Ujima validity, coverage debated

Ujima validity, coverage debated

The Northeastern Patriot, a student-run conservative publication, released a special issue last month featuring two pieces questioning the merit of the Ujima Scholars program that have since caused a large response from students and administrators.

The program used to provide financial and academic assistance to about 60 students who had academic potential, but fell short of the traditional criteria for admission to the university.

The article, by editor in chief of The Patriot Dave Moberg, “Scholarship Raises Equality Issues,” discussed the program by outlining its services, which include financial aid, course advising and assistance in reading, writing and study skills; and explained recent changes to the program along with a student response.

An accompanying editorial, “Ujima Scholarship Program Unraveled,” challenged the program with questions that referenced its admission criteria, like: “Why would ‘bright, hardworking students’ need massive amounts of personal help to pass freshman year?”

The pieces provided fodder for discussion at the Student Government Association Joint Senate meeting April 11, the same day the issue was released. Senator Devin Philip, a senior African-American studies major who was quoted in the article, expressed disappointment.

“My big issue with the paper is that [Moberg] interviewed me knowing that I was a Ujima Scholar and then turned around and had one of his people do an editorial, and he did an article, both of them bashing the program,” Philip said. “If he wanted to get a rise from the university, he did that.”

The Ujima Scholars program was founded in 1972 as a way for first-generation and urban students to attend Northeastern. It features a scholarship component for students requiring financial aid and academic services.

Moberg said he became interested in the program after hearing Philip was discouraged with its recent cuts, which reduced the number of students accepted into the program to a maximum of 40 per year.

“I was looking for something as a focus of the next issue,” Moberg said. “It was something that piqued my interest. So then I wondered what qualifications and requirements for the scholarship were.”

Moberg said several attempts to acquire grade point average (GPA) and SAT statistics from the university about students accepted into the program were unsuccessful.

Laura Shea, assistant director of communications and public relations, said the university would not disclose such information in order to protect the privacy of the students involved.

In reaction to the article, Philip said a letter-writing and discussion event was held April 19 at the Cabral Center in the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute to get students interested in composing letters to the university regarding The Patriot’s coverage of the program.

Philomena Mantella, senior vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, wrote a letter to The Patriot clarifying what she called “a number of inaccuracies and misleading statements about our Ujima Scholars program.”

Mantella said that the program offers $12,500 scholarships to students per academic semester, contrary to the full tuition aid Moberg described in his article, and wrote that Ujima Scholars “are not under-performing black students.”

“They are hardworking students from a variety of racial backgrounds who have the focus and drive to succeed, but who have faced obstacles – financial and otherwise – to success.” Mantella said.

Mantella later said although the scholarship was historically aimed at African-American students, it no longer has a race component and it is “not an affirmative action program.”

An enrollment strategy group that was chaired by Mantella and in charge of making changes to the university’s financial aid program reduced the number of Ujima Scholars from 60 to 40 students last fall, and increased the size of the scholarship for the incoming class this fall.

The change was made “to be sure that we can do our very best work with the 40 we take rather than risk that finances become a reason for students not to persist,” Mantella said.

Philip said he regarded the cut as the university simply “running a business.”

“What they did is from the business standpoint,” he said. “I would hope they see the real contribution that this [program] has on campus and that they would raise the number of scholars.”

William Reese, a senior history and political science major who participated in the April 19 event, said The Patriot’s coverage was “ill-informed and lacking the quality of acceptable journalism.”

Moberg said he regrets that the university would not provide the requested information, but that he doesn’t regret his approach.

“We’re not here to be polite,” he said. “We’re not here to make sure we don’t step on anyone’s toes. We’re here for the content.”

Moberg, who contacted Shea via e-mail last Wednesday, said he will continue to pursue information about the program. He said he plans to release a special issue of The Patriot to publish new information or accept that he will not receive it.

In an interview with The News, Mantella expressed concern about the phrase “under-performing students.”

“I think it’s important to assess the community reaction to the words that were utilized and really reflect on it,” she said. “And a sense of heightened awareness on what those words can do and what they mean to individuals. I think that a lot of the people were hurt.”

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