Duke University’s Shift Away From Race-Based Scholarship Sparks Debate

Duke University has made a recent decision to discontinue the Reginaldo M. Howard Memorial Scholarship, a full ride program exclusively for Black students, has ignited a mixture of reactions from former recipients and observers alike.

The university announced the replacement of the scholarship with the Reginaldo Howard Leadership Program, which will now be open to all Duke undergraduates. This move, according to Duke’s statement, was prompted by legal considerations surrounding race-based considerations in higher education.

The removal of the Reginaldo M. Howard Memorial Scholarship at Duke reflects a larger trend. With diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives facing scrutiny and opposition from conservative groups and lawmakers across the country. And last year, the Supreme Court denounced race-based admissions. 

Frank Tramble, a spokesman for Duke University, explained the transition, stating, “We are reimagining the Reginaldo ‘Reggie’ Howard Scholars program to expand the impact of Howard’s legacy to many more Duke students with a commitment to leadership and social justice.” Tramble outlined the new program’s focus on academic enrichment, internship funding, community engagement, and highlighting Black excellence through the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

Former scholarship recipients expressed disappointment at the decision. Craig Vincent, a graduate of Duke and former scholar, emphasized the scholarship’s role in attracting talented individuals to the university. 

Vincent told CNN, “It felt a little bit like the university was reducing the scholarship down to the race of the people that were in it. Where they kind of made the interpretation that this… was only a scholarship for Black students and there was nothing else unique or interesting about the folks that made up this pool and therefore they chose to eliminate it. That was very saddening to me.”

Wilton Alston, another former scholar, initially felt anger and sadness but eventually decided to support the new leadership program, acknowledging the need to engage in its development. “I decided it made sense to give the leadership program a chance, and more importantly, engage in the future plans for developing the program,” Alston said. 

The Reginaldo M. Howard Memorial Scholarship, established in 1979, aimed to support exemplary students of African descent by covering full tuition, room, and board. Named after Duke’s first Black student body president, the scholarship had a rich legacy of supporting talented individuals.

Furthermore, Duke’s decision comes amidst broader reevaluations of diversity programs in North Carolina colleges. The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors recently voted to repeal and replace the existing diversity and inclusion policy.

However, despite the discontinuation of the scholarship, Duke University says they remain committed to supporting the current scholars until their graduation. Tramble emphasized that the new program would continue to provide support for hundreds of students each year through various methods, including need-based financial aid and leadership programming.

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