In 2001, Colby Bohannan enrolled at Texas State University in San Marcos. It wasn’t long before, he says, he “got sick of borrowing money to go to school.” He tried but could not find a scholarship to help lower the cost of higher education. So, Bohannan enlisted in the Army.
Now a junior going to school on the GI Bill, Bohannan is leading an effort to prevent students like him from going through similar struggles for aid. He’s founded the Former Majority Association for Equality, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing scholarships to students like Bohannan: white males.
The group plans to fund five $500 scholarships each semester to students who can prove that they are at least 25 percent Caucasian and have at least a 3.0 GPA.
The group’s official fundraiser isn’t until May 21 in Cedar Creek. But since the Bohannan’s efforts were first profiled in the Austin American Statesman, the media coverage has already exploded, much of it negative. The notoriety helped the group reach its target of $2,500 for next semester. But Bohannan’s voicemail and inbox have been flooded with accusations of racism — a charge Bohannan rejects.
Though he is studying mass communication and broadcasting, Bohannan says he didn’t expect that he’d be getting hands-on experience this year defending himself against such charges on national networks like MSNBC and CNN.
He recently talked with The Texas Tribune about why he’s offering scholarships for white males and the media’s response to the Former Majority Association for Equality. The following is an edited transcript:
Could you start off by explaining the genesis of the FMAFE was and how long you have been working on putting it together?
In 2002, I was going to school full time. I was working full time. And so was my cousin, Brandon Bohanon, who is our director of production right now. Going to school full time, working full time, and we were out there trying to find some scholarships to help us out. We found lots of scholarships — dozens upon hundreds of scholarships. Basically, we said, there isn’t any white male scholarship or Caucasian male scholarships. So, we had the idea back in 2002, but we didn’t have the money to really act on it and create an organization.
In February of last year, me and Brandon and our finance director, treasurer, William Lake, we all three sat down and talked about it and did some research. And we said, “It’s time. Let’s go ahead and create this organization.” And so we gave ourselves about an 18-month window for our first goal, which is coming up in July 2011. It's five $500 scholarships to Caucasian males for education.
Have you met that goal?
We have. Actually, I’m glad to report that we’ve met our first semester’s goal for the fall 2011, to be awarded on July 4.
How did you come up with the name? Did you have any names that you thought about, but didn’t go with?
No, I mean, we all just kind of sat down. I can’t remember who took credit, so — you know what — I’ll take credit for it. The “former majority” part just refers to the landscape of the population in our country. It’s constantly altering and changing and fluctuating.
If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty definition of majority, it’s 51 percent of a total group. One subset containing 51 percent of a group. Right now, by definition, they are not a majority.
The equality part — when you look at the ethnically based scholarships in America, what we wanted to do was bring that last ethnicity, that last culture, to the table for ethnically-based scholarships. Of course, that is Caucasian males.
Now, $500 is not going to get you all the way through college. Is this just symbolic? What are you hoping students can do with $500?
$500 is going to help somebody afford books for at least one semester. Surprisingly, we’ve had a lot of negative feedback saying, “$500? That’s not going to help anybody. Why are you guys doing this? Is this a publicity stunt?”
$500 is still a hefty amount of money for people who are struggling to pay their rent or find groceries while they are also paying tuition, books, housing fees and everything else.
That was our goal. We set it relatively modestly because none of us our millionaires who started this organization. We had to start somewhere and we decided $500 was the way we were going to do it.
Since this story broke, it’s gotten a lot of attention from many different outlets. Were you surprised that the story picked up as widely as it did and what has the reaction been?
We weren’t really naïve and thinking this wasn’t going to get some attention, both positive and critical of us.
When the Statesman broke our article, the response has just been just amazing — both good and we’ve had some negative feedback as well. But to say we anticipated this much, that would be false.
What do you say to the negative feedback? I assume it accuses you of racism and says white males might not need this leg up. What do you say to your critics?
We’ve got some people that want to call us and leave voicemails and write e-mails. It’s just straight up name-calling is what it is when people call you a racist. It’s unfounded. It’s scornful. I mean, we’ve had a lot of people say, “What are you going to do when people start calling you racists and saying that you’re promoting discrimination?”
What really can we do? You can only try to put out the information like we’ve put it out. I can actually read it right off our website right here.
[He reads:] One obstacle that we immediately anticipate is to not appear racist or racially motivated. We do not advocate white supremacy, nor do we enable any individual that does. We do not accept donations from organizations affiliated with any sort of white supremacy or hate group. We have no hidden agenda to promote racial bigotry or segregation.
Do you think they buy it when you read that to them?
It’s not really something to buy. Those words aren’t just empty words that have no meaning. It’s not just a disclaimer to keep us out of trouble — we mean that. That’s the kind of people we are. We have nine members on our board of directors. Our board of directors is actually a pretty diverse group.
If people are buying it — if that’s how you want to call it — that’s fine. If people aren’t buying it, there’s not a whole lot we can really do.
I would love to sit down with every single person that thinks that we might be racist or white supremacy-affiliated and talk to them one on one and show them face to face that that’s not really what we’re about. It’s so simple — all we are really about — our existence is dedicated around one simple principle, and that is to provide monetary aid to Caucasian Americans who need it to afford an education.