Facebook stalking in the name of affirmative action
Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on affirmative action, I recall how at Roll Call newspaper, I was told that one of our three interns had to be from a racial minority. Diversity is important, but giving someone an advantage beyond his experience degrades the applicant and the hirer.
There I was, Facebook stalking again. But I wasn’t chasing after an old boyfriend or trying to see if my niece was having too good a time in Italy. As the internship coordinator for Roll Call (now CQ Roll Call), a newspaper covering Congress on Capitol Hill, I was looking at the faces of candidates for internships.Skip to next paragraph
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One might ask: Why did I care about what a prospective intern would look like? The answer was that I was told that out of three interns hired each semester at Roll Call, one of them had to be from a racial minority: African-American, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian, Native American. And in some cases, what you can’t tell from a name you can see from a picture.
Mike Mills, the paper's editorial director, denies that Roll Call had a policy to "tip the scales in favor of any candidate solely to fulfill our our diversity goals," but I was given a clear directive otherwise, initiated when I was with Roll Call in 2009 and 2010. It was part of an overall push to improve diversity at the newspaper, which is owned by The Economist Group. The company felt, laudably, that an ethical work environment is one that offers opportunities to those who may not have had them in the past.
I want to be clear that I think the goal is a good one: Most newsrooms these days are anything but diverse, and that lack of diversity affects the kinds of stories covered, the approach to those stories, the photographs, the headlines, everything.
But is there a way to fix this – at least a better way than using race as a key part of the selection criteria? The US Supreme Court will to take up a version of that question itself when it hears a case that challenges the University of Texas's race-conscious admissions practices later this year. In 2003, the court ruled that public colleges could use race in a vague way as a criterion for college admissions. But now the court has agreed to look at a case involving admissions at the University of Texas. Observers predict that the more conservative bench today is likely to end any kind of race-based preference in higher education.
In my case, what I discovered in my hunt for the right interns was an obstacle that had less to do with racial factors and more to do with economic ones. When I started at Roll Call as features editor in charge of internships, we offered three unpaid internships each semester and in the summer. What that meant was that one of the main qualifications for the job was a set of parents who were able and willing to allow their child to work fulltime for free for several months, with the hope that it might lay the groundwork for future employment.