College of Charleston students protest defunding of program for minority students

College of Charleston sophomore Princess Hollis, 20, protests the defunding of the ROAR Scholars Program.

About 50 College of Charleston students assembled Monday afternoon in front Randolph Hall to protest the end of a federally funded program assisting predominately minority students.

Supported through a five-year, $1.2 million U.S. Department of Education grant, the ROAR Scholars Program has provided first-generation, low-income and disabled college students with academic advising, counseling services, cultural enrichment activities and emergency financial aid since spring 2011. This summer, the Education Department defunded ROAR because the program didn’t have enough students meeting its strict eligibility requirements.

In lieu of the grant, C of C committed to fund the program until the end of this year. On Friday, students received word from Tom Holcomb, ROAR program director, that the college would not extend his contract after May.

“When President (Glenn) McConnell first got in here, he said he would make diversity a first priority, yet you have this program that clearly promoted diversity and is being cut,” said 22-year-old Alexis Walters, a former ROAR scholar who helped organize the demonstration. “I feel like they should find some way to fund the program.”

Flanked by live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, the mostly African-American students took turns speaking through a megaphone to thank Holcomb and share stories about the ways in which they’ve benefited from ROAR, which stands for “Reach, Overcome, Achieve Results.”

Jakarri Godbolt, a 20-year-old junior majoring in biology and a first-generation college student, said ROAR helped him pay for his textbooks — a hefty expense he hadn’t budgeted for.

“I didn’t know (my financial aid) still wasn’t enough for everything,” Godbolt said.

Devonte Davis, a 23-year-old senior majoring in political science, credits ROAR with keeping him in school after he couldn’t afford his tuition balance.

“They told me at one point that morning I had until 12 p.m. to pay the rest of my tuition or I would be dismissed from the school,” Davis said. “It was then that Tom used emergency funds from the ROAR program so I could stay in school.”

After this year, former ROAR students will be supported by other campus offices, including the Center for Student Learning, the Academic Advising and Planning Center and the Center for Civic Engagement, according to C of C spokesman Mike Robertson.

“Because the ROAR program is structured very much around federal reporting guidelines and requirements, it ultimately makes more sense for us to transition the students ... to other support services here on campus,” said Provost Brian McGee when asked why C of C couldn’t continue supporting the program.

“The reality of the ROAR program, though, is we competed for the federal grant and we did not receive a renewal of it. We were very upset by it.”

Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.