SMWC alumni react as controversy surrounds new George Floyd Scholarship

A new scholarship at a local college is drawing some controversy. We’ve previously reported about the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. This announcement generated a lot of public response on social media.

Posted: Jun 30, 2020 6:27 PM
Updated: Jun 30, 2020 6:36 PM

WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - A new scholarship at a local college is drawing some controversy. We’ve previously reported about the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. This announcement generated a lot of public response on social media.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College will award the scholarship to black American undergraduate students who are in good academic standing and demonstrate financial need. The announcement got a huge reaction from the Wabash Valley overnight.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods statement

The scholarship is not about the character of George Floyd. His murder brought to light the racial injustice that still transpires in our country. Through this tragedy, we believe education brings about change. Education is an opportunity to transform bias and inequality to compassion and understanding in a society where racial disparity still exists. Creating access to education for aspiring students is a way to address social justice for generations to come.”

The College’s Facebook post received a lot of comments. Some were applauding the move, while others were critical.
News 10 spoke with two alumni of the college to get their perspectives of the creation of this scholarship. That includes Rory Gillingham from the class of 1996. She says the announcement didn’t surprise her at all. She says the Sisters of Providence have always had a deep commitment to social justice issues, and she’s extremely proud of her alma mater.

1998 graduate Marcia Eppich-Harris echoed that sentiment. She says back in the 90’s, words like diversity and equity weren’t being used as much as they should have been. She says Saint Mary-of-the-Woods creating this scholarship is a great first step in making a more inclusive environment for all students.

“I’m proud of the school for doing it because they’ve always been a voice for diversity, inclusion, and equity,” Eppich-Harris said.

“When I was there, there weren’t a lot of black students,” Gillingham chimed in, “So if this might encourage more diversity at the school as well, then there’s another plus.”

There were many on the college’s Facebook post who strongly disagreed with the decision. Some called into question Floyd’s character and if a scholarship in his name was the best way to recognize diversity on campus.

Both Eppich-Harris and Gillingham spoke about their perspectives on the public’s response to this announcement.

They say there are scholarships for all different demographics of students and, they have no problem with this announcement.

“The point of those scholarships is to help kids that have not had the same opportunities as white, middle-class people and I think that is completely appropriate,” Eppich-Harris explained.

“If we have a scholarship named in his honor then, you know, maybe it will help someone else who is trying to get a fresh start who happens to be black,” Gillingham agreed.

Both women say they are in full support of the scholarship creation. They say the negativity of some of the comments on Facebook bothered them, and they believe those are the people who are missing the point.

“Part of me feels like you should just ignore the comments,” Eppich-Harris explained, “But it makes me sad to know that so many people are blinded and are not willing to be helpful to give a leg up to people who could use help.”

“I learned so much there about inclusion, empathy, inclusion, and social justice,” Gillingham concluded, “There were just a lot of hateful things written and those are things that I don’t think Saint Mary-of-the-Woods stands for.”

Both Eppich-Harris and Gillingham shared the sentiment that this scholarship is simply what Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is all about. They’re in full support, they believe it will promote a more inclusive and diverse environment on campus, and they feel most of their classmates and fellow alumni feel the same.

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