Equal Protection Project files complaint against IU Columbus alleging scholarship program for Black students discriminates against other races

Photo provided BCSC and IU Columbus have signed an agreement streamlining college admission for local graduates to IU Columbus.

A conservative non-profit based in Rhode Island that has filed dozens of complaints against affirmative action and diversity initiatives at universities across the country has now set its sights on IU Columbus.

The Equal Protection Project said Monday that it filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against IU Columbus, alleging that students who are not African American are being “illegally excluded” from the IU Columbus African American Fund Scholarship.

The scholarship, which was created by the African American Fund of Bartholomew County in conjunction with IU Columbus, provides recipients with $1,000 per year for up to four years to attend IU Columbus, according to the university’s website. Funding after the first year is dependent upon academic performance.

“Eligibility for this scholarship (at IU Columbus) is restricted to African American students,” the complaint alleges. “…In other words, students who are not African American are illegally excluded from this scholarship and discriminated against based on their race or color.”

More specifically, the complaint argues that the eligibility criteria for the scholarship violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education to open an formal investigation into IU Columbus and the scholarship program and “impose such remedial relief as the law permits.”

The Equal Protection Project is a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, a non-profit founded by Cornell University law professor, according to its website.

“The eligibility requirements for this scholarship is openly racially discriminatory,” Jacobson said in an emailed statement. “Regardless of the purpose of the discrimination, it is wrong and unlawful. …IUC needs to come up with a remedial plan to compensate students shut out of this scholarship due to discrimination.”

The complaint against IU Columbus is part of a growing effort targeting diversity initiatives in higher education around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that bars universities from considering race in admissions.

Affirmative action proponents have criticized Supreme Court’s decision, while the President Joe Biden said he “strongly, strongly” disagreed with the court’s ruling and urged colleges to seek other routes to diversity rather than let the ruling “be the last word,” The Associated Press reported.

At the same time, some conservative activists have argued that the decision should extend beyond admissions and apply to all educational programs.

The complaint against IU Columbus cites the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The Equal Protection Project has filed complaints against several similar scholarships and other educational programs at universities across the country in recent months, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Northwestern University, Western Illinois University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, among others, according to the organization’s website.

While the complaint claims that IU Columbus scholarship is restricted to African American students, it is unclear if recipients are required to be African American.

The university’s website includes somewhat conflicting information about the eligibility requirements for the scholarship, at one point stating “the student must be African American,” while also stating that “preference will be given for African American students” and “special consideration will be given to underrepresented populations including but not limited to financially challenged students and/or students with diverse cultural experiences.”

IU Columbus officials did not respond to requests for comment. Indiana University spokesman Mark Bode declined to comment on the complaint, stating “IU does not comment on individual legal complaints.”

For his part, Tom Harmon, president African American Fund of Bartholomew County, previously has highlighted the benefits of the scholarship program.

“The goal of the program is to help reduce the financial barrier for college attendance and to encourage local students to pursue and earn a college degree where they can receive both financial and non-financial support,” Harmon is quoted as saying on the university’s website. “This program will benefit the student, IU Columbus and the community.”

Founded in 2013, the African American Fund of Bartholomew County is a nonprofit “committed to helping Black community members in Bartholomew County thrive,” according to its website.

Currently, it is unclear whether the U.S. Department of Education will open an investigation. The department’s Office for Civil rights did not return a phone call seeking comment.