of the rags to riches American dream. But when you’ve pulled yourself up, only to be knocked back down again, the ideal quickly dissipates. One day I hope and know affirmative action will no longer be needed. That day is not yet here.

  8. #8 MarkP
    November 23, 2006

    The problem with these standard defenses of affirmative action is that they make a basic logic error. While it is true that many people in power are white males (Oprah, Nancy Pelosi and Martha Stewart notwithstanding), it does not follow that white males per se have an advantage. There are many other sources of bias, some with strong experimental support. You would be amazed at the barriers to advancement in the business world for a white male who isn’t attractive enough, tall enough, from the “right” family, and who refuses to waste his life in the senseless pursuit of a little white ball across a mile of manicured lawn.

    That’s not to say race biases aren’t a problem with which we as a society need to deal. It is just that doing it after the bulk of the damage is done, in a manner that invariably divides rather than unites, and which plays completely into racist views (“See there Billy Bob, they can’t compete with us without help”) isn’t the way to go. Better to focus our resources on better public primary education, health care and other influential factors that effect the underprivledged early on. Not much a bunch of rich BU brats can complain about there.

  9. #9 Loki on the run
    November 24, 2006

    I, personally, find the use of the term caucasion to be the most offensive item in the entire article (see here for a history of the term — it’s rooted in concepts of racial superiority).

    Well, who gives a fuck really? I’m caucasian. Deal with it.

    And my half-Chinese daughter could apply for the damn scholarship too.

  10. #10 Roger Benningfield
    November 24, 2006

    I don’t have a significant issue with affirmative action in principle… if someone can guarantee me (via objective standards) that Minority Person A is going to do as fine a job as Majority Person B, then I don’t really care who gets picked. I’m not sure it always works out that way, but when it does… fine by me.

    Personally, I think you need to treat racial imbalance like a corporate monopoly. In that sense, affirmative action is a lot like breaking up AT&T… it may not have worked out quite as intended, but it didn’t hurt much in the long term and there were positive effects.

    Such a perspective also helps when dealing constructively with anti-AA people, ’cause I’m betting most of ’em aren’t huge fans of breaking up monopolies, either. Too often, such folks are labeled “racist” when they’re really just sticking to their socio-economic guns in insisting that competition should arise through effort rather than fiat.

    Shelley: “How can we complain when we’ve had SO much for SO long? Are we really so stingy and insecure that we aren’t willing to equalize the playing field, to compensate for ingrained biases WE have instituted?”

    I *do* have a bit of problem with the sentiments quoted above, though.

    First of all, there’s a lotta “we” going on there. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the “I” part of “we” hasn’t instituted a cultural bias lately. A suburban law professor driving a Volvo home to his wife and 2.4 kids has no responsibility to own the crimes of thousands of inner-city gang members just because he shares their skin color, and I’m not gonna take on the sins of white cretins of decades/centuries past just ’cause they looked like me.

  11. #11 Alon Levy
    November 24, 2006

    Mark, there’s ample evidence of existing discrimination against women and minorities (links available on demand, as usual). Affirmative action isn’t necessary to counter past racism, but to counter present racism. When universities stop discriminating against women and minorities in employment and promotion, affirmative action will be obsolete.

    Kagehi, what you say about culture is true, though not the way you think. There are studies that show stereotyping causes people to underperform. Telling women before a math test that men perform better on it makes them underperform; even making them fill an oval for their gender before the test hurts their score. The same applies to racial minorities stereotyped as stupid or unmotivated.

  12. #12 buridan
    November 25, 2006

    I’m a firm advocate of affirmative action; I don’t agree with those who argue that affirmative action amounts to reverse discrimination; and I agree with Alon that there’s enough racial disparity today to warrant a proactive approach to redress such disparity (although I think past and present racism are of a piece and cannot be separated).

    Having said all that, what angers me more than anything with this issue is the practice of many on the Left of labeling those who disagree with the above position as racist. It’s a disingenuous tactic at best and serves only to silence the so-called opposition, but then that’s the point. I see this sort of behavior far too often from those who ought to know better – academics. It happens so often, however, that I question the applicability of the phrase “who ought to know better.” I guess at some point one has to conclude that perhaps they don’t know any better.

    I want to hear from those who disagree with me. In fact, any discussion that doesn’t include a strong alternative/opposing position is really not a discussion at all. It’s a rally. This of course raises another problem of diversity in higher education that is almost never mentioned – diversity of thought. There’s nothing more pathetic and intellectually draining than a “discussion” where everyone is in agreement.

  13. #13 Caledonian
    November 26, 2006

    The ideal we’re supposed to be striving for is to no longer perceive ‘racial’ distinctions as meaningful – content of character, not color of skin (or ethnic background, or whatever).

    And yet affirmative action proponents proclaim that skin color/ethnicity is vastly important to education. Does that seem right to you?

    If colorblind admissions standards result in student populations that don’t match the racial makeup of the general population, so be it. I’m far more concerned with the ideas in people’s heads than the color of their skin, and I don’t want the people who feel otherwise having anything to do with our educational systems.

  14. #14 Alon Levy
    November 27, 2006

    And yet affirmative action proponents proclaim that skin color/ethnicity is vastly important to education. Does that seem right to you?

    It’s apparently factually correct. The studies I’ve seen about racial discrimination are in job markets rather than in university admission, but the results have been so uniformly bad that I reserve the right to assume a bias in subjective admissions (which itself arose as a means of reducing the number of Jewish students at the Ivy League schools).

  15. #15 Caledonian
    November 27, 2006

    No, not in admissions, in the education.

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