A woman in California is suing the Getty Foundation, claiming she was rejected from a “multicultural” internship the foundation offers solely because she has white skin.
The Getty Foundation is a component of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s largest art endowment, and awards millions in grants every year to further the arts. Some of those grants come in the form of its Multicultural Undergraduate Internship, which awards up to $4,500 per term to students so they can have the freedom to pursue art-related internships in the Los Angeles area.
Now, Samantha Niemann says she was improperly blocked from being able to win one of these scholarships. Niemann’s suit, filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, says that in 2015 she was bluntly told that Getty’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship was open only to black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian applicants. After being told this, Niemann says she was deterred from applying for the internship, even though her 3.7 GPA otherwise made her well-qualified for an award.
Niemann herself is of Irish, German, and Italian heritage. This blend of European identities, she says, should have given her a sufficiently diverse background for the scholarship, but instead she was left out because the scholarship’s true purpose is to benefit non-whites. Her lawsuit claims the scholarship constitutes illegal discrimination, and that it resulted in harassment and retaliation. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
Getty’s website describes the Multicultural Undergraduate Internship as intended for students from groups that are “underrepresented” in the arts, “including, but not limited to, individuals of African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander descent.” This explicit clarification that the internship is targeted at non-white groups was only added in the last few months, after the period where Niemann says she was turned away, according to the City News Service.
The Getty Foundation has defended its scholarship.
“The Getty is very proud of the highly successful Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program launched by the Getty Foundation in 1993 in order to increase the diversity of professional staff in museums and visual arts organizations in (Los Angeles) County,” Getty Trust spokesman Ron Hartwig said in a statement.
California law prohibits racial discrimination in the hiring or treatment of interns, although it’s unclear how this would apply to Getty, which is simply providing funding to people receiving internships from other organizations.
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