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Facebook stalking in the name of affirmative action – (Participation)

April 22, 2012

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.

By Debra Bruno / March 21, 2012

University of Michigan student Ebrie Benton demonstrates outside the Federal courthouse March 7 in Cincinnati, where the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing oral arguments in a review of their ruling last summer that Proposal 2, the ban on affirmative action in Michigan, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will soon hear a case on affirmative action, involving race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas.

Al Behrman/AP


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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.

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.

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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.

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  1. Connor McGee permalink

    I don’t believe Facebook “stalking” is the best option for affirmative action. People’s faces/races should not impact whether or not they deserve a scholarship or need some sort of special treatment. Race should not in any way be a factor in college admissions; people should be admitted to colleges based upon their grades and their potential academically based on what they were able to do and prove in school. Even with good intentions, using race in any way is pretty unacceptable. No certain races deserves to be stereotyped or given special benefits merely on the fact that they look a particular way. Facebook stalking to figure out what race a certain person is defeats the purpose of looking at applications without taking race into account.

  2. You say – “Race should not in any way be a factor in college admissions” – but it is because of stereotype threat, inequalities in schools, cultural bias on the SAT, stereotyping/tracking, differential application of disciplinarity rules, segregation, history, and much more. Given that how do you account for the inherent inequalities as noted by Schmidt, and the film?

    • Hailey Schur permalink

      I totally agree with what you’re saying. If schools want to be known as diverse they have to see what the race is of each applicant so they don’t get accused of being a majority white school.

  3. Alex Carkner permalink

    The part of the article that actually grabbed my attention was not the information pertaining to the “facebook stalking”. At the tail end of the article, in the conclusion, it mentions the fact that while the internships are available to anyone, the fact that they are unpaid limits the potential applicant pool. Because they are unpaid, they are only available to applicants that are financially available to be without income for the duration of the internship. This does not necessarily exclude minorities, but it does exclude students coming from lower income families lacking privilege. Including these students through facebook “stalking” could be considered affirmative action but it does not fix the problem at hand. The problem is not that minorities are going unnoticed for the position pinned up against white competitors but maybe that the applicant pool itself lacks diversity.

    • Brittany dyess permalink

      That’s exactly how I felt..the ending,the main issue included was not the whole idea of fb stalking,but the fact that the internship was unpaid,yet full time,meaning only one direct group would be able to get the job..ones who are financially stable.which is still affirmative action by rebound I would say.

    • Todd Mehrkens permalink

      Alex I completely agree with you on this problem. It is extremely difficult to fix this problem, I just wonder how the applicant pool could improve upon its lack of diversity?

  4. Brittany dyess permalink

    Being the person in charge,or in this case,the intern coordinator,i can onoy imagine how hard it is to make decisions as tbe one being.described.Especially because after looking at the criteria for the position,and your voing down ghs checklist,you realize the 1 “diverse student” has the most personality,drive,experience,but they are low incme or are helping gather money to support their families,so they are automatically eliminated.
    My thoughs on this was ,if i was the coordinator ,I would look for ways where we can make a duplicate position that requires less hours but equal experience ..?a way to not be apart of the affirmative action process and to even help one sleep at night.I know if it was me,it would bother me and i would try and fix it to my beat ability to create fairness.

  5. Alexandra Wilson permalink

    Understanding that the company wants to project a positive fair image of having a staff that is racially diverse, therefore requiring at least one intern to be a minority. Rather they should focus on the applicants qualifications without the race factor. Odd’s are that without considering race at least one of the applicants would be a minority. On another note I understand that the inernship is unpaid. Unpaid interenships are very common place, since companies may not have the funds to pay all their interns but instead its a valuable learninig experience and one may hope to secure a career in the future. However as good of a learning experience this or any other unpaid internship may be, you already lose many applicants since many people may not be willing to work for free. All these factors may not be realistic to change, however its good to acknowledge these factors.

  6. Victoria Kolytiris permalink

    This is honestly a tricky subject because of people’s privacy. However, when people decide to participate in facebook and show their lives its hard to judge. But i do understand what the company wants to do by displaying a “positive image” but they should go rather by their credentials than by their actual image. Like the saying you should never judge a book by its cover. Someone could be much more qualified than the other.

  7. Bryce Jackson permalink

    This is very weird because on facebook we have privacy that lets you decide what you put on facebook and what you dont put on facebook. But the company wants to provide a fair and positive image, but it is kinda racially diverse. It kind of seems like its a minority. But to get a good job these days jobs do look at facebook on whats on their so do professional coaches/ scouts. But i guess its hard to tell why they did this but i mean it’s reasonable.

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