Oregon Civil Rights Group Offers Scholarships to White Students

By Farrell, Michael B | The Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2010 | Go to article overview

Oregon Civil Rights Group Offers Scholarships to White Students


Farrell, Michael B, The Christian Science Monitor


The Oregon League of Minority Voters is trying a new civil rights tactic: offering scholarships to white students to take classes in race relations.

In a unique twist to the notion of using educational scholarships to improve minority representation, an Oregon civil rights group says it will offer a $2,000 scholarship to encourage white college students to pursue studies in race relations.

The initiative by the Oregon League of Minority Voters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Portland, Ore., may well be the first of its kind. College scholarships have long been seen as a vehicle - albeit a controversial one - for improving the condition of minorities, but this appears to be the first time that white students have been singled out for assistance in the name of promoting civil rights.

"We lack white participation in the racial conversation in this state, so we are trying to do something about it," says Promise King, executive director of the Oregon group. "When we talk about race relations, most of the time in Oregon, most white people are not at the table."

The focus of his organization remains on empowering minorities, but the group also feels it's important to have non-minority allies in a state where about 90 percent of the population is white, Mr. King says.

"I'm trying to push for solutions. And that's what is driving this vision, to really seek out white students who will in the future be at the forefront of civil rights," he says.

Historically, the civil rights movement has sought out white allies, says Kenneth Nunn, a law professor at the University of Florida who teaches a course in African-American history and the law. "We have all understood that nothing is going to change in America unless the majority feels it is the right thing to do," says Professor Nunn.

One reason the Oregon group can undertake this initiative, he says, is because they are a private group. "When you are talking about public institutions, it's very difficult to do anything that is racially targeted," he says.

Minority programs disappearing

Over the past decade, colleges and universities have backed away from scholarships specifically aimed at minority students to avoid claims of discrimination or legal challenges. …

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