Duke University Ends Scholarship Program For Black Students: Why You Should Care

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This post was originally published on Defender Network

By Laura Onyeneho

Duke University discontinued its Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship Program, a full-ride scholarship historically awarded to Black undergraduate students.

Following the 2023 Supreme Court ruling limiting affirmative action in college admissions, this decision raises concerns for Black students seeking higher education opportunities.

Founded in 1979, the Reginaldo Howard program provided full tuition, room and board for Black undergraduates, with some demonstrating financial need. The scholarship was named after Duke’s first Black student body president, and it aimed to increase Black enrollment and leadership at the university.

“The Reginaldo Howard Leadership Program will honor Reggie Howard’s legacy by supporting Black academic excellence, intellectual community, and leadership on campus through an intentionally designed series of engagement opportunities,” wrote Candis Watts Smith, vice provost for undergraduate education, in an email to Reggie Scholars and alumni.

The Duke University Scholars and Fellows Office has recently disclosed an updated schedule for selecting merit scholarships. Beneficiaries of scholarships provided under the “post-matriculation” approach will learn of their award—which is determined in part by financial need—after they enroll at Duke, as opposed to before.

Duke cites the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling to end the program. While proponents argue such programs are necessary for diversity and equal opportunity, opponents believe they unfairly disadvantage other applicants.

Dismantling the Reginaldo Howard program aligns with a national trend of eliminating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) offices in some public schools. A recent Texas law restricts state-funded universities’ use of funds for such initiatives.

Beyond the immediate impact on students, critics argue these anti-DEI measures threaten academic freedom. State legislators’ attempts to control curriculum and hiring practices based on political ideology could stifle open discourse and research on race and other sensitive topics. For instance, the University of Texas System halted new DEI policies and reviewed existing ones following pressure from Governor Abbott.

Experts predict these measures will further marginalize underrepresented students, faculty, and staff. The University of Texas A&M System and the University of Houston System stopped requiring diversity statements from job applicants, a practice that fosters inclusivity in hiring. Proponents of diversity programs argue this doesn’t discriminate against white applicants, as federal and state laws already protect against that. However, anti-DEI advocates claim these practices lead to unfair hiring.

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) offers a real-world example. Following the anti-DEI law, students there report cultural programs struggling to stay afloat. These programs support minority students, including cultural centers, multicultural graduation ceremonies, and scholarships for underrepresented students.

Duke’s replacement for the Reginaldo Howard program is a leadership program open to all students. However, the end of a dedicated scholarship for Black students creates uncertainty. Black students in Houston and across the country should be aware of these national trends and how they might affect their access to educational opportunities.