By Michaela Slinger and Elijah Cetas
At Community Update last Monday, Vice President I-Chant Chiang announced that, in the face of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Quest would be ramping up its commitment to diversity and equity through a fundraiser for a new scholarship program, the Quest Student Access Grant (QSAG). The fundraiser will last until the end of December, with Quest promising to match all donations. If enough money is raised, the proceeds will go directly to 20 full-ride scholarships for students with financial needs.
The QSAG comes as one of the first pieces in this year’s larger overhaul of Quest’s scholarship system that will emphasize external funding and transparency. This program is the first move by Quest’s Executive Team to intentionally promote diversity and equity within the student body, according to Diversity and Equity faculty chair John Reid-Hresko.
The QSAG will ideally provide 20 need-based, full tuition scholarships, with 50 per cent of the funding coming from external sources. It will also have clearly outlined criteria about who qualifies. President Peter Englert clarified that Quest already gives full tuition scholarships through up to six David W. Strangway Awards for Excellence per year. The Strangway scholarship, however, focuses solely on outstanding academic achievement and community service, with no consideration of financial need.
While most other universities have various scholarships funded externally through donations from alumni, foundations, and private individuals, Quest’s lack of donors means that scholarships have had to be funded by the institution itself. “We are not in the position to continue this activity,” said Englert, referring to the scholarships Quest has provided in past years. “We have no monetary capacity anymore.” Specifically, Englert said, before the current scholarship restructuring, money was taken from foregone tuition—essentially, the school based its available scholarship funds on expected tuition deposits.
When Leslie de Bie, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, arrived at Quest almost two years ago, she noticed the issue.“If you were to look at the David Strangway scholarship, you would think that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been fundraised,” said de Bie. “But there’s not been any money collected in a pot that we can draw on. We can’t look and say, ‘We have the money for six Strangway scholarships this year.’ It’s been… I don’t want to say imaginary, but the work hasn’t been done.”
The QSAG’s need-based criteria will be explicit, and the Executive Team hopes to make a similar increase in transparency for Quest’s merit-based scholarships. “I think it makes it much more fair for students that way. It’s not just up to somebody’s whim [to award scholarships],” said de Bie.
Currently, Quest’s official website reads: “Quest University Canada Scholarships are awarded to applicants who have demonstrated an eagerness to learn, an ability to lead, a willingness to contribute, and a passion for excellence.” It also says that high school classes and extracurricular involvement will be considered, “without strict numerical limits.” Neither de Bie nor Englert gave concrete examples of how the merit-based criteria would change. They also did not discuss how the recipients of QSAG would be chosen, besides the general financial-need criteria.
Beyond scholarship changes, Englert said that the highest priority for Quest is always access. “We want to have as many students as possible from socially diverse backgrounds,” said Englert. He defined diversity as “a student, staff and faculty body that represents many dimensions of gender, ethnicity, nationality, and whatever kind of identifiers we have,” and said that diversity is an educational issue in Quest’s rather monistic current environment.
The school-wide email introducing the QSAG, sent by Adrienne Dalla-Longa as part of the Community Update email, stated that “these grants are based entirely on need regardless of ethnic background, nationality, religious beliefs, or gender identity.” This means that socioeconomic status is the only social factor taken into consideration—there are no affirmative action measures, such as quotas or explicit call-outs for particular groups.
This point came up when the Diversity and Equity Committee first saw the proposed QSAG on Monday, November 28, the day it was announced. “The Diversity and Equity Committee suggested that it might be good to include that ‘First Nations applicants are highly encouraged to apply,’ or something like that,” Reid-Hresko said. Ellis Greenberg, former SRC Minister of Human Rights and student liaison on the Diversity and Equity Committee felt the grant could go further: “It appeared as though [the Executive] hadn’t thought about doing any sort of thing like earmarking some percentage of scholarships for a specific population, which is something that I’d be a really big proponent of.” Both members of the Diversity and Equity Committee acknowledged the QSAG as a great first step towards diversity, while explaining that more work can be done.
“If you aren’t reaching out to populations that haven’t even been applying because of accessibility issues in the first place, then we’re not going to get any of those students. We’re going to get the same kinds of students that have always been applying, and 20 more of them will be able to come,” said Greenberg. But, even without affirmative action measures, Reid-Hresko expects the QSAG to bring in students from a variety of identity categories. “My expectation, should they be successful in funding 20 of these scholarships, is not that we’ll see 20 poor white kids on campus,” said Reid-Hresko. “That would be surprising, though, I suppose, possible.”
For the Executive, the hope is that the fundraising efforts of the QSAG will put Quest on the radar of donors, and create a pattern of annual giving. The donation page can be shared on social media and current students are encouraged to chip in even a few dollars. Since all donations, big and small, will be matched by the university, it’s worth it to try and reach out to family and friends for whatever they can give. “Quest is a special place, and we all have a role in making sure that it’s here for the long term,” said de Bie.