SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Steven M. Jackson
What Scholarships?

I see myself as what you would call the stereotypical white, middle-classed male who’s no better than anybody else.  I was never faced with many hardships growing up other than the few puberty stricken pimples we all inevitably get much to our despair, not exactly a hardship I guess.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t until I got into the later stages of high school and college was just around the corner that I was confronted with my first real discriminatory incident.

While taking a class my senior year of high school, I received an assignment where I was to write a resume and get at least three applications for scholarships.  A scholarship was my only chance to attend the college I always dreamed about going to since, like many of my friends, my family didn’t have the financial capability to put me through four years at a University.  What I thought would be an easy task soon turned into a real eye opening experience.  The resume writing part of the assignment, which I was indisputably dreading, turned out to be rather effortless and somewhat amusing.  At this point I was thinking the assignment was going to be a simple walk through the park; much to my surprise this was certainly not the case.

I remember those twenty-four hours distinctively. The sky was overcast and rain was falling sporadically all day long.  It was one of those lifeless days when all you want to do is stay home from school, put your feet up in front of the television with a big bag of popcorn and watch a movie.  As I got ready for school that morning, the time seemed to creep along like a snail, slower with each expiring minute.

 I arrived at school around 8 o’clock that gloomy morning, the sun not yet penetrating the sky’s murkiness.  Everyone was dressed in pants, sweaters and hats in an attempt to keep warm and cover their unmanageable hair.  About five minutes later I found myself in Mrs. Mueller’s senior English class, the most dreaded period of my day.  I remember thinking to myself, “Steve, you should have just stayed home and watched movies!”  Mrs. Mueller, a vicious old woman, gave the class our assignment and we were off to the library in search of scholarships.

 The air was chilled and wet making the walk to the library seem like an immeasurable marathon.  The library was soundless and still, the tables vacant and cold, the students motionless and inattentive (well at least I was) when we arrived.  We each grabbed a scholarship book and embarked on what seemed like to me an endless scholarship expedition.

The pages had no feeling!  Wait, never mind, my fingers were just numb!  I rummaged through the scholarships one by one and my frustration intensified with each unsuccessful attempt.  One of the first scholarships I came across was for females only, the next for African-Americans, another was for single mothers and yet another for individuals with parents employed by Motorola.  Of course I am not female or African-American and yet again I’m not a single mother nor does Motorola employ my parents.  The time now began withering away even more sluggishly than before.  My woes increased considerably as my classmates got up and left the library after completing the assignment.  I had yet to find even one compatible scholarship.

I remember drawing a rather subtle and unacceptable conclusion that day; scholarships were full of bias and only for minorities.  The students that had completed the assignment before me were non-Caucasian and the majority of scholarships I was finding were for minorities only.  As sad as it sounds, this was enough evidence for me to “play my discrimination card.”  Sure, maybe I took everything completely out of context that day and the conclusion I drew was merely based on unsubstantial evidence, but at the time that was enough for me.

 As young children and teenagers, most of us are incapable of seeing situations from “the other side line.”  We are selfish and only want what is best for our own personal gain.  It is with time that our conscience changes and we realize that what we have said, or even done for that matter, in the past is completely absurd and inaccurate.

 Looking back upon my experience, I see the situation in an entirely different light.  Originally, I looked upon scholarship providers as both discriminatory and unfair individuals and/or corporations.  I assumed that scholarships were founded to keep the financially stable white population down thus giving less fortunate minority individuals an upper hand in their pursuit to complete school and accomplish what we all want; the successful American dream.  As I have become more mature and knowledgeable, I have reached the realization that this perspective is completely incorrect and relatively disturbing.  Scholarships are not established to make one individual superior or inferior over another, they are ultimately formed to balance the “playing field” and give each and every individual an equal opportunity to make the most out of their lives and become educated.

On a more personal note, I was brought up in a culturally diverse neighborhood and attended Alhambra High School in West Phoenix.  The majority of my childhood friends were African-American and Mexican-American and the schools I attended growing up were predominantly comprised of what the typical American sees as minorities (African Americans and Hispanics).  I was always the “white kid” mixed within a crowd filled with color.  I was seen as the Other, personally by myself and by surrounding minority individuals until just recently.

I remember walking into my first college class and feeling totally out of place.  It was hard to breathe, a very disturbing and unusual environment.  I looked around to see a class comprised of all Caucasians and only one Mexican-American.  For once I was no longer the Other but was overwhelmed by my own kind, the white college population.  This lone incident is the point when I finally realized why there are so many scholarships for minority individuals; unfortunately there just are not many of them that attend college.

Scholarships give some minorities the capability to attend college therefore enabling America to become more culturally diverse in the higher education field. This not only benefits the minority students, but also provides white individuals attending college the opportunity to socialize with and learn about the Other cultures.  It is situations such as these that bring Americans one-step closer to becoming “blind to the Other” while still acknowledging they are there.  It is my hope that one day this “blindness” will eliminate racism forever and everyone, regardless of color, sex, religious beliefs or other personal qualities, will live together equally without negative thoughts towards one and all.

Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage