Fulbright Program aims to diversify its pool of applicants for students, scholars

By Steven Viera || Senior Editor

The Fulbright Program—a competitive, merit-based scholarship that provides funds for scholars and teachers to live and work abroad—is seeking to expand the diversity of its applicant pool. F&M also hopes to broaden the range of students who apply for all fellowships, not just the Fulbright, and attract candidates from different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other backgrounds.

According to this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 63 and 66 percent of students in the Fulbright’s student and scholar programs, respectively, were white in 2015-2016. In the same period, 5.2 percent of recipients of the student program, or 99 out of 1,900, and only seven percent of scholar program recipients were black; Latinos remained underrepresented in both categories relative to their percentage of the population. It is worth noting, however, that these figures reflect significantly greater numbers of recipients among racial minorities compared to 2005-2006.

“We want to send the message to all students and scholars that Fulbright encourages your interest, and that we’re committed to promoting diversity in the program for the long term,” said Mala Adiga, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs for the U.S. State Department, according to the article in the Chronicle.

While F&M sees large numbers of students apply for the Fulbright, there is little diversity among winners. 53 students from the College applied for a Fulbright this year, producing eight semifinalists, but only one of the eight is a person of color according to Monica Cable, director of post-graduate fellowships and scholarships. However, Cable did point out that Fulbright is looking to diversify.

“It’s not just in terms of ethnicity,” she said. “[Fulbright] would really like diversity in terms of socioeconomic background, in terms of first-generation college students, and they would really like more veterans applying.”

Despite the lack of diversity among F&M’s Fulbright winners, students of color are winning other post-graduate fellowships; Cable indicated A.J. Koikoi ’16, for example, who is the second student from the College and the first student of color from the College to win a Princeton in Asia fellowship.

“I was amazed to find that out,” Koikoi said, referring to his accomplishments. “It takes me a step back and says to me, ‘You’re not doing this for yourself; you’re doing this for people who aren’t very represented in things like this.’”

As a Princeton in Asia fellow, Koikoi will spend a year teaching English in Japan at an all-girls’ Catholic school, and he hopes to get involved in the community coaching youth athletics. He began working on his application with Cable several years ago, and he emphasized that the application for the program explored his personality rather than simply looking at his GPA or academic achievements.

“Inclusivity is what we need to work on,” he said. “We’re very diverse, and that’s cool, but there’s a difference between diversity and inclusivity. Inclusivity means we’ve reached the goal line. So once we get to that point, I’m really excited as to what this college can do—especially with programs like this. Hopefully, I won’t be the last African-American to win.”

Cable echoed Koikoi’s comments and expressed enthusiasm to make sure that F&M’s applicants for post-graduate fellowships and scholarships are a diverse group of talented students.

“I was really lucky this year and got hooked up with the Miami STEM Posse, and so I had a lot more students of color than I’ve had in the past applying, and even though, unfortunately, they’re not finalists, I would love to see more students of any color applying, and especially ethnic diversity and socioeconomic diversity,” she said. “Students are more eligible and more qualified for these than I think [they] believe.”

Senior Steven Viera is the Senior Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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