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Whites-Only Scholarship

Aired February 16, 2004 - 11:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we turn to the East Coast where a student group at a Rhode Island school is offering a scholarship, but it's only for the whitest, not necessarily the brightest, students.
The whites-only scholarship is offered by the College Republicans at Roger Williams College in Bristol, Rhode Island. The application for the $250 award requires an essay, and a recent picture to confirm whiteness. The group says it's a protest against affirmative action.

Jason Mattera is president of the College Republicans at Roger Williams University. He is on the phone with us right now from Bristol, Rhode Island. Good morning.

JASON MATTERA, COLLEGE REPUBLICANS, ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY: Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Tell me about the idea behind offering this scholarship.

MATTERA: Well there's a group of students on campus, a large group of students on campus who are handicapped and they're at a disadvantage. And they're at a disadvantage because of their Caucasian descent.

The university compiles scholarships just for students of color on campus. And the other kids who are not of color on campus have to fend for themselves in looking for scholarships. And though they might be meritorious, though they might be financially in need, the school doesn't go the extra step to help them.

And we're just trying to point this out because we think if you strive for academic excellence and you are in need, then you should be able to get scholarships just for that.

KAGAN: Explain to me how showing a picture proves that somebody is white.

MATTERA: Explain that showing a picture that someone is white?

KAGAN: That's how you prove your white. I mean how do you even describe what is white?

MATTERA: I mean it would be the same as how you would describe somebody is black. You'd have to give a picture to confirm someone would black. So we'd need a picture to just confirm that you are white.

(CROSSTALK) KAGAN: Here's where you lose me on all that. As I was reading on this today, I understand that you yourself receive a scholarship from a group that's called the Hispanic College Fund. You get $5,000, and this is a group that does restrict itself to minority-only applicants.

So how can you play it both ways, Jason? How can you take their money and then try to support this type of scholarship as well?

MATTERA: I think it actually gives me thought to talk on this subject. I probably have the best GPA in my school. I've been on the dean's list for the last -- my four years in college. And it's because of that striving for academic excellence on campus. You have to have a certain GPA.

It's fine if you want to give scholarships based -- or if certain groups based on their ethnic background and striving those minority groups inside. But why should I automatically be at an advantage just because I'm Puerto Rican and why should that automatically qualify me over some people at my university?

Why is it that on college, at my college campus, the university doesn't help those who are -- my fellow peers who are white? It doesn't help them get scholarships, but just me.

KAGAN: I'd want to get the school on the phone to find out what kind of situations they have. I'm sure that there are white students on campus that do have some type of financial aid.

But let me ask you this. Don't you think that if you really, really believe in this, Jason, the real way to make the statement would be to give back that $5,000, to say that you're really that offended by groups that discriminate by race?

MATTERA: Well, Hispanic is not a race. Hispanic is -- you can't tell me what color Hispanic is. It's white, blank, Indian, Asian, Hispanic. It's not a race-based scholarship.

And, no, because they give it based on merit. You have to have high academic standards on that. The school...

KAGAN: But you also have to be Hispanic. It does discriminate. If you really have that big a problem with it, why don't you make your statement with it now and say that $5,000, thank you very much, but you find it so offensive it's going back.

MATTERA: The statement we're trying to make on campus is why does the school just compile for students of color and not for those of non-color? That's the statement we want to make on campus. I'm not the beneficiary of special treatment or affirmative action whatsoever and everything. And I want to know why the school doesn't go that extra mile.

You're automatically thought on campus if you're white that you come from a privileged background, that you're rich, that you pay for full tuition, that you don't need that step. And those that are white on campus have to compete with everyone. There are scholarships based not because you're white, but say just on need or academic achievement.

But however, minorities can also apply for those scholarships as well. So there's a larger pool of applicants as opposed to being a smaller pool of applicants with the minority scholarships.

And we don't think that is right on campus. If you want to have your race-based scholarships, then we'll say, OK, you can have it on campus, but let's be equitable and give it for those who are white as well -- as Caucasian descent as well.

KAGAN: There are certainly those who would agree with the concept that financial aid and any kind of scholarship should be based on economic need rather than any kind of racial or any kind of cultural situation.

I do want to get you to comment on this, too, that the college, the Roger Williams University has not been too happy with your colleagues. And you had your funds frozen in the fall for a totally different reason. Some of the stuff you've been writing in your newsletter, not you in particular, but your group, the college calling it "pornographic in nature and mean-spirited." This has been kind of a dramatic year for your group.

MATTERA: Yes, it has. The university has not taken a stand on our scholarship outwardly. But they did take a stand last year when we were -- those who have a traditional background were being targeted on campus, and they would be called bigots, et cetera.

And so we exposed that, and then the president of our university, I think, foolishly sent out an all-student e-mail calling our group "puerile, mean-spirited," as you had referenced.

KAGAN: And finally how many applicants have you had for your white-only scholarship?

MATTERA: We've been getting them pouring in now. And we've -- the -- it was first $50. But we have been getting donations, and it's up to $250 now. And we've been getting tons of e-mails saying people want to support us.

So they can go to our Web site, RWCR.com. If you want to support us, maybe we can build a scholarship fund and continue.

KAGAN: All right. We appreciate your time. Jason Mattera with the College Republicans at Roger Williams University. Perhaps we'll get the school on the line and talk with them. Appreciate your time.

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