OPINION: Stop paying lip service to inclusivity

Illustration by Lindsay Hart.

This story is part of The Commonwealth Times’ special coverage in honor of its 50th anniversary.

Brianna ScottOpinions Editor

As we reflect on the past 50 years as a student newspaper, I want to reflect on and critique the lack of inclusivity at this newspaper that holds a weird place in my heart.

This newspaper has given me a platform that allows me to express my opinions on issues that I’m passionate about. This newspaper has no shortage of coverage on issues related to diversity. This newspaper holds VCU and its population accountable to our school’s commitment to diversity.

However, inside the newsroom, that platform is no longer present. Inside the newsroom, diversity appears to be about aesthetics rather than taking actions to make sure that our newsroom not only reflects the population of our student body, but that we are valuing and learning from the minority voices who contribute to The CT. Inside the newsroom, we don’t hold ourselves accountable to implement diverse and inclusive efforts.

Based on data from the 2018-2019 school year, 13% of students at VCU are Asian, 17.3% are black and 8.3% are Hispanic or Latino. Just under half of students are white.

In terms of gender, which doesn’t specifically include non-binary and transgender representation, VCU is over 60% female versus nearly 40% male. There is no demographic data based on this report of LGBTQIA+ students.

Taking a peek at the SMC professional staff page, there are currently no people of color, and that is painfully present when you walk into the SMC on Broad Street. Before the current SMC Director Allison Dyche joined, professional staff was strictly comprised of white men.

The CT’s staff has evolutionized over the past 50 years in terms of diversity. We originally were a publication that was run predominantly by men and little to no people of color or queer staff members. Staff has always been small, so it won’t be possible to have representatives of every background.

Looking at our current masthead, not including contributing staff, about half of our staff is white, almost a third is Asian and the remainder is black. Currently, women dominate our staff. When it comes to our LGBTQ+ staff, the numbers are even smaller.

It’s refreshing to see, but it’s not what it could be.

I’m the only black woman on staff this year. I’m not the first black woman on staff; I’m not even the first black opinions editor. But it’s hard feeling like I’m alone in this.

Often times, I feel left out of conversations about how we operate as an organization because I’ve only been on staff for a semester and because a lot of the time, I’m the only person questioning the environment that seems to be set in stone — an environment that is quite neglectful of students of marginalized backgrounds.

We are the Student Media Center. We produce content that is a means of communication to the student population. But we really don’t reflect our students who go here. We have the power, as an independent student media organization, to foster an environment that is conscious of diversity and not afraid of handling conflict. We have the power to not tolerate bias or discrimination in our newsroom, as well as set guidelines and a code of conduct. We have the power to be more rigorous in recruiting students of varying backgrounds in terms of race, gender, sexuality and religion — and not just writers, but also designers, illustrators and photographers. In that recruitment, we would not just do it for numbers and looks. We recruit because we want to be a well-rounded newspaper.

This is what I would like to see in the future.

When I became opinions editor, it just so happened that my entire team evolved to be mainly black women. This wasn’t intentional. Is my team diverse in terms of race? No. But we are diverse in terms of ideas, and that’s a key element of diversity.

It can’t just be about what people are, it’s who people are.

Now when it comes to the inclusive effort, it’s not enough to give everyone a seat at the table. You have to listen to those at the table. That’s the first step.

Having discussions about bias and discrimination is uncomfortable. We are being confronted with the fact that we are all biased, prejudiced or discriminatory in some manner. Again, we have the power to confront that and unlearn problematic behaviors and thoughts.

We can’t be the best newspaper that I absolutely know we can be, and will be, if we don’t make more of a genuine effort to be inclusive rather than just paying lip service to it. You can say you want to be inclusive all you want, use a few minorities on staff as props and call it a day.

It means nothing if you don’t actually support the minorities you have on staff already and find better ways to uplift them.

I’ve made it my mission to be the loudest voice in the room, the biggest elephant in the room, that angry black woman who has a right to be angry because I refuse to tolerate something as minuscule but hurtful as a microaggression, to something as overt as acts of discrimination.

At The CT, as students, we have the ability to truly make a difference in the white, male-dominated realm of media. Let’s start today.

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