Ohio Journalist

Higher Education Consciousness

By Danielle Hale & Tiffany Ogden | Photos by Eli Hiller

(December 1, 2015) — Diversity is a complex topic. As difficult as it is to address in conversation, it may be even harder to define.

“Diversity has to be very broadly defined. It is challenging to know when to say, ‘We’ve arrived,’” said director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Bob Stewart. It is a goal of the school to become more diverse and expand to reach a point of “critical mass” in which students can look at the population, see someone like them and feel comfortable and invited into the community.

An assortment of races, genders, sexualities and beliefs make up the entire population. Diversity that begins at the university transfers into newsrooms, which then reflects society. Stewart said the school has a responsibility to produce journalists and other media professionals who are able to connect with the audiences they want to reach. “If you don’t have a diverse range of viewpoints, then you are going to be creating media that only a small percentage of people can relate to, and everybody else will say, ‘I don’t relate to that,’” he said.

To address the need for greater diversity, Stewart and the faculty are working to bring in speakers and programs that highlight diverse points of view. On Feb. 20, 2014, award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien visited Ohio University as a part of a tour that coincided with CNN’s multipart series “Soledad O’Brien Presents Black in America.” The goal was to highlight the importance of discussing diversity on a college campus.

“Education has the potential to be the great equalizer,” said O’Brien. The town-hall event included audiovisual segments and a panel that consisted of Associate Professor Arthur Cromwell from the School of Media Arts & Studies and students Seaira Christian-Daniels (journalism) and Tessa Scott (communication studies). During the panel discussion, Christian-Daniels pointed out that “if you want to unify people, you have to look at the things separating them.” Although education has the potential to be an equalizer, it often acts as a separator. Education and knowledge play an instrumental role in lessening and moving toward eliminating the gap, said Christian-Daniels.

Students must have conversations to be informed and thrive in a diverse environment, according to Michelle Johnson, associate professor of journalism at Boston University and a former editor of the Boston Globe. “Get the full picture. You don’t want to have blinders on when you are talking to people. Embed yourself in a community because it is important to know about it. It is especially important to be accurate about communities of color because they feel they have been misrepresented,” Johnson told an OU journalism class in the spring.

Christian-Daniels feels it is the responsibility of both faculty and students to take steps to initiate conversation and break free from comfort zones to create change, but it is not going to happen immediately.

“It is going to take some time. It is going to be hard,” Tessa Scott said.

According to Eddith Dashiell, associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and associate director for undergraduates in the journalism school, part of the journalism accreditation standards require that professors “demonstrate that we incorporate diversity in our curriculum.” Faculty members are encouraged to make educating students on diversity more mainstream. One way is to ensure that an equal number of expert African-American or Hispanic sources are used, rather than focusing on one group of people because “there are a lot of experts, in a lot of different areas, from a lot of different cultures,” Dashiell said. “Don’t just take the easy way out. Be more conscious of that.”

Toward this end, the school offers diversity scholarships and recently passed a new diversity plan that is tied to its accreditation. Stewart said, “In the past, we had a policy, but now we have a diversity plan that maps our goals.”

In addition, the university attracts diverse students through multicultural visitation programs, while the school offers the High School Journalism Workshop that includes many students from diverse backgrounds. Christian-Daniels was drawn to OU after coming and experiencing the multicultural program, in which she was shown various resources and what the university has to offer. “I was very impressed. It was beautiful,” she said. “I knew I love to write, so I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I decided that journalism was it, and Scripps was in the top ten.”

It is important to showcase the assets of the university to prospective incoming students. Christian-Daniels said, “Show the diversity that you do have. I think with the “‘Y{}u’” campaign, OU has definitely been doing that.” The campaign was created by the university to help students recognize the school as a place that could help them figure out who they are and what they want to do to become their best self. Increasing and maintaining diversity at the university are two different tasks.

“It is one thing to get [students] here, but it is a whole different thing to keep them here,” she said. “It is important that first generation, low-income or racially and ethnically diverse students receive whatever it is that they need to succeed, and I think that responsibility often falls on the students by reaching out and taking initiative.”

Students are not the only inviting aspect in moving toward a more diverse population.

Part of the goal of improving diversity is bettering hiring practices. Since Dashiell was hired as a faculty member in 1992, diversity has ebbed and flowed. For a period of time, the department had as many as seven African-American faculty members, which was more than any other department on campus.

“I was hired as part of a university program to encourage departments to hire more faculty members of color,” said Dashiell. “If you could find a qualified faculty member who happened to be African-American, you get this special pot of money to make that hire. My nickname for my first two years was the minority hire, but that’s okay because that’s how I got the job. I had to be good to keep it.”

Justice Hill, who recently returned to the faculty, was hired under a similar program.

According to Christian-Daniels, efforts must be combined between the students and faculty to create and maintain diversity in the school and at the university. Discussions should be held frequently and openly so that they raise awareness and produce change. “It’s not happening as often as it needs to, in the context that it needs to,” said Christian-Daniels on the panel with Soledad O’Brien. A heightened attentiveness to diversity will propel this generation of journalists into the newsroom prepared to reach a variety of audiences and induce change in society, as media should.

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