College Scholarship Targets White Men Only

Texas State University student Colby Bohannan had a hard time finding scholarships for which he and his friends were eligible. His frustration led him to launch the Former Majority Association for Equality, an organization that offers grants exclusively to Caucasian men. The group claims that white males are at a disadvantage when applying for college scholarships. Host Michel Martin speaks with Bohannan about the controversial cash awards.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

We're continuing this focus on issues in education today. Now we want to talk with the head of a group that wants to start a scholarship program to help white men pay for college. The group calls itself the Former Majority Association for Equality. And it says its mission is to, quote, "provide monetary aid for education to white males who need it."

The group says its immediate goal is to offer cash grants of $500 to Caucasian males because the head of the group claims that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding scholarships for school, and we thought this was an important question to ask. So we've actually found an expert who has researched the question, and we will hear from him in a few minutes.

But first, we go to Colby Bohannan, the president of the Former Majority Association for Equality, or FMAE. He's also a student at Texas State University. He's an Iraq War veteran. And he's with us from members station KUT in Austin, Texas.

Mr. Bohannan, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. COLBY BOHANNAN (President, Former Majority Association for Equality): I'm glad to be here.

MARTIN: So tell me how you started thinking about this idea.

Mr. BOHANNAN: In the year 2002, me and my first cousin, Brandon Bohannan, who's also a member of our board, were sitting in our one-bedroom apartment. And it's a one-bedroom apartment that we both live in, because we're trying to save money and we're going to school full-time. We're both working full-time. One day, we sat down and we conducted a legitimate search for some scholarships to apply to, because we needed it.

We found hundreds upon hundreds of ethnically-based scholarships for this culture or that ethnicity, and absolutely none of them were for Caucasian males. So we kind of had the idea in 2002, but we didn't have the money to act on it. And so I was honorably discharged last year, 2010, in January, and I immediately started going back to school with a GI bill.

And the idea came up to us, and we said, you know what? Let's go ahead and try to help that one sliver of the population who's trying to go to school, who's trying to afford an education to better their life, but who are Caucasian males.

MARTIN: I did want to ask about the GI bill, though. Aren't you eligible for that?

Mr. BOHANNAN: I am eligible for the GI bill, and I'm currently enrolled in school at Texas State with the post-9/11 GI bill, and obviously, it's helped substantially.

MARTIN: So this isn't for you?

Mr. BOHANNAN: This is for people like me. They're hard-working. They're trying to afford rent and utilities and tuition and books and everything and just need a little help, you know?

MARTIN: You know, the trends do point to a decrease in men as a share of college students. But the National Center for Education Statistics says that's for all ethnicities. And whites still made up more than 70 percent of this year's incoming freshman class. That's according to the annual survey of 200,000 incoming freshmen by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute.

So I think the question a lot of people have is, overwhelmingly, the people on college campuses are still white. And why do you feel that white males particularly need this kind of help?

Mr. BOHANNAN: Well, the facts show that white Caucasian males do have trouble paying for school, just like everybody else. What people tend to do in these interviews is turn it into more of a racial thing, like, black and white. And we understand that we brought that upon us when we said we're going to target Caucasian males, but the argument is really about green and red. And everyone's having problems affording school. And since everyone's having problems, why not have an ethnically-based scholarship for Caucasian males?

MARTIN: And you also said in your mission statement that you explicitly do not want to accept money from white supremacist groups, and that you don't want this to be a cover for those groups. How are you going to monitor that?

Mr. BOHANNAN: If we ever find out that a certain individual had donated x amount of money to the Former Majority Association for Equality, we're going to take that money and we're going to donate it back to another ethnically-based scholarship foundation that's 501(c)(3) certified.

MARTIN: You've mentioned that there have been a number of media interviews that you've done, and you are getting a lot of attention for this. And I wonder why you think that is.

Mr. BOHANNAN: The topic always gets more and more complicated. And what I'm constantly finding myself doing is bringing conversations back to reality. And in reality, the only message that the Former Majority Association has for the public is this: If you need help paying for school, if you're in financial need and you can demonstrate to us a commitment to your grades, leadership in your community and be Caucasian male, please apply to us so that we can find funds to help you afford an education.

MARTIN: You're saying that you think this partly speaks to the anxiety that a lot of people have about race in this country. But there are those who suggest, in fact, some of the coverage of this suggests that there is a feeling on the part of some, anyway, that the attention was the point.

