In September, the [Center for Individual Rights] filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of Emily Smith, 16, who said she was accepted last spring to the Urban Journalism Workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University. One week later, she said, she was rejected after program sponsors learned she was white.
The program settled out of court and agreed to no longer use race in its decision processes. But there are certain very relevant facts that I think matter in how we view what happened here.
My intuitions on this case hinge very strongly on several facts which are unclear. First, was the program explicitly limited to minority students, or was their just a preference? If it's the latter, than I think Smith has a far stronger claim. Basically, if the program is explicitly labeled as being for minority students, then Smith should have seen this coming--indeed, if that was the case, then I'd almost suspect that she was applying just to sue. If, however, this was not clear, then my sympathies lie with Smith a lot more strongly--randomly receiving a letter a week after getting into a program saying "sorry, you're White, so you can't come" is pretty traumatizing if there was no reason to see it coming. The other question, of course, is whether or not there are available Urban Journalism programs out there that are not race-linked. My support for programs which are specifically targeted at minority students hinges on the fact that there are also plenty of programs that are available to the general student population. For example, at Carleton we have the Mellon-Mays fellowship, which is targeted at prepping minority students for graduate level academic research, and that's fine because we have lots of other fellowships available to the broader student body which White ol' me can pursue. But if these programs are filling a unique niche in Urban Journalism, such that Ms. Smith really didn't have any other options available to her, I think that's a different matter entirely.