Arkansas minority health commission ends diversity scholarship following lawsuit
Quinyatta Mumford credits an Arkansas Minority Health Commission scholarship with affording her the opportunity to finish her doctorate in public health with less stress.
The single mother of three will graduate from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences next week and was disheartened to learn the Minority Health Workforce Diversity Scholarship is being discontinued as part of a lawsuit settlement.
“We already know that minorities are underrepresented across health care and in public health, so if we take away the ability to incentivize those that are typically marginalized, then it’s going to make it very difficult to entice people, not only to go into the field, but to entice people to come to Arkansas,” she said.
Do No Harm, a Virginia-based nonprofit, filed a lawsuit in April challenging the constitutionality of the scholarship, which limited eligibility based on race. In a settlement signed on Monday, the commission agreed to no longer offer the scholarship and to not reinstate it with limitations for eligibility based on race.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of an unnamed Do No Harm member, an Arkansas pre-nursing student who met all of the scholarship’s requirements, but could not apply because of her race, according to a press release.
“Do No Harm is pleased that the Arkansas Minority Health Commission decided to stop offering a scholarship that determined the applicants’ eligibility based on race,” Do No Harm board chair Dr. Stanley Goldfarb said. “The scholarship program was blatantly illegal and yet another example of injecting race-based decision making into education for medical professionals.”
College minority students pursuing a career in health fields were encouraged to apply for the scholarship. The program’s goal was to increase diversity in the state’s health care workforce, which could positively affect the health of minority populations and the quality of care in the state, according to a December Arkansas Department of Health press release.
The scholarship, which was awarded biannually, gave $1,000 per academic year to full-time students and $500 to part-time recipients. The commission awarded $27,500 in scholarships to 29 students for the Spring 2023 semester and $26,000 to 28 students for the Fall 2022 semester.
“There is an ever-increasing gap in minority representation in the health care workforce,” AMHC executive director Kenya Eddings said in an October press release. “We are proud of these students who have chosen to pursue a career of service through health care and public health and excited to be able to help them by providing scholarships.”
According to the commission’s 2022 Health Workforce Report, the majority of workers in health occupations were female and each profession studied was predominately white. More minorities are needed in the medical field, Mumford said, so that people have a safe place to seek health care.
“There’s a lot of stigma around some of the things that are happening and people feel more comfortable when they’re being served by someone that not only understands them, but understands the challenges and the fears that they have when it comes to seeking health care,” she said.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said in a statement that as a general rule, the government can’t treat citizens differently based on their race because Americans are guaranteed equal treatment under the 14th Amendment.
“Policies departing from this fundamental principle may be upheld only if they are ‘narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest,’” Griffin said. “In this case, although states have an interest in remedying past discrimination, the scholarship’s stated goal ‘to help increase diversity’ does not meet the 14th Amendment’s stringent requirement and is unconstitutional.”
In response to questions from the Advocate asking when the scholarship was launched, where the money came from that funded it and where that money will now go, Arkansas Department of Health spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said: “I’ve checked in with our legal team, and we are not able to comment on litigation.”
Diversity programs and scholarships have faced more challenges on the state and national level in recent years. During Arkansas’ recent legislative session, Republican state Sen. Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro filed a bill he said would “end state-sponsored discrimination.”
Sullivan argued on the Senate floor that his legislation makes everyone equal, “and we’re going to determine what equal means based on your merit, not those other qualities.” The bill died on the House floor after several passionate speeches from members of both parties against the bill.
The U.S. Supreme Court in October questioned the legality of race-conscious policies in college admissions. The justices are weighing two cases that challenge the lawfulness of affirmative action at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
The court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of its term in June. If the justices side with the plaintiffs, the decision could greatly impact the admissions process many colleges use to try to boost diversity on campus.
In Arkansas, Do No Harm’s settlement with the Arkansas Minority Health Commission could have an impact on the state’s higher education institutions that provide minority scholarships that are not privately funded.
“Any state-sponsored scholarship that discriminates based on race is inherently suspect and likely indefensible under the Fourteenth Amendment,” Griffin said in a statement.
Representatives from the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Since launching in April 2022, Do No Harm has submitted more than 250 Freedom of Information Act requests to medical schools and publicly-funded health care organizations, and filed over 110 complaints to the Office for Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education, according to the group’s website.
Do No Harm describes itself as a national nonprofit protecting patients and physicians from “woke healthcare.” The group argues that “the radical ideology of ‘anti-racism’ is creating new barriers and bad practices that are endangering the health and well-being of everyone – including the people it claims to help.”
The group also launched a “Protecting Minors from Gender Ideology” initiative in January.