Mr. BOHANNAN: No, the attention truly was not the point. The point is the fact that I come from a hard-working family, like so many other Americans do. We live paycheck to paycheck. I'm the oldest. I have two younger sisters. When it's time for me to go to college, I had relatively good grades. I got into a relatively good school, and we just didn't have money to pay for it.

MARTIN: So it seems kind of simple to you. You feel like there's just too much to-ing and fro-ing about this.

Mr. BOHANNAN: There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that has relatively nothing to do with us. I mean, people say that we're putting out a message that white males are underprivileged, and I'm reading articles where it says that Bohannan and his board members are saying that we're underprivileged and we deserve this. Well, we're not claiming to be underprivileged. We're just trying to identify this subset of the population that's going to school, that needs help financially, and cannot find it in other ethnically-based scholarships.

MARTIN: You have two sisters, you were saying? You have two sisters?

Mr. BOHANNAN: They're both in nursing school right now.

MARTIN: They're in nursing school. I'm just curious what they think of your idea.

Mr. BOHANNAN: The oldest of the two, Julie, she's a little bit more levelheaded than me and Lindsey(ph). Lindsey's the youngest. And out of all the people that have called me, Lindsey has taken the cake. And I think she might've called me 25 times yesterday.

MARTIN: What did she say?

Mr. BOHANNAN: What can I do? How can I help? Oh, my gosh. I saw you on TV. You should've had somebody do your hair.

MARTIN: Oh, well, there you go.

If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're talking about a new group that says it wants to offer college scholarships for white men. Our guest is Colby Bohannan. He's the president of the Former Majority Association for Equality. That's the organization that wants to offer scholarships for white men.

And also understand that you're saying that people have to be - should be able to prove that they're 25 percent Caucasian. Do I have that right?

Mr. BOHANNAN: That's correct.

MARTIN: So President Obama would qualify.

Mr. BOHANNAN: If President Obama was a college student and he could show us that he has a situation financially where he needs money to go to school and he's trying to afford an education - I don't know what President Obama's grades look like, but if he could show us a commitment to his education, get letters of recommendation from a couple of - actually, I think we only require one letter of recommendation - and impress us with his two essays, I would be more than happy to...

MARTIN: Two essays? Isn't that a lot for $500?

Mr. BOHANNAN: Well, it's $500 now. In 2012, for the spring semester, we are going to give out $1,000 scholarships to five people.

MARTIN: OK. But how are they supposed to prove that a parent is white? And do you see where there's - I don't know an elegant way to put this - an ick factor? This is something disturbing about telling people they have to prove their ethnicity, that that's kind of the wrong direction to go in. Does that make sense?

Mr. BOHANNAN: If there's any doubt or anything whatsoever, your birth certificate, to my knowledge, states the ethnicity of your mother and father on it. So we're not looking for a certain stereotype or a certain mold. If you're 25 percent Caucasian, to the Former Majority Association for Equality, you're Caucasian, and we'd like to help you afford school.

MARTIN: Finally, before I let you go, as you have noted yourself in some of the questions that you've gotten, there is some skepticism about this. And some people say the issue is not equality. The group is called the Former Majority Association for Equality. Some people say the issue isn't equality, but entitlement. You look at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, for example. By definition, there's 500 of them.

Mr. BOHANNAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: There are 15 female CEOs. There are four African-American CEOs, one of whom is a woman. And you look at, you know, who owns the majority of assets in this country - if you look at income levels, by every standard, white men still have more. So there are those who look at that and say: How can you be arguing is the real issue - it's equality, but it isn't entitlement, that there isn't more of an advantage? That your advantage is less than it was, but it's still more. What would you say to that, if I may?

Mr. BOHANNAN: We truly do resent that there's not more, but the more that we are talking about - there needs to be more African-American scholarships, more Hispanic scholarships, every demographic. But we're not trying to say that we are entitled to anything. I hate to refer back to how simple it is, but all we're trying to do is help poor people. And if we can do that, we're helping these people help them self have a better life.

MARTIN: What are you studying, Colby, by the way?

Mr. BOHANNAN: I'm actually studying mass communication broadcasting. Do you think I have the voice for it?

MARTIN: I think you do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Colby Bohannan is the president of the Former Majority Association for Equality. He's a student at Texas State University. As you heard, he's studying mass communications. Employers, take note. And he joined us from member station KUT in Austin, Texas.

Colby, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. BOHANNAN: Thank you, Michel. I do appreciate it.

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