The journalism department needs to change.
I sit in my journalism classes and look around to see maybe one other student that looks like me, and by that I mean another black female. (Hot take: Not all black people look the same, so no she doesn’t actually look like me).
As a current senior, most of my schedule is comprised of major specific classes, so I don’t get out of my “Park bubble” very often. I’m surrounded by pretty much the same people day-to-day. Most of us journalism majors have had classes with the same people since freshman year. Out of my four years I can count the number of other black students I’ve had a journalism class with on one hand. There are currently no full time professors of color in the journalism department.
According to the Ithaca College Office of Analytics and Institutional Research only 348 of the 3,483 undergraduate students at Ithaca College identify as black or African American. There are 1,822 students in the Park School of Communications. These numbers suggest that there aren’t many people of color in Park, and probably an abysmal amount in the journalism department.
This isn’t unusual, though when looking at the bigger picture. The New York Times reported in 2017 that even with affirmative action in place, “black and hispanic students are more underrepresented in the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago.” The publication reports that although the percentage of black student enrollment at top liberal arts colleges has increased between 1980 and 2015, so has the gap between college-aged black students and black student enrollment. The same trend can be seen with hispanic students.
A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought of this as a problem, it probably wouldn’t have even crossed my mind if we’re being honest. It wasn’t unusual for me to be the only black girl in the spaces I occupied while I grew up. I don’t know if it’s due to maturity, the social climate we live in today or my studies in Media Literacy that I’ve recently become hyper-aware of my racial and ethnic status when i walk into a room. The first week of classes I walk in, scan the room and quickly decide how my voice will affect the class discussions for the semester. Will what I have to say become the only black opinion they will hear on this topic? In the journalism department — probably.
After exploring and covering beats that have ranged from business to sports, I’ve finally realized I love using my blackness in my role as a journalist and covering the intersection of race, culture, society and politics. My excitement of finding my passion, one that I’m rather good at if I do say so myself, was soon diminished when I realized it wouldn’t be matched with the same enthusiasm by the department. With a faculty comprised of mostly white males, I knew they wouldn’t always fully understand my pitches, stories, and the lens through which I report. This became obvious when I had to explain that the use of “blackness” wasn’t an offensive term, especially when used in the context of black girl magic. I’ve been the target of microaggressions and jokes gone wrong. I’ve had to sit uncomfortably in classes while all eyes are on me, everyone, I’m sure, wondering what I’m going to do or say. At times I’ve looked around the room and have been met by my classmates’ wide eyes and stretched out grins as if to say, “Yikes.” Looking at the world we live in today, the ignorance can seem expected, sadly, but in a department centered around a field that should be among the most socially aware, it’s disheartening.
The news media is responsible for how people view certain aspects of society. There’s been a big push for diversity in newsrooms and media outlets around the world. Without diversity, our audiences look at the world through a single lens, one that doesn’t necessarily represent the whole. The journalism department in Park needs to diversify their program if they want to mold the best journalists they can. Students need to be learning from people whose walks of life have been different. A professor who is black or even hispanic will have different experiences not only in life but in the industry and will have different insight on how to report on certain topics.
My excitement for finding my passion would have been that much better if I could have gone to a professor of color to talk about it. They would have been able to understand, be excited and point me in the right direction, more so than any of the current professors could.
Diversity doesn’t just lie in race and ethnicity, though. The department also lacks female professors. Fortunately, there are a few female adjunct professors, but we need some fulltime ones too. The department is comprised of mostly female students, and it’s true when they say representation matters. The industry is male-dominated and with plenty of strong females in Park learning and hoping to break that glass ceiling one day, we need people who can mentor us and teach us how.
Navigating this world as a black and hispanic female is hard enough, and I’m not ignorant to the fact that I chose a career path that is dominated by people whose identity is the exact opposite of mine, but my education shouldn’t be something that is making my journey in life and success harder. The Park School has given me an abundance of knowledge and opportunities, but if it wants to be as successful as possible, they need to do better. This little brown girl needs better.
Alyssa Curtis is a senior journalism major who wants to be the first journalist with a thousand bylines before she turns 25.