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Diverse Scholarships Court Rulings Prompt Changes In Way Colleges Use Race For Student Admissions

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

They were called AHANA scholarships - grants awarded specifically to students of African, Hispanic, Asian or Native American descent.

But when Gonzaga University changed them into “diversity scholarships” last semester, students such as Linnea Willis became upset.

“This school seriously lacks minorities,” said Willis, a GU sophomore and president of the Black Student Union. “Scholarships are a way to get students of color here and that shouldn’t have been taken away.”

Like hundreds of colleges across the country, Gonzaga no longer awards race-based scholarships. Nor does the school consider ethnicity when admitting freshmen or new students.

The change last year was prompted by recent court rulings: Last March, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found a University of Texas affirmative action program unconstitutional. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that bars the University of Maryland from restricting some of its scholarships to black students.

“When awarding financial aid, we’re color-blind,” said Sue Jarvis, GU’s director of financial aid. “We don’t really look at sex or race. It all depends on academics and financial need.”

Although 88 percent of the diversity scholarship recipients are still minorities, the award has become open to white students with “cross-cultural experiences,” Jarvis said.

Affirmative action - a topic of debate at many college campuses - was highlighted Wednesday night at Gonzaga during a panel discussion on race as a consideration in college admissions and scholarships.

“If the institution makes race a factor for getting certain benefits,” it’s a no-win situation, said GU law professor David DeWolf. “If someone else gets it and I can’t, that creates division.”

Sports teams, DeWolf noted, don’t consider race. Athletes simply unite with a common goal.

Gonzaga’s new diversity scholarships are open to all students, regardless of color, said Jarvis. The grants, which total roughly $100,000 per year, constitute about 10 percent of the university’s total financial aid.

Willis, 19, didn’t lose her original AHANA scholarship of $10,000 over four years.

But she was bothered when the scholarship’s eligibility standards changed because “there are other minorities at school who could use them.”

The Sacramento resident had at least a half-dozen offers from schools, including Santa Clara University and University of California at Berkeley.

Willis chose Gonzaga, she said, because she wanted to make a difference on a predominantly white campus. She also received a good financial aid package that included the AHANA scholarship.

“I used to tell myself that I would never come here,” she said. “But I came because they showed me they wanted me.”

But at some universities, including Washington State University, race is still a factor in admissions and financial aid, said Terry Flynn, admissions director.

Students who apply to WSU are considered based on test scores, grades and high school activities. Those who do not meet the average minimum standard of a 3.4 GPA are then assessed at other levels that include single-parenthood status, whether they are the first in their families to go to college, physical disabilities and race.

“People still think that most multicultural students don’t meet the standards, but that’s wrong,” Flynn said. “We believe that in order for our students to have an effective education, they need to be able to work with people of various backgrounds.”

At Eastern Washington University, 13.1 percent of the school’s total financial aid of $675,375 goes to students of color, said Brian LevinStankevich, vice provost for student affairs and enrollment management.

Like Gonzaga and WSU, admission and scholarships aren’t based solely on race. Other factors such as grades and extracurricular activities are considered.

But diversity on the Cheney campus isn’t just enhanced by scholarship money, he said. It also helps that the school offers majors in three ethnic programs: Chicano Studies, Black Education and American Indian Studies.

“These programs help students reaffirm their heritage,” he said. “A lot of parents want to make sure that there’s somebody out there watching out for their kids and these programs help.”

Faculty involved in the programs also help with recruitment. Professors in the Chicano Studies program, for example, travel to Yakima and other cities with large Hispanic populations in search of students.

During Wednesday’s panel discussion, some speakers defended affirmative action policies.

“It’s not an even playing field,” said Raymond Reyes, an assistant professor of education at GU. “There is a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.”

Most colleges make their decisions based on GPAs and test scores, he said. But not all students are privileged enough to attend schools with good facilities, usually in affluent neighborhoods.

Intellectual diversity should also be a consideration, the panelists said.

In an all-white literature class, for example, it isn’t likely that someone would bring up black writer Langston Hughes as a favorite author, said law student Uri Clinton. Students of color, he said, also would contribute to history class discussions on such topics as slavery and civil rights.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Students of color

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