Improving SMPA diversity will benefit students, journalism field

When I attended the School of Media and Public Affairs orientation last month, I saw very few people that look like me. As a Filipino-American, this is not unusual, but it took me by surprise that at an urban school like GW, there would be such a lack of diversity.

While discussing how SMPA prepares students for future careers, administrators noted how the variety of perspectives brought from different genders and students’ origin will benefit our field. But when discussing diversity, the only non-white perspective that was highlighted was the black perspective. While it’s great progress that different races are being mentioned, the issue is not just black and white.

SMPA’s student population was 68 percent white last year and it enrolled just 11 Asian students, according to institutional data. With that in mind, SMPA needs to increase diversity within its student population by promoting all students’ voices and admitting more minority students because diversifying SMPA will benefit not only the school, but the entire journalism field.

Diverse voices and perspectives are vital to a program that is teaching students about journalism and political communication. Having more minorities in journalism expands the range of experiences behind each reporter and helps to increase the breadth of issues that are reported on. Journalists are meant to inform the public and address issues that are most pressing to the public, but if journalists all have the same background, it can lead to news coverage that is incomplete.

The lack of representation for minorities in journalism is not just a problem at GW. In 2014, minorities made up only 23 percent of employees in television news and 13 percent of employees in print newspapers and representation has increased little within the last century. By focusing on diversity, the University would be investing in the future of journalism as well as students’ experiences on campus.

While focusing on diversity would benefit minority students, increasing the diversity in the classroom also creates well-rounded students across the board. Interacting with and learning about different cultures and backgrounds broadens students’ minds. Understanding other cultures and perspectives that aren’t one’s own are crucial for anyone hoping to enter journalism because journalists must interact with people different than them.

SMPