Watchdog files federal complaint to investigate and sanction Missouri State University for its no-white-males business boot camp

A civil rights watchdog has asked the federal government to investigate and sanction Missouri State University for a no-white-males-allowed seminar it hosted earlier this year.

The Equal Protection Project’s formal complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to look into the eight-week “Early-Stage Business Boot Camp” ending in April. As The Heartlander first reported, the program at MSU’s “efactory” business incubator was specifically for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) or women entrepreneurs only, and expressly excluded white males.

While MSU has pledged not to offer another program excluding people on the basis of race or sex, EPP argues the damage is done, and that there’s no guarantee in official MSU policy that it won’t happen again.

Indeed, disabled veteran Jim Robinette told the Springfield Daily Citizen he’d started to sign up for the boot camp for startup businesses but concluded as a white male that he wasn’t eligible for the program or its $3,000 stipend.

EPP asks that OCR “impose remedial relief as the law permits for the benefit of those who were illegally excluded from the boot camp for discriminatory reasons, and that it ensure that all ongoing and future programming through MSU and its affiliates comports with the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.”

OCR’s remedial actions, EPP writes, should include “if necessary, imposing fines, initiating administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue federal  financial assistance, and referring the case to the Department of Justice for judicial proceedings  to enforce the rights of the United States.”

Why register the complaint when MSU has promised not to violate the law going forward?

“Because MSU’s conduct was so obviously discriminatory,” EPP founder and President William Jacobson tells The Heartlander, “and its statements to the media promising not to do it again did not show any contrition or acknowledgment of wrongdoing. MSU appears to be upset that it got caught discriminating, not that it discriminated. An official federal finding of discrimination would hold MSU at least partially culpable.”

EPP, which is a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, a nonprofit safeguarding the treatment of people “without regard to race or ethnicity,” also has asked Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey to investigate.

The Heartlander asked MSU for comment on the Office for Civil Rights complaint. “We don’t comment on pending litigation,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

An MSU spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Heartlander in April that the no-white-males boot camp “was funded by the U.S. Bank Foundation and, on a one-time basis, focused on minority and/or women-owned businesses. On an ongoing basis, the efactory will continue to offer the Early-Stage Business Boot Camp Program at no cost to the participants, and irrespective of their race and/or sex.”

Not good enough, Jacobson argues.

“We think it is very important,” Jacobson writes in an email to The Heartlander, “that whatever MSU says it will do or not do is formalized as official MSU policy, not just a statement to the media. MSU already has non-discrimination policies that were ignored, so promises to the media, while welcomed, require more official action. An official statement from the highest administrative levels acknowledging the wrong that was committed and promising specific action to make sure it doesn’t happen again would be an improvement.

“MSU also needs to examine and report to the public how such a discriminatory program was allowed to happen. MSU has administrative infrastructure devoted to nondiscrimination, but there was a complete failure to enforce those nondiscrimination policies. That raises the question of whether there is a DEI culture at MSU that views discrimination against white males as somehow less offensive.”

Does EPP believe the federal government will take seriously a claim of discrimination against white males? Yes, Jacobson writes, explaining that “the violation of law was so egregious here and so open, it will be hard for OCR to ignore it or sweep it under the rug.”


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