Student paying price for 'white' scholarship By Robert Carroll, Globe Correspondent, 2/26/2004 WEYMOUTH He figured hed use the $250 scholarship to fill the gas tank in his car, buy a few text books, and maybe even a couple of "freebie" pizzas for his friends. What Roger Williams University student Adam Noska said he didnt anticipate when he received a "whites-only" scholarship last week was a campuswide assault on his character. From the moment dozens of students at the Bristol, R.I., school turned their backs to Noska when he accepted the cash award from the College Republicans, the Weymouth resident found himself branded as the Big Racist on Campus. Its a label he insists is unfair. "Im not a racist or a white supremacist," Noska said last weekend, after deciding to donate the $250 and pledging to raise more for charity. "I wasnt prepared for the level of disappointment people have shown me. I mean, Ive been overwhelmed. I became a minor celebrity on campus, and for the wrong reasons. I saw this splitting the campus community, and Im worried that the school name could become synonymous with a whites-only scholarship. It wasnt supposed to be this way." Noska, 20, said he applied for the scholarship with tongue in cheek, after finding out about it only a day before the Feb. 17 deadline to submit essays. "I wrote what I felt was a humorous look at how being white today means being used as a punch line," said the junior class vice president. "It was a takeoff on what [Sports Illustrated columnist] Rick Reilly once wrote about how [African-American] basketball players like Shaquille ONeal grew up being made fun of if a white player dunked on them. Reilly wrote about if youre white youre not supposed to have feelings if someone makes fun of you. I kind of did the same thing. It certainly wasnt something about whites being the greater race." Still, when Noskas essay was selected from among the 16 submitted, the campus became divided, with a solid line of opposition running through the faculty and student body, including the universitys Multicultural Student Union, which organized the silent protest, and the College Democrats student group. University provost Ed Kavanagh quickly fired off a statement distancing the school from the award. "The initial funds were collected from the members personal money, not university funds," Kavanagh said. "The initiative is an independent action sponsored by a student organization and is not endorsed by Roger Williams University." Professors also began to openly question Noskas character. One teacher, he said, spent her entire 90-minute class giving Noska "a dressing down." "She told me when she got news of the scholarship and who won it, she and her husband stayed up all night crying together over how disappointed they were in me," he said. "She said much of the faculty had told her they felt the same. She built her entire class discussion that day around how she felt what I had done was wrong. I was made to feel a little uneasy." If dealing with fellow students and teachers were not enough, Noska also had to face the Providence media. Television crews wanted his image. Radio stations and news reporters wanted his words. Even CNN, the Fox Newschannel, and the BBC weighed in. Through it all, said Noska, he tried his best to explain his position, saying that he did it for the money and little else. He pointed out that he had no hidden agendas and argued against assertions made by some that the scholarship was dreamed up by the College Republicans as a direct slap in the face of February being Black History Month. "I was talking to anyone who would listen," he said. "It wasnt about race. If anything, it was about the need for dialogue." Noska said he and whites-onlyscholarship inventor Jason Mattera of the College Republicans share the opinion that a healthy campus discussion of the effects of affirmative action is needed. Mattera, a 20-year-old junior, said that at a university where "6 percent of the student body is minority," concerns still can be raised about special treatment given to minorities. "Hey, Im Puerto Rican. Im a minority," he said. "I inherently have an advantage here. There are [non-university sponsored] scholarships here set aside for students of color only. Still, Im not sure about affirmative action. I want people to talk about it, and I figured this was the best way. It certainly has the attention of the local, national, and international media. Everyone seems to be talking about it." Including, said Mattera, two callers who last week placed death threats against him. "I had police surrounding me one night for protection," he said. "Nothing happened. As for Adam, Im proud of the way hes handled this. And I fully agree with what hes done with the money." Two days after receiving the scholarship, Noska called an impromptu press conference on the steps of the university library to announce he was donating the $250 to a fund benefiting The Station nightclub fire survivors and victims families. He also pledged to raise at least another $750. "If there is a lesson Ive learned in all this, its that Ive become increasingly sensitive to the opinions of different people," said the son of Janet and Robert Noska. "Its amazing how things can turn." Not everyone is convinced that the story has had a happy ending. "These kinds of scholarships put together for disingenuous purposes tend to incite racism, bigotry and hatred," said Leonard Alkins, president of the NAACP Boston Branch. "The fact that only 16 filed for the scholarship made it clear that people saw the dangers in what this kind of thinking does in our society. "While what Adam did in giving the money away was making the best of a bad situation, I dont think he should have ever applied or accepted the scholarship in the first place," said Ethan Maron, a 19-year-old sophomore member of the College Democrats. "This was offensive to minorities and those of us who are not a minority but find racist rhetoric disagreeable. This entire thing greatly offended a large number of students here." Noska said he believes the worst of it is behind him. "At least, since I donated the money, the glares and stares have been replaced by hugs and handshakes," he said.