Whites-Only Scholarship at Columbia May Be Opened to Everyone

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 12:11 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Columbia University filed a motion last week to eliminate the whites-only provision from the school's Lydia C. Roberts graduate scholarship that was established in 1920.

Lydia C. Chamberlain, an Iowa native who lived at the Hotel Woodward in midtown Manhattan, left the money to Columbia University when she died in 1920. The fund's administrator is now JP Morgan Chase and it is estimated to be worth nearly $800,000.

The graduate and traveling fellowship has multiple requirements. First, it is only available to white men and women born in Iowa. Other stipulations include not allowing students to study law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary surgery, or theology. All fellows would also have to move back to Iowa for a minimum of two years after graduating.

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Now, Lucy Drotning, the university's associate provost, has filed an affidavit in Manhattan Supreme Court to eliminate the race requirement.

"Circumstances have so changed from the time when the Trust was established" that complying with the restrictions are "impossible," the filing says. "Columbia University is now prohibited by law and University policy from discriminating on the basis of race."

Some recipients said they weren't even aware of the race factor when applying.

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"I didn't even know there were requirements of race," Douglass Gross, a Des Moines attorney who was awarded the fellowship in 1976 to study at the university's School of International Affairs, told the New York Daily News. "All I knew is that you had to be from Iowa, and, since I was from Iowa, it was pretty easy to do."

When the trust was established, it paid a full year's tuition of $691. But the school hasn't awarded the fellowships since 1997, when it paid out $22,000, less than half the year's tuition. It's not clear why the university has not awarded the fellowship in 16 years.

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