Columbia University seeks to change terms of whites-only fellowship

The university has petitioned to remove the condition that the recipient must be "a person of the Caucasian race"

By Katie McDonough
Published May 15, 2013 8:14PM (UTC)
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Columbia University (Shutterstock)

Columbia University has moved to change the conditions of a fellowship that stipulates it can only be awarded to "a person of the Caucasian race."

In addition to the whites-only restriction of the award, the Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowship can only be given to a person from Iowa, who may not study law or certain other fields, and must return to the state for two years after graduation.


As the New York Daily News reports, the fellowship has not been awarded since 1997, but Columbia administrators would still like to see the terms of the award opened up to other students:

Lucy Drotning, the university's associate provost, filed an affidavit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week to support a prior action made by the fund's administrator, JPMorgan Chase Bank, claiming the racist provisions set in 1920 are grossly outdated.

"Circumstances have so changed from the time when the Trust was established" that complying with the restrictions are "impossible," the filing says.

"Columbia University is now prohibited by law and University policy from discriminating on the basis of race."

Many of the previous recipients of the award did not realize the qualifying restrictions, as Douglass Gross, a Des Moines attorney who was awarded the fellowship in 1976 told the Daily News: "I didn't even know there were requirements of race," he said. "All I knew is that you had to be from Iowa," he said. "And, since I was from Iowa, it was pretty easy to do."

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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