A conservative revolution has quietly been taking place on college campuses across the country. Scholarships, fellowships and other funding programs previously earmarked for women and minorities are now being made available to white and non-minority students.
In 2002, many institutions of higher learning began to take a hard look at the potential legal liability of their race-specific programs. That was also just about the same time that conservative groups began to mobilize around the issue.
The following year, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that defined the limits of affirmative action as it relates to college admissions. Conservative activists, led by Linda Chavez's Center for Equal Opportunity and Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Institute, then began to systematically examine the funding programs of colleges and universities.
The Center for Equal Opportunity challenged programs at more than 200 institutions of higher learning, and threatened legal action for any who didn't agree to end limitations on race-exclusive scholarship programs.
The center also filed letters of complaint about schools that don't fall into line with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. That has led to Education Department investigations and Justice Department threats of legal action aimed at schools that resisted the changes.
The State University system of New York recently agreed to allow non-minorities access to race-specific programs throughout its campuses.
Others, like California's Pepperdine University, are negotiating terms for their programs with the Justice Department. Some smaller institutions, like Kettering University in Flint, Mich., are, at least for the moment, flying under the conservative radar and continuing to operate their race-based scholarship programs.
The chilling effect of the conservative effort is also reaching beyond college campuses. Federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, as well as philanthropic entities such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, are ending their support for college programs that consider race as an eligibility factor.
It's clear that many right-wing organizations like the Center for Equal Opportunity believe that we live in a society free of the racial discrimination of the past.
But America's long history of educational apartheid continues to this day. Many students of color in urban public schools are languishing in separate and unequal facilities. They face dwindling funding resources at the federal, state and local levels. They lack basic supplies, endure overcrowded classrooms and crumbling infrastructures. Those limitations mean that many students of color are already having to work harder to access higher education.
If scholarship programs designated for minorities are eliminated, our education system will continue to leave many well-qualified and deserving students behind.
Andrea Lewis is a San Francisco-based journalist and co-host of "The Morning Show" on KPFA Radio in Berkeley, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.