Tuesday, February 6, 2007

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Emily is 15 years old and is in the 10th grade. She skipped 8th grade because of her academic abilities. Her favorite subject in school is journalism, and she would really like to be the editor of her school paper in her junior year of high school. So, you can imagine the excitement she felt when she was accepted into the 2006 Virginia Commonwealth University Urban Journalism Workshop. Here is the text of the letter Emily received from Bonnie D., Associate Professor at VCU:

From: Bonnie D.
Sent: Monday, April 17, 2006 4:39 PM
To: Emily
Subject: Urban Journalism Workshop

Hi Emily,

Congratulations! You have been selected to participate in the Urban Journalism Workshop sponsored by VCU, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Dow Jones. As you know, the program will run June 18-30.

On May 7, 2006, from 2-4 p.m., workshop participants and their parents will meet with me, June N. and other workshop leaders at The Richmond Times-Dispatch, 333 E. Franklin St. During that time, we will discuss the program in more detail. You also will receive a letter informing you of the date.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions regarding the program.

Again, congratulations!

Bonnie D.
Associate Professor
Virginia Commonwealth University

Bonnie D. telephoned and talked with Emily’s mother, Jane, and asked if Emily had received the email. Jane assured Bonnie D. that Emily had received the email, and that she was very excited about the opportunity. Also during the phone call, Bonnie D. reiterated to Emily’s mom that Emily would soon be receiving a letter about the workshop. Emily’s excitement continued to grow.

But, all Emily’s hopes and dreams came crashing down when she received a phone call from Bonnie D. On April 26th, Emily received a phone message asking her to call Bonnie D. When Emily returned the call, Bonnie D. asked her what race she was. When Emily said Caucasian, Bonnie D. said that she could not be a participant in the workshop, which was only for minorities. When Emily’s mother saw how distressed Emily was after the call, she called Bonnie D., who told her the same thing. Jane, Emily’s mom, told Bonnie D. that Emily was a person with a physical disability, and that because of that disability, Emily had always been considered a minority. Additionally, Jane pointed out that the VCU website did not specify “racial’ minority, but only used the word “minority”. Bonnie D. replied that it didn’t matter; Emily had to belong to a racial minority group. Jane pointed out that it would have been far better to be clear about that before Emily applied and most certainly before Emily was informed of her acceptance. Bonnie D. said this was an unfortunate misunderstanding. Bonnie D. also said the requirements come from the sponsor, Dow Jones, and they were not negotiable.

In the words of Jane, Emily is one of those kids born saying “That’s not fair”, both about her own circumstances and those of others. Her journalism class was one tough class to endure from the start. She was made fun of and picked on for a variety of reasons. However, she has persevered and is now a fully participating and accepted member. She has a quirky sense of humor and with her FSH-induced lopsided smile, she has managed to make herself well liked by her peers and her teacher. Emily has always noticed and pointed out injustices in her classrooms, schools, and in the news. She realizes that some injustices are unintended, some flukes of fate, and some deliberate and mean-spirited. Emily puts her ouster from the Urban Journalism Workshop in that last category.

Emily was devastated by this turn of events. She was looking forward to spending two weeks at VCU doing her favorite thing in the whole world and learning to do it better. This workshop would have given her the boost she needed to land an editor job on the school paper in the fall. If she could make editor in her junior year, she would be a strong candidate for a senior editor position her senior year in high school, and that would make her college and scholarship applications much stronger. With one phone call, those dreams have been dashed.

Emily's other activities include Girl Scouts (since 5th grade) and a swim team she has been swimming for since 1st grade. She can only swim breast stroke now because of her disability, and can only go slowly, but she swims as hard as she can. As she does everything in her life.

This is indeed a loss for Emily. But, she will cope and move forward – she has had lots of practice at having to do that. The bigger loss, in my opinion, is that the journalism world may have lost one of its rising stars all because of what Bonnie D. calls an “unfortunate misunderstanding”.

After securing the assistance of an attorney through the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C., Emily has settled a lawsuit with the parties involved in the workshop. Emily will attend the 2007 Urban Journalism Workshop.

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