By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
For [Black] people to acquire learning in this country makes tyrants quake and tremble in their sandy foundations. – David Walker, Abolitionist
Universities, traditionally, have been seen as bastions of diversity, progress, and inclusion, shaping generations of leaders, thinkers, and changemakers. Built upon the glorious endowments of cultural impact provided by iconic local educators such as Dr. Lancelot Thompson and Dr. Helen Cooks, the University of Toledo has, in the recent past, committed to recognizing and nurturing talent across the board, regardless of racial or ethnic backgrounds.
However, The University of Toledo (UT) reportedly has stopped all ethnic scholarships from being given out, meaning groups like the Black Student Union or Latino Student Organizations cannot award scholarships exclusively to their respective communities.
Squeamish from the Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action decision in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC, The University’s law department has been holding closed-door meetings on the issue. I am told that all groups and affiliates of ethnic alums have been informed to withhold scholarship distributions pending further guidance.
It is also worth noting that the suspension, if true, has come in the wake of a Supreme Court decision centered on admissions, not scholarships. However, even in the case of admissions criteria, the Court’s decision is clear that racialized experiences may be considered.
For example, in admission evaluations, specific zip codes in predominately Black or Brown neighborhoods can be a target of focus, or universities can give essays priority in which students articulate well how race has affected their lives. Thus, there is no reason to expect this reasoning to not be okay in awarding scholarships.
Secondly, the Court’s decision in no way impedes universities’ efforts centered on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA). The foundations of these principles remain untouched, allowing institutions like the University of Toledo to continue to work diligently to ensure that all students, irrespective of their backgrounds, are welcomed, valued, and adequately supported.
Moreover, the judgment encourages colleges and universities to continue embracing diversity, including racial diversity. This implies that UT and other institutions can and should find innovative ways to promote inclusivity without breaching the parameters set by the ruling.
Nationally, the current academic climate is characterized by implicit and explicit threats of litigation and heightened fears. Legal caution is undeniably crucial. However, it is evident that the University of Toledo should not compromise on its foundational principles of equity and inclusivity while neither overreaching nor becoming excessively cautious in its response to the Court’s decision.
The core of the issue is UT’s unintentional overreach, as I see it. In an attempt to navigate the legal labyrinth prudently, the University may have cast its net too wide, catching initiatives that aren’t even under contention.
Although the debate will continue to evolve, the cessation of ethnic scholarships based on a broad interpretation or an abundance of caution might be unnecessary and detrimental. These minority scholarships have historically played a pivotal role in promoting diversity and providing opportunities for deserving students.
The promise of inclusivity must therefore remain unbroken, echoing the ethos planted by Cooks and Thompson and the spirit of awards like the annual MLK scholarship, that every student, irrespective of their racial or ethnic background, deserves a platform to shine.
The onus is on UT to ensure they continue championing talent from all walks of life.
After all, the essence of academia is to champion progress, not hinder it.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org