Commend Columbia University for Attempting to Change Discriminatory Fellowship

Target: Columbia University’s Provost John H. Coatsworth

Goal: Praise the university for attempting to change a racist scholarship that was only awarded to white students

Although Columbia University located in New York City’s Harlem is known for being one of the best Ivy League schools, one part of its history continues to remind people of the degree of racism that existed in the past. This particular piece of the esteemed school’s history involves the almost one century-long fellowship that could only be awarded to someone white and from the state of Iowa. Columbia University is currently attempting to change these limitations for the fellowship by filing an affidavit with the supreme court of Manhattan. Although it has been long overdue, Columbia University should be praised for attempting to lift this restriction.

The scholarship in question is the Lydia C. Roberts graduate and travelling fellowship that was founded in 1920. This scholarship, which has already accumulated $800,000 in funds, currently could only be given to Caucasians from Iowa due to a clause set in place by Lydia C. Chamberlain. Chamberlain, who was from Iowa, left her money behind in this fellowship to help future students at the establishment. The fund is now currently under the administration of JP Morgan Chase. The scholarship has not been awarded since 1997. Although the scholarship might be outdated, getting the limitations lifted will require going to court and Columbia University has taken that step.

According to the New York Post, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had complained about the racial limitation of this fellowship back in 1949. At the time however, the senior administrator, provost Grayson L. Kirk, stated that the fellowship could help benefit those that qualify and did not attempt to change the rules. Back in 1920, the scholarship would award up to $750 per recipient, which covered the annual tuition at that time. However, even though those recipients fulfilled the qualifications of white and Caucasian, other qualifications stated that the recipient could not be a law student, and that each recipient must return to Iowa two years after graduation.

These limitations are very outdated in present day society. The fellowship can provide a lot of help for people who need it if these restrictions were lifted. Since Columbia University has taken the first step in attempting to lift these offensive and absurd rules, the school should be praised.


Dear Columbia University’s Provost John H. Coatsworth,

Even though it has been nearly a century, I would like to commend you, the current Provost of Columbia University, John H. Coatsworth, and the University for filing an affidavit to the Manhattan Supreme Court to get the limitations lifted from the Lydia C. Roberts graduate and travelling fellowship. This scholarship states that recipients must be Caucasian and from the state of Iowa, since the creator of the fellowship was from Iowa. These limitations are outdated and offensive.

When the scholarship was created in 1920, these restrictions were most likely not perceived to be limiting. However, as time passes, societies and norms change and thus, it is important to change the rules behind this fellowship as well. It is great that the University wants to change this fellowship so that it can help more people now regardless of the color of their skin.

Thank you for taking the first step into changing this fellowship.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: InSapphoWeTrust via Flickr

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