Gathering Place

Kamehameha Schools Board of Trustees

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Public’s good will makes
Kamehameha stronger

Tomorrow morning in U.S. District Court, we at Kamehameha Schools will defend ourselves against an attack that threatens to change our institution forever.

Tomorrow morning, and again on Tuesday, our legal team will argue against two separate but similar lawsuits that seek to strike down Kamehameha's policy of giving admissions preference to Hawaiian applicants. The lawsuits were not a complete surprise; legal challenges to other Hawaiian programs made it pretty clear they would come.

We knew that when the attack came the Kamehameha community would rally in defense of its school, and we were right. What we did not anticipate was how strongly the entire community would stand behind Kamehameha and vouch for its importance to our society. We are immensely appreciative of this outpouring of aloha both from the Kamehameha ohana and the community at large.

Painful as these lawsuits are, they have made us ponder what Kamehameha Schools means to the Hawaiian people and all of Hawaii. We have been prompted to consider what our lives would be like without programs that are dedicated to strengthening and perpetuating the culture and values that provide the foundation for our unique and precious way of life in Hawaii. It appears that not only Hawaiians but most of our neighbors believe that Kamehameha Schools should remain true to Princess Pauahi's vision: an educational institution devoted to improving the capability and well-being of the Hawaiian people through education.

More than half of the non-Hawaiian respondents in a recently published poll said they believe Kamehameha's admissions policy should remain unchanged. More than 37,000 non-Hawaiians signed petitions of support circulated by our 'Ohana Council. Non-Hawaiians joined in the march for Hawaiian justice on Sept. 7, submitted declarations on our behalf to the federal court and mailed letters of support directly to us and to newspapers around the state.

This response tells us that most of the community understands and accepts that Kamehameha Schools was establish- ed with the private wealth of a Hawaiian princess for the benefit of her people. It makes it clear that many of us feel in our "gut" that it is fair and just for Kamehameha to offer educational opportunities first to Hawaiians. It demonstrates the uniqueness of Hawaii, a home to people of many different backgrounds and cultures, bound by common values that allow us to understand instinctively that what benefits the Hawaiian people benefits all of us in the long run.

The attorney who brought these two lawsuits argues that overturning our admissions policy is a question of equality. To him, equality means all children, regardless of ancestry, should have equal access to Princess Pauahi's legacy. To us, equality means giving Hawaiians an equal chance to succeed in a Western society -- a society in which they had lost their land and were losing their language, their culture and their pride. Princess Pauahi established Kamehameha to meet that need in the 19th century. No one disputes that, unfortunately, that need still exists today.

These lawsuits force us to look, once again, at some uncomfortable realities: that a disproportionate percentage of Hawaiians still face educational and social challenges, and that despite the size of Princess Pauahi's bequest, Kamehameha alone cannot meet the needs of all Hawaiian children. There are more than 70,000 school-aged Hawaiian children in our state, and our campuses can accommodate only 4,800.

Because there are limits to our space and resources, it is crucial that we be allowed to continue providing for Hawaiians first. Our admissions policy is critical to fulfilling our mission to improve the capability and well-being of Hawaiians through education. Without that policy, we will cease to exist as we are today.

To all of you who have written letters, to the 84,000 people who signed our petitions, to those who marched for justice or simply took the time to reflect on how and why Kamehameha Schools contributes to the quality of your life in Hawaii: Mahalo. We will carry your good will with us as we go to court tomorrow morning to defend our admissions policy -- not just for Hawaiians, but for all of us.

Kamehameha Schools Board of Trustees members are: Constance Lau, chairwoman; Nainoa Thompson, vice chairman; Diane Plotts; J. Douglas Keauhou Ing and Robert Kihune. Colleen Wong is acting CEO.


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