Racial Discrimination in Journalism
When fifteen-year old Emily Smith applied to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Urban Journalism Workshop last April, she didn’t think her experience would become the basis for a new federal lawsuit designed to crack down on the illegal use of racial exclusions by colleges and universities.It’s good to learn that the civil rights laws, which were intended to protect both whites and blacks from racial discrimination, actually work the way they were intended.
But neither did she expect a phone call from one of the program directors inquiring about her race -- after she had been admitted to the program. When she said that she was “white,” the director immediately rescinded her acceptance. “I’m sorry,” she was told, “but you can’t come.”
It turned out that the Urban Journalism Workshop is one of dozens sponsored each year by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, a philanthropic arm of the publisher of the Wall Street Journal and other publications. Since it started the program in 1967, the Dow Jones Fund has required that participants be black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or Alaskan native.
There was little way Emily could have known the program was racially segregated, since the application materials no where asked her to indicate her race. Moreover, it wasn’t until she received that phone call a few weeks before the program was to begin that she learned that the program discriminated on the basis of skin color. And so, while Emily Smith met every other requirement of the program (and even was accepted), she couldn’t attend solely because she was the wrong race.
Yesterday, Smith filed suit against VCU, the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and the Richmond Times Dispatch -- the three program sponsors. In addition, her suit names the individual officials responsible for establishing and operating the workshop in a plainly discriminatory manner. She is represented in this effort by my organization, the Center for Individual Rights, which has challenged racially exclusionary admissions policies at other public colleges, including most notably the University of Michigan.
Smith seeks a legal ruling that programs that exclude individuals solely because of their race and for no other reason are unconstitutional. Unlike racially preferential admissions policies in which race is one factor used to ensure classroom diversity, the Urban Journalism Workshop excludes individuals solely on the basis of race and without considering any other factor. Moreover, a 100% racial quota does not make the classroom more diverse -- it does just the reverse.
Most schools, including the likes of Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School, have ended race exclusive programs. And in February 2006, Southern Illinois University acceded to threatened legal action by the U.S. Department of Justice and entered into a consent decree obligating it to end several racially exclusive graduate programs.
Of course, there are usually more subtle ways of discriminating.
Suppose a university department wants to hire a black professor? The first thing you do is put some code words in the advertisement. You ask for “African-American studies” as a field of expertise, or “Urban Studies” (“urban” was the code word in the workshop at VCU).
You then look for indications that the candidate in question is black. Having won a “minority scholarship” would do nicely.
But what if somebody slips through? Simple. You just refuse to hire them. Forget qualifications, they aren’t hired.
We know of one case where three candidates came for interviews for a “black studies” line (not at Marquette), and to the shock of the department doing the hiring, one of them was white!
They, of course, had to go through the motions of the interview process, but it was clear (except to the poor job candidate) that the whole thing was a sham.
Still, it’s good that particularly blatant examples of racial discrimination can be stopped.
Now American society needs to go after the more subtle ones.