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.
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 When she said that she was “white,” the director immediately rescinded her acceptance.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.
Though it is laudable for philanthropic organizations, state universities and others to make efforts to bring individuals with varied backgrounds and diverse viewpoints into professions such as journalism, the time is long past when race can be used as the sole measure of diversity.
Programs that segregate students by race don't encourage students to challenge racial stereotypes. Indeed, a race-exclusive admissions policy reinforces the idea that it is appropriate to set aside the rules for certain racial groups. It is but a short step from that principle to the rather more malignant idea that some races just can’t compete on the same level as everyone else. These programs aren’t meant to be harmful, but they produce harmful consequences just the same. It is time to put an end to them.
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