The University of Alabama, Nashville's Belmont University, and Knoxville's University of Tennessee have all partnered up with the CMA and will each send two minority students to Nashville for the paid fellowship, which launches in the Spring. Students must be majoring in public relations, advertising, journalism, business, or a related field.
"As we look at our industry and how we can drive country music into the future, it's being thoughtful about who is part of it and who feels like they can be part of it," Mia McNeal, CMA senior director, industry relations and inclusion, told Billboard. "Working with all three of these universities has been incredible, thinking strategically and intentionally about how we can engage the student body in a way that is very direct and making a pipeline of talent."
The fellowship program has already been hit with a legal complaint, with University of Michigan emeritus professor Mark Perry filing a complaint on Tuesday claiming that by only accepting black or indigenous people of color (BIPOC) students, the fellowship violates Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race-based discrimination, according to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
In his complaint, Perry told the universities that they are in violation of their own non-discrimination policies by excluding white students.Also working with the CMA is the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, and Trell Thomas, a public relations executive and co-founder of My Publicist is Black.
"There has been a push for more artists of color within the country music industry, but they also need the opportunity to team with people behind the scenes who look like them," she added. "At CMA Fest last year, we had diversity on all of our stages. Our fans are diverse and that representation matters so much."
Beginning remotely in April, the students will work with the CMA's communications team, planning meetings with industry partners and cross-departmental teams. Then in the weeks leading up to CMA Fest on June 9, they will move the work to Nashville. Following the CMAs, they will work with a country music publicity partner to give them a taste of real-world PR experience.
"They get the 360-degree view of exactly how public relations and communications is central not only to the CMA, but to the industry at large," said Tiffany Kerns, CMA vice president of industry relations and philanthropy.
"The idea for this fellowship came out of having significant conversations with several artists and a wide variety of industry professionals who really felt that publicists are part of the storytellers of our business," she added.
"We felt the one thing that would help students be exposed to the industry would be to give them first-hand experience," said Dr. Kenon Brown, one of the University of Alabama's representatives who will be reviewing applications. "We wanted to also give them mentors to give them a more realistic viewpoint of how the music industry works. Hopefully this helps make them more excited about not just working in music but working in country music."
"We want students who recognize the opportunity they have here to become a leader in this industry and a voice for promoting diversity and inclusion in the country music industry. We want students who can look at the country music industry and see the strides that they have made and see the advantage that they have to really add a unique voice to the genre," Brown adds.
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