Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream to see society strive for acceptance and diversity. Members of the selection committee for the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship said they are trying their best to preserve that dream.
Committee members said they are working hard to make sure the university community knows that the 28-year-old scholarship is still in existence, and they are seeking to increase funding and support from university faculty and staff.
English professor Bob Frye said the idea for the scholarship came about when he and political science professor Donald Jackson met in Jackson’s home in Cambridge, England in the early 1980s. They decided to ask the administration to consider the idea, and, after the scholarship was approved, Frye presented it as part of his speech for Honors Professor of the Year at the Honors Convocation on April 15, 1982.
The scholarship was originally funded by faculty donations. Later, the committee decided to allow staff members to contribute and now, Frye said, members are looking for possible outside sources.
“We are trying to enlarge the number of possibilities,” Frye said.
But the committee will not do so until administration has approved such efforts, he said.
“We worked very hard to make sure (the scholarship) was approved by the financial aid office, the provost, the chancellor and vice chancellor and that they were OK with this,” Frye said. “We have to go through the appropriate channels.”
Frye said the scholarship was originally intended to provide an opportunity for racial minorities to attend college, but he is an advocate for the scholarship’s broadened availability.
“If a person has financial need and is willing to become a person in public service, then I think (the scholarship) should be on the basis of merit,” he said.
Morri Wong, chair of the sociology department and a member of the committee, said the number of recipients decreased during the past few years because of little funding. He said a lack of promotion of the scholarship resulted in fewer faculty and staff donations.
Wong said he and the other committee members would make brochures to distribute among groups such as Faculty Senate, Staff Assembly and the Alumni Association. Committee members will attend the groups’ meetings and present a brief pitch to re-introduce the scholarship.
“We’re going to get out and make a push,” Wong said.
Wong said the scholarship has provided more than $175,000 in financial support for students since 1982. He said it is available to both current students and incoming freshmen. One of the requirements for the scholarship application is a 750-word essay describing how applicants would use their prospective careers for service to humanity.
According to the financial aid Web site, applications can be found in the office in Sadler Hall. Wong said the number of scholarships awarded has varied throughout the years and award amounts have ranged from $500 to $2,000.
Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA, Wong said, and incoming freshmen looking to apply must be in the top 25 percent of their high school class.
Andrew Fort, a religion professor, said he has been an advocate for the scholarship since its beginning. He said he likes that faculty and staff members are involved in the scholarship, which he said could be a tool used to encourage diversity on campus.
“The idea that we could both improve diversity and reward people for being diverse was a great two-fer,” he said.
Mark Dennis, an assistant professor of religion, said he first heard about the scholarship during a workshop the religion department conducted that focused on King’s vision. Although he is not a formal member of the selection committee, he said he was proud to be a part of a cause with values the likes of the MLK Scholarship.
“This notion of those who have been oppressed is something really important in my teaching and in my scholarship,” Dennis said.
He said the scholarship resonated with him because of his personal experiences and the religion department’s recent efforts to encourage acceptance among people.