White Students Are Prohibited From Applying to This UNC Fellowship

A UNC student in 2020 / Getty Images
December 19, 2022

The public university dragged into court over its race-conscious admissions policy is now advertising a research fellowship that bars white applicants from applying.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—whose affirmative action program, along with that of Harvard University, is under review by the Supreme Court—sponsors the Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition, which accepts applications exclusively from students who are "Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC)," according to the program's website. Fellows earn thousands of dollars, live in on-campus apartments paid for by the university, and receive generous mentorship opportunities, including letters of recommendation.

"The field of nutrition is overwhelmingly comprised of white researchers," an ad for the fellowship states. "Increased BIPOC representation in food policy research is critical for developing effective, equitable, comprehensive, and culturally competent policies that address nutrition-related health disparities."

On Monday, the economist Mark Perry filed a complaint about the fellowship with the District of Columbia's Office of Civil Rights. The complaint, which was reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, asks the office to investigate the university for "race-based discrimination."

UNC Chapel Hill did not respond to a request for comment.

The program, which UNC Chapel Hill announced last week on its website, comes as UNC Chapel Hill and Harvard await a verdict from the Supreme Court over a lawsuit from Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit opposed to affirmative action. The group argues that both schools are violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans racial discrimination by the recipients of federal funds, and that UNC Chapel Hill, as a public university, is also violating the 14th Amendment, which bans racial discrimination by the government.

At oral arguments for the case in October, the Supreme Court's conservative justices seemed receptive to that argument. The nutrition fellowship—and white students' explicit exclusion from it—undercuts the school's claim that it does not discriminate based on race, though in this case the discrimination is occurring outside of the school's admissions office.

"It is indisputable this UNC student research program is racially exclusive and therefore is in violation of our nation's civil rights laws," said Edward Blum, the founder of Students for Fair Admissions. The program is similar to other minority-only fellowships, such as Pfizer's Breakthrough Fellowship, that have been hit with discrimination lawsuits in the past year.

If Students for Fair Admissions wins the case, colleges and universities will no longer be allowed to use race as a factor in admissions. Ryan Park, the solicitor general for North Carolina, told the Supreme Court that such an outcome would deny students "the educational benefits" of diversity. That led to a tense exchange in which Justice Clarence Thomas, who grew up in a segregated town in Georgia, pressed Park to explain what he meant.

"I guess I don't put much stock in that" argument, Thomas interjected, "because I've heard similar arguments in favor of segregation too."