Dow Jones Foundation Drops Racial Requirement
March 2, 2007 2:36 PM
Journalism minority students took a hit last month when a summer program changed its requirements, allowing people of all ethnicities to apply.
The Dow Jones News Foundation, a nonprofit organization, has agreed to drop its racial requirements for its summer high school journalism programs following a lawsuit that took place last month.
The Dow Jones Foundation sponsors SF State's summer high school workshop, but will have no effect on its program.
The change was spurred from an incident in the spring of 2006 when Emily Smith, 15, a Caucasian girl who has muscular dystrophy, was denied entrance into the Urban Journalism Program at Virginia Commonwealth University on the basis of her race.
The Center for Individual Rights, who represented Smith, announced the settlement with Dow Jones and co-sponsors VCU and Media General Corporation on Feb. 14.
The program at VCU, along with the program at SF State, is one of many summer high school journalism programs that is sponsored by Dow Jones News Foundation, a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the Dow Jones Inc.
Dow Jones agreed in the court settlement, after a complaint was filed last fall.
"There will be no preferential treatment for, or discrimination against, any applicant on the basis of race or ethnicity this year or in the future,” Dow Jones stated.
The Bay Area Media Academy, SF State’s high school summer program, is run by the Center Integration and Improvement of Journalism and is in its 17th year.
Christina Azocar, adjunct assistant professor and director of the CIIJ, said the high school journalism program sponsored at SF State has never had a race requirement.
“We realize that one of the goals of parity is you have to have a white population that also understands what it’s like to work in a ethnically diverse environment and also to be a champion of diversity,” said Azocar.
The CIIJ was founded at SF State in 1990 and develops programs and conducts research to recruit and retain journalists and journalism educators.
SF State philosophy professor Anita Silvers said that because Smith has muscular dystrophy, the Dow Jones Foundation settled.
“This fact could block the defendants defending on the basis that the program served a crucial national interest by diversifying news rooms and thereby increasing the access of previously excluded groups to fair representation in the press. That's because there is much less representation of people with disabilities in newsrooms than of any other minority,” said Silvers.
Silvers writes about civil rights and about ways of rectifying past discrimination, and has authored books such as “Disability, Difference, Discrimination: Perspectives on Justice in Bioethics and Public Policy.”
“It would be especially difficult to defend if any of the advertising for the program used the expression ‘minority’ students, as the Congress has recognized people with disabilities as meeting the criteria for a group that is an oppressed minority,” said Silvers.
Silvers said that the Dow Jones Foundation had a chance to fight but gave a huge concession, agreeing to alter its program nationwide when it could have just changed selection criteria.
“Dow Jones also agreed to cease funding workshops unless race-neutral criteria were used for selection. But the lawsuit was based on the failure of the selection process to use narrowly tailored affirmative criteria –– so if the case had gone to trial, a strong defense by Dow Jones might have ended with permission to use race as one consideration, although not a decisive necessary condition,” said Silvers.
Although the settlement has no effect on SF State’s program, Azocar says the industry is now affected.
“Eventually if we get rid of all these programs that are supposed to help the under-represented we’re going to go back to how it was without any kind of affirmative action programs or any kind of programs, like this summer program are going to go towards the privileged because we know that it’s much easier to get a well-off white kid or a well-off black kid, or a well-off Asian kid, to apply for these programs than it is to get a poor kid. It’s also harder to get people of color to apply than it is white people, that’s just how it is,” said Azocar.
Kinesiology junior Dot Fullwood says it will be good to have the minority requirement dropped.
"We get caught up in these minority-related issues, instead of focusing in on putting forth our best effort and actually claiming what's ours," said Fullwood, 30, originally from Virginia.
Azocar is also on the board of the Native American Journalists Association, which runs a summer program called Project Phoenix for Native American youth. Funding for Project Phoenix comes from various sources including the Dow Jones Foundation.
“We have 235 Native Americans working in mainstream media.” Azocar said. “What is it going to hurt to throw $4,500 for a summer program to help more Native American kids get into journalism, really who is that really hurting in the end?”
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