Charleston Southern could teach some people a thing or two
by: Brian Hicks (Post & Courier)
A few months ago, a freshman at Charleston Southern University learned that the state was cutting off her LIFE line.
Even though she qualified for the scholarship in high school, and had acclimated to college just fine, South Carolina informed her she would not get her "LIFE" assistance from the Education Lottery.
And just like that, a quarter of her tuition was gone with the bureaucratic wind.
Although the young lady is a lifelong resident of South Carolina, and a U.S. citizen, the state says she doesn't qualify for the scholarship because her parents are undocumented immigrants.
Now, it doesn't matter that these folks have been living in the state long enough for their daughter to reach college age - a period in which they paid income, payroll and sales taxes (and probably, if they are like everyone else, bought lottery tickets). The issue here is that they are not in the country legally.
And beating up on "illegals" is good politics in South Carolina.
It looked like this hand-wringing over racial politics was going to threaten the future of one young woman who has done nothing wrong. But then the good folks at Charleston Southern University stepped in.
And, as usual, they showed everyone exactly how Christian charity really works.
'The right thing'
Charleston Southern started out in the 1960s as Baptist College at Charleston, and it has always been a good neighbor.
The school has a nice campus, a cozy student body of about 3,000, many of whom choose to live and work right here in the Lowcountry after they graduate. It's not surprising - at Charleston Southern, they find family, and who wants to move away from family?
It should be no surprise that Charleston Southern officials stepped up as soon as they found out about the plight of one of their newest students.
"We wanted to help the student, as we do all our students," says Debbie Williamson, the university's vice president of enrollment. "As a private university, we can be more flexible."
Basically, the school found the girl some federal money (she is a U.S. citizen, remember) and then made up the difference with institution scholarship money. A lot of good people donate to the university to give folks a chance to get an education there.
It really does help.
Now the college just did this as a matter of course, out of habit. They didn't crow about this in a press release. They simply did the right thing.
"We don't think about it," Williamson says. "It's just what we do."
A good lesson
The state is likely to find itself in a bit of trouble over this sort of behavior with scholarship politics.
A federal judge has ordered the state of Florida to end such discriminatory practices, and the Southern Poverty Law Center is likely to bring the same sort of lawsuit here.
State officials say that illegal immigrants shouldn't be given favored status over out-of-state folks, and that's a fair argument to have. Free of racial politics, ideally.
But this woman is a lifelong resident of South Carolina, and she is being singled out because her parents don't have "papers."
That's a tad "Casablanca."
Look, unless you are a Cherokee, Kiawah or Seminole, most folks out there have an illegal immigrant somewhere in the family tree. A good number of the Founding Fathers would be "undocumented" today, if you want to get technical.
The state Higher Education Commission is reviewing its policy, which is probably cheaper than defending it in a lawsuit. They'd better move fast because this isn't an isolated problem.
This Charleston Southern freshman has been spared the indignity of getting kicked out of school, but there are a lot of other South Carolina high school kids who won't be lucky enough to find the kind of caring attention she got.
Charleston Southern touts itself as a Christian-based institution, and the folks there continue to show us exactly what that means every day.
It's a lesson a lot of people could stand to study.
Brian Hicks is a columnist for the Post & Courier. This story was originally published on January 24, 2014.