Race will not be used as a criterion for enrollment in more than two dozen urban journalism programs nationwide under settlement of a lawsuit filed for a white high school student who was rejected.
Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, which sponsors the programs, and other principals agreed to the settlement in return for the legal challenge’s being withdrawn by the Center for Individual Rights, both parties said Wednesday.
The center filed the class-action lawsuit in September on behalf of Emily Smith, 16. She said she was accepted last spring to the Urban Journalism Workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University but one week later was rejected after program sponsors learned she was white.
The settlement requires VCU's and other programs sponsored by Dow Jones to select students “without regard to race.” The programs also agree to publicly acknowledge they will offer no preferential treatment or discriminate against any prospect “on the basis of race or ethnicity.”
Neither VCU, Dow Jones nor any of the principals admitted any wrongdoing. VCU agreed to pay $25,000 to Emily and her attorneys and admit her to the program next summer.
“We’re very happy with it,” said Emily’s mother, Jane Smith. She added she had “little concern” about Emily’s reception at VCU. Emily is a junior at Monacan High School in suburban Chesterfield County.
Challenge on high court rulings
Terence Pell, president of the nonprofit Center for Individual Rights, said the challenge was based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have established that colleges cannot operate programs that exclude members of any ethnicity or race. The public-interest law firm litigates “reverse discrimination” cases and similar actions.
“It’s OK to target underrepresented people. You just can’t do this based on race,” Pell said in an interview.
Since 1984, VCU’s College of Mass Communications has conducted the two-week summer journalism program during which students attend classes, live on campus and produce a newspaper.
The program is intended to encourage minority students to pursue journalism careers.
Pamela D. Lepley, a VCU spokeswoman, said the program would not change.
“The program will continue, and race-neutral criteria will be used by VCU in the selection of participants,” said Ray Kozakewicz, spokesman for Media General Inc., which publishes the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is a sponsor of the VCU program.
While the programs in the past did emphasize minority prospects, “scores of non-minorities have participated in the high school workshops,” Dow Jones said in a statement.
The other programs are in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Last year, more than 400 students were enrolled in 26 programs.