The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Lawsuit Threatens Minority Journalism Program

Feature Story by Trevor Clark - 11/20/2006

In yet another attack on affirmative action and equal opportunity programs, the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a white high school student who was rejected from a minority journalism workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

The lawsuit, filed on September 26, alleges that 15-year-old Emily Smith was rejected from the Urban Journalism Workshop because she indicated that she was white, and the program was for minority students. CIR claims that Smith's rights under the 14th amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, were violated.

The Urban Journalism Workshop (UJW)--run in cooperation with the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and principally financed by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund--is a two-week summer outreach program aimed at getting minority high school students interested in pursuing a journalistic career. About 12 students are chosen each summer to participate in the program and are instructed by VCU staff, Times-Dispatch reporters and staffers, while producing a final newspaper.

"Programs such as the Urban Journalism Workshop that reach out to students are very important tools in broadening the access to career opportunities for minority students," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "It allows those students to gain experience in a career where minorities have been traditionally underrepresented."

"At my high school there wasn't any school paper," Julian Benbow, a former UJW participant, told the Commonwealth Times. "The workshop taught me how to put things together, how to dig for information. I wouldn't trade it for the world." Benbow also told the Commonwealth times that were it not for the workshop he may never have tried to pursue journalism as a career.

The conservative CIR has been at the forefront of the attacks on affirmative action programs across the country over the last decade, challenging--according to CIR's website--more than 200 college and university programs and scholarships aimed specifically at minorities.

Most notably, CIR represented the plaintiffs in the University of Michigan Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, which upheld the use of race as one factor in university admissions.

CIR's charge against VCU and the Times-Dispatch is the latest attack on university fellowships and programs that reach out to minorities. Last December, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) threatened a lawsuit against Southern Illinois University for excluding non-minority students from a few select fellowships. Those fellowships have since been opened to include all students.

DOJ challenged SIU following an initial contact that was made by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), a conservative think tank opposed to affirmative action. CEO has filed numerous complaints with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights challenging affirmative action programs at colleges and universities across the country.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told the Times-Dispatch that CIR's tactic seems to be just another way to attack affirmative action in higher education. "I just don't know if they'll be successful here," said Tobias.

Spokesmen for both Dow Jones and Media General Inc., the parent company of the Times-Dispatch, refused to comment on the litigation.

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