Workaround Helps Get Scholarships for Black Students
By Dianne Anderson
One old anti-affirmative action loophole made it possible for 16 Black students to access scholarships this year, a workaround to the long-term negative impact that is still being felt decades later in low-income communities of color.
Most likely, the Cal State University Fullerton students who received their $1,500 scholarships this year were either not born or don’t remember when Proposition 209 first banned so-called preferential treatment.
But, the 1996 state law never banned social justice funds and third-party partnerships.
Greg Saks said they contacted the Orange County Community Foundation, which launched their African American Alliance Fund to see about a partnership. The organization was more than willing to be the custodian of the new Black scholarship fund.
“We are appreciative. They were an amazing partner and said absolutely and made the first donation to the fund to kick it off,” said Saks, vice president of University Advancement and executive director of CSUF’s Philanthropic Foundation.
This year, the campus received $24,000 in scholarships to help 16 Black students through the partnership that helped them get around the typically associated challenges of Prop 209. The 16 scholarship recipients will be celebrated next March 6.
“We were able to connect with a whole set of supporters that really care deeply about this issue. Of course, we do want to make sure that the issue of affordability is addressed. They were wonderfully generous,” he said.
The campus heavily promoted the scholarships to existing Black students, and new students entering the university. Of the 40 applicants, 16 students were selected for the annual scholarship, renewable for those that received it. Awardees were selected by an independent contractor through OC-CF that facilitated the process.
Saks said another example to get around the Prop 209 requirement was in their College Engineering and Computer Science department, where they have a Black Lives Matter scholarship for students pursuing that field of study.
“That scholarship can go to a student in the Black Society of Engineers. Of course, anyone can join, you don’t have to be Black to be part of that, but chances are you’re going to be,” he said.
For students that didn’t receive a scholarship, campus financial officers reached out to make them aware of additional financial aid products, including access through state university grants, Pell grants, and Calgrant, along with many other scholarships.
Specific scholarships based on race, religion, or gender are prohibited under Prop 209, but Saks said to his knowledge, these types of partnerships for scholarships are rarely available at other universities.
“We were able to reach out to a partner and come up with a way for us to raise dollars to get in the hands of our Black students so the barrier of financial need is certainly minimized and they’re able to continue with their education,” he said.
Cal State Fullerton student Jeremiah Riggins, who received an award, commended the program, and expressed his gratitude for support services at the campus for Black students, including BSU, the African American Resource Center, as well as Black staff and faculty.
“Without them, opportunities like this would be hard to come by. Thank you to everyone who had a role in bringing this scholarship to CSUF. I plan to further express my gratitude by continuing to excel wherever I can and representing our university well,” Riggins said.
Student retention and recruitment is priority for the campus where their Black student population is about 2% of their 40,000 student total.
Tami John also received a scholarship, which she said was a great help for herself and her family. She still lives at home with her parents, who are also paying for her sister to go to college in another state.
“We’re not receiving any financial aid, so my tuition would have been completely from our own earnings. The scholarship really helped me cover my tuition this semester, paired with a separate scholarship, it covered it completely,” said John, a third-year CSUF student.
The funds lifted some of the burden off of her parent’s shoulders, and also for herself because she works to pay for school, and the things that the scholarship would buy.
“That has really been helping me to focus on school and not worry about so many financial things on the side as well and it’s really been a blessing,” said John, a double major in English and film.
She hopes to go after more scholarships and creative internships in the future.
“[It’s] to see where else I can apply my skillset to tell my own stories, and stories about Black people in their community and the things that we go through on the day-to day basis,” she said.
Tammy Tumbling, who is African American, created the African American Alliance Fund on Juneteenth of 2020. She came out of pocket with the first $25,000 donation for the project that continues to help participants develop skills and tools to sustain their nonprofits.
That alliance was among the first efforts to convene African American leaders in Orange County and surrounding communities to capacity building support.
“We are excited to see this program begin with such a robust group of students,” said Tumbling, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Orange County Community Foundation.
To help support CSUF scholarships for Black students, see https://donor.oc-cf.org/donation-form/CalStateFullertonBlackStudentScholarshipFund