ST. PAUL — Scholarships created at several Minnesota universities in memory of George Floyd may violate federal anti-discrimination laws, according to a professor’s complaints.
Mark Perry, a retired University of Michigan-Flint professor living in Mendota Heights, Minn., this month asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to open Title VI investigations against five universities.
Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits colleges and other programs that receive federal assistance from discriminating on the basis of “race, color or national origin.”
Perry says some of the Floyd scholarships do just that by targeting the awards to Black students at the exclusion of others.
“While it’s a commendable idea, it’s unfortunately illegal for universities to discriminate on the basis of race and skin color,” Perry said.
Floyd, who was Black, was killed May 25, 2020 by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who later was convicted of murdering Floyd.
North Central University in Minneapolis, which established what appears to be the nation’s first George Floyd scholarship two weeks after the killing, is among the schools Perry has cited.
The criteria for their award says recipients “must be a student who is Black or African American.”
Perry also has filed complaints against:
- St. Catherine University, whose Floyd scholarship will go to “one Black American student pursuing a degree or career that promotes social justice issues, specifically those related to racism.”
- Hamline University, which targets “African-American students.”
- Bethel University, which targets “incoming students of African American or Black heritage.”
- The University of Minnesota, which has Floyd scholarships open to undergraduates across the system, as well as targeted awards for students at the Law School, Duluth campus and Carlson School of Management. The U says the awards will go to students who “will enhance the diversity of the student body as described by the University. An additional consideration will be given for Black or African American students.”
Many colleges across the country have created scholarships in Floyd’s memory. While some give preference or are exclusive to Black students, others do not.
Ohio University’s award is for students who show “leadership in multicultural student organizations and diversity initiatives at Ohio, or who have a history (of) inclusion and diversity related leadership.” Augsburg University wants students with a “strong understanding of Black experiences and history,” and the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs is paying students who take internships that “focus on equity, inclusion and/or diversity,” according to a spokeswoman.
'Both lawful and necessary'
Bethel spokesman Tim Hammer said the Floyd scholarship “is meant to increase diversity in the University’s student body, especially among historically under-represented groups.
“We intend to honor that intent which we believe is both lawful and necessary to heal the injustices of the past. Bethel is proud of this initiative and looks forward to a constructive dialog with the federal agency reviewing this matter,” he said by email.
Representatives for the four other universities did not respond to requests for comment.
Perry has a long history of filing discrimination complaints, most of which have targeted college scholarships and programs for women and girls. By his count, his complaints alleging violations of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, have led to 157 investigations and about 50 resolutions, mostly in his favor.
In 2018, as a result of Perry’s advocacy, the University of Minnesota widened the criteria for two scholarships that had been limited to female students.
When it established the Floyd scholarship in June, the U initially did not say they would give preference to Black students. Language about Black students getting “additional consideration” was added only after students advocated for race-exclusive criteria, according to the Minnesota Daily.
Fanta Diallo, a recent U graduate who lobbied for including race in the scholarship criteria, said the U was very aware that it could not discriminate on the basis of race. She said she researched other scholarships in search of language that would steer the funds toward Black students without violating Title VI.
“I personally worked really hard … to make it as inclusive but also as beneficial to Black students as possible,” she said.
She called Perry’s complaint “unwarranted.”
“You can’t have a scholarship named for a man who died at the hands of police and not address the community that that scholarship was meant to benefit,” she said.
“This is not a light issue. George Floyd’s name means something, and it not benefiting Black students makes it not worth it, in my opinion.”