After a civil rights complaint, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) removed a fellowship program criterion that excluded white applicants, according to reports.
The program, known as the Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN), initially required applicants to be of “racial/ethnic background of Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) that is historically marginalized in academia and the field of nutrition in the United States,” as per the Washington Free Beacon.
An ad for the nine-week fellowship reportedly claimed that the field of nutrition is “overwhelmingly comprised of white researchers.” Increased BIPOC representation in food policy research, it argued, is “critical for developing effective, equitable, comprehensive, and culturally competent policies that address nutrition-related health disparities.”
On Monday, University of Michigan professor Mark Perry filed a federal civil rights complaint against the program, citing a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the law, “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
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Perry is also a senior fellow with Do No Harm, a Virginia-based nonprofit that seeks to “protect patients and physicians from woke healthcare [and] the racially divisive ideology threatening the quality of care in America.” The organization’s suit against Pfizer over a similar fellowship program — this time, excluding Asian Americans along with white applicants — was tossed by a judge earlier this week. Following Perry’s complaint, UNC-Chapel Hill reportedly scrubbed the racial criterion from the program’s website. The fellowship is now open to second- or third-year undergraduate students in Spring 2023 with “an expressed interest in food and nutrition research” and “an expressed interest in pursuing advanced degrees or credentials in public health or nutrition.” “A webpage for the Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN) provided eligibility criteria which did not accurately reflect Carolina’s commitment to inclusion,” Pace Sagester, UNC-Chapel Hill’s media relations manager, told Fox News. “The eligibility criteria on the webpage have been corrected. Carolina remains committed to an inclusive and equitable community for all.”
“A diverse student body is vital to fostering academic excellence, helping to broaden understanding among people of all backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, spurring innovation and preparing engaged citizens and future leaders,” Sagester added.
The complaint came amid UNC-Chapel Hill’s high-profile legal battle against another nonprofit, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which claims that the university unfairly uses race in its admissions process, putting Asian American and white applicants at a disadvantage. The case, along with a similar complaint against Harvard, is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court this summer.