Additional consideration given to Black students for universitywide Floyd memorial scholarship

Frustrated student activists remain wary, citing past administrative action.


Image by Parker Johnson

The George Floyd Memorial stands quiet on Sunday, Sep. 13th. The George Floyd scholarship is being awarded to students who focus on racial and social justice.

by Jasmine Snow, City Reporter

University of Minnesota student activists pushed for Black students to be the first consideration for the George Floyd memorial scholarship. They got their demand — sort of.

Facilitated through the University of Minnesota Foundation (UMF) and funded primarily by donations, the “University of Minnesota Scholarship in honor of George Floyd” will be awarding one Twin Cities campus student and one systemwide student between $3,500 and $4,000 each.

Scott Hagan, the president of North Central University in Minneapolis, announced a George Floyd memorial scholarship for his private Christian college during a Jun. 4 memorial service. The next day, following calls from students and swift administrative action, the University created its own. Multiple departments within the University also created their own scholarships in Floyd’s name.

Michael Goh, University vice president for equity and diversity, said the police killing of Floyd sparked an outrage and visually exposed injustices that many were already aware of.

“That there were institutional systemic structural -isms that existed for a long time and continue to be issues we work with,” Goh said. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t done work previously, doesn’t mean we don’t have work to continue to do. But this is one that we wanted to join the effort in recognizing this important moment.”

When criteria for the scholarship were originally announced, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) member Fanta Diallo created a petition, saying the scholarship should be Black and African American exclusive.

Administrators — who were slowed by the issue of legality when it comes to race-specific scholarships — sped up existing efforts to ensure the scholarship would go to Black or African American students specifically. It was added that “an additional consideration will be given to Black or African American students if they are underrepresented in the University,” according to the scholarship’s webpage.

“It shouldn’t take a band of Black students to have a scholarship meant to benefit Black people,” said a Black Student Action Committee (BSAC) representative. “It shouldn’t have been this long of a process, it should have been the primary wording of the initial scholarship.”

The initial pool of eligible candidates must be registered in full-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking programs. The scholarship’s criteria reads that “eligible students from all campuses including those with financial need and those who have been victims of police violence, will be considered for the scholarship.”

Goh said when administrators came together after President Gabel’s announcement of the scholarship, the primary focus was on the social justice narrative. The legal implications of the language were an afterthought.

“There is no room for ambiguity here,” Goh said. “I can tell you the individuals that were involved … were crystal clear on the students we hoped would benefit and gain. Because there is no ambiguity about who was killed. There was no ambiguity of whose lives matter.”

But several students said they remain skeptical of the intentions and follow-through on the University’s part. SDS member Jae-Lah Lymon said recent University inaction on issues like police reform reinforced mistrust of University administrators from student activists.

“We had a feeling it was going to be performative just by the past actions of the University,” Lymon said. “It was just another thing built on top of a lot of frustrated feelings we had towards the University. So we felt like doing something about it and holding the University accountable.”

The groups worked closely with administrators and key decision-makers like Robert Burgett, UMF’s senior vice president for development, to make significant changes to the eligibility requirements. Many students said that while they understand the modifications made for legal purposes, more work needs to be done.

“We have accomplished our goals for the University of Minnesota’s George Floyd scholarship, and we are planning on connecting with other schools beyond the system,” said a BSAC representative. “Because other schools have George Floyd scholarships as well, and we want to make sure that those are prioritizing Black students.”

The deadline to apply for the scholarship is Sept. 22, with winners to be informed at the end of October. In the future, the University hopes to award the money to multiple students systemwide, pending further donations.