On July 31, 2023, parents with children at Irondequoit High School received an email about a scholarship that students could apply to for $25,000. The scholarship is sponsored by Republican presidential candidate and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. The email explains: “The Vivek Ramaswamy American Identity Scholarship is a $25,000 scholarship that will be given to 10 students who best answer the question ‘What does it mean to be an American?’ in a two-minute video.”
However, West Irondequoit Central School District’s Superintendent Aaron Johnson sent an additional email claiming that the school district would not participate in the scholarship due to Vivek Ramaswamy’s involvement on August 2, 2023. The superintendent stated that families had “questions and concerns about the recent scholarship opportunity we forwarded.” He added:
In scanning this scholarship, the Incubate Debate organization is recognized as the 501c3 administering the scholarship contest. Looking over their mission to “create a forum for intellectual growth and respectful dialogue and that they “believe every student, regardless of their background, deserves the opportunity to learn, grow, and excel in an environment that values free speech, merit, diversity of thought, and engaged citizenship” it seems to align with our core commitments and state standards. However, we underestimated the impact Vivek Ramaswamy has in providing the endowment to support this opportunity. Because of the this, we now recognize this opportunity as controversial.
The website for the scholarship states the following rule: “Any submission reasonably interpreted to endorse any specific candidate for public office or political party will be disqualified.” The scholarship’s description explains:
In the face of declining national pride, Vivek Ramaswamy will endow a new scholarship to revive patriotism amongst young Americans. This year, ten high school students will be eligible to receive a $25,000 scholarship for concisely articulating what it means to be an American in 2023.
Despite seemingly backing out of the scholarship for promoting political ideology, the school district has a policy titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the District” that specifically promotes adopting “culturally responsive practices and curricula.” The phrase “culturally responsive” often involves implementing the race and ethnicity of students into the lessons taught in classrooms. The district’s DEI initiative explicitly states that the goal is to turn students into political activists: “Empower students as agents of change.”