Affirmative Action in Rhode Island

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 18, 2004 at 6:21 AM

The New York Times has this cute article about a College Republicans group that's stirring up controversy by offering a "white heritage" scholarship.

The group's founder says he created the scholarship (which has, not surprisingly, since received interest and money from around the country) as a critique of scholarships for minorities (usually specific minorities) only.

My first, and the obvious, response was that the sheltered white kid needed a lesson, as I received when I went to college, in the realities of American education for non-whites. A less reactionary reaction: to be a conservative on most college campuses these days is to be pretty brave. I had a little experience with seeing conservative groups start springing up at Hampshire toward the end of my time there, so I'm a bit sympathetic toward people who want to step out and create some debate rather than just quietly ignore the jackbooted liberalism that permeates academia. You have to applaud the student, then, for being a leader, for espousing his views, in spite of popular criticism.

Then I reached the final lines:

On campus, some of Mr. Mattera's critics have pointed out that he received a $5,000 Sallie Mae Fund scholarship for Hispanic students.

"You should practice what you preach," said Maria Ahmed, 20, president of the university's Multicultural Student Union.

You can't really blame the kid for taking money when someone offered, I guess, but it does smack of hypocrisy. If he really is against affirmative action, and doesn't believe that minorities need an extra push here and there to reach a more equitable place in society, then wouldn't he have to take a moral stand against that scholarship?

The writer, Elissa Gootman, doesn't say whether she asked Mattera about this scholarship. Leaving the article at the end there with that little statement feels kind of sloppy. Did she ask Mattera about the money? What did he say? Did he refuse to comment?

We're left in a situation where all we can do is speculate. Perhaps he's only recently come to the conclusion that affirmative action is wrong, and he accepted the scholarship before a moral stand ever entered his mind. Or perhaps it's juicier. Maybe he really did accept the money while at the same time, in his own head at least, decrying the institutions that allowed him to receive the money in the first place. Maybe that's why we're left hanging at the end. Did Gootman's editor decide that (s)he didn't want the piece to turn into a huge trashing of Mattera, and thus cut the juicy interview material to keep the article relatively civil?

Or maybe the New York Times writers and editors get sloppy just like everyone else does.