Performative action: Duke’s misunderstanding of the Reginaldo Howard Scholarship

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Critics of affirmative action argue that universities reduce people down to their race. By eliminating the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship program, Duke has proved them right. 

Last week, Duke announced that Duke is eliminating the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship program, citing “changes to the legal landscape.” This news comes as a shock to current and former Reggies who were not consulted in the process. The decision also betrays a dark truth that Duke University does not and has not seen the Reggie program or its scholars for anything more than the color of their skin.

This is not merely a guess or estimation but something that has been discussed. Back when I was a student, I remember attending an event with the Office of University Scholars & Fellows where they were highlighting the different merit scholarship groups. I recall the Director of the OUSF at the time giving lauded intros of the scholarship groups:

“We have the AB Duke Scholars who are notable for their commitment to academics and leadership!” 

“The BN Duke Scholars students from North & South Carolina who are committed to service to the world!”

“The University Scholars who are pushing the bounds of research and interdisciplinary studies!” 

“And the Reggie Howard Scholars for African Americans.” 

Even in the moment, I was bothered by the lack of similarly exultant adjectives and raised the issue at the time. But time has shown how absurd this reduction is. Among the Reginaldo Howard Scholars that shared time at Duke with me, three (others) are CEOs, four have Ph.D.s, and one is an internationally recognized author — not to mention the countless doctors, lawyers, political organizers and musicians who excel in their respective fields. The results are clear: The students admitted into the Reggie program are a gift to Duke’s campus and alumni base. 

But where I see a commitment to social, academic and professional excellence, Duke University only sees race. When Duke decided to lead the pack in not considering race in scholarship programs, Duke could not find any other trait, principle or value worth honoring in the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship program. Instead, they chose to shut down the program, ending a tight-knit community and alienating scores of alums and donors like me. 

The people who were lucky enough to know Reginaldo Howard remarked that he saw people for who they were. He didn’t reduce people to the color of their skin. Duke should learn from Reginaldo Howard’s memory and continue the Reginaldo Howard Scholarship centered around the values and principles that Howard himself espoused. Rather than shut down the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship program, Duke should carry on Howard’s legacy and do what he would have wanted: expand the scholarship to be more inclusive and continue to positively impact the lives of a diverse group of students for generations to come.

Craig Vincent is the current co-founder and CEO of Aficio Inc. and a Duke alum who graduated from the Pratt School of Engineering with his B.S.E. in 2016 and his master of engineering management in 2018. He is also an alum of the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship program.


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