Monique Ejenuko is a journalism junior and Mustang News Diversity and Inclusion Editor. The views represented in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
As a journalism major, Multicultural Society and the Mass Media (JOUR 219) is one of two courses offered for a Global and Cultural Perspectives requirement; the class covers the injustices people of color and other marginalized communities face at the hands of the media. The class also covers how to properly cover subjects, such as people with disabilities, by referring to the person first, followed by their disability. In all honesty, I went into the class thinking it was a checkbox for discussing diversity. Not only did I have a great professor for this class, but she is one of the only professors of color I’ve had thus far.
During the beginning of the quarter, our text mentioned “fault lines,” the idea that we are split among lines of race, class, gender, geography and generation. The creator, Robert C. Maynard, figured that to grapple with this, we must first admit its existence. Secondly, we must train journalists to be able to discuss and report across these lines.
We went around the room saying our fault lines that would possibly hinder fair reporting. In a class of about 40 students, the majority said they came from majority-white neighborhoods. Some admitted their neighborhoods were both white and affluent. They said they felt it could possibly hinder them from reporting accurately and fairly on marginalized communities. That’s when I had a casual epiphany: I was one of the only Black people in the Journalism Department of about 250 students. The department is mostly white, women-identifying students with a small sprinkle of white male-identifying students, with the newsroom being no different.
As one can imagine, it’s hard doing assignments when you feel so Black and ‘other’ every time you step foot in a 35-person classroom. I didn’t feel inclined to read the school news my first two years at Cal Poly because I never saw myself or my friends in other marginalized groups featured. Meanwhile, my Blackness is only mentioned when someone does blackface or when the Black Student Union has an event, but my white peers were covered holistically whether they were doing art or opening an online store.
Were marginalized groups not students, too? Were we only casualties and spectacles to be pitied? Did we not make art? Did we not achieve awards? Did we not have newsworthiness? Newsflash: We are students doing newsworthy things besides being a part of cultural organizations and suffering trauma after racial incidents. It seemed reporters were only stepping two feet out of their friend group to report on stories. It’s the onus of the reporter to seek out these communities and report holistically. Mustang News is well aware of its negative perception among students of color and other marginalized communities. I think this led them to create my position last year of Diversity and Inclusion Editor. I joined primarily because while I worked at the MultiCultural Center, I saw marginalized groups only covered in times of strife or for club-affiliated events. Textbooks always stress for a more diverse newsroom, for well-rounded news coverage, but I knew then it would take hellfire to do that in a department that is a microcosm of Cal Poly’s diversity problem. Because the position is new, of course, there were no guidelines or precedent to improve upon. I am the guinea pig tasked with fixing representation with the help of one assistant. For two quarters, I felt like I was running around in circles accomplishing nothing. The goal was to improve coverage and relations with transfer students, students of color and LGBTQIAP+ community, and that still is the goal. This quarter, I’ve decided to be more intentional with my approach and think long-term. Instead of trying to tackle a recurring issue of representation all under one year, I’ll be focusing on structuring the position for next year by creating an advisory board filled with communities we need to better incorporate into the newspaper. While I don’t believe I’m a diversity hire, one Black woman can’t do it alone — it takes a village of people who want to see themselves and their stories not only represented in times of racism, strife and failure. If this this upsets you, welcome. Let’s get to work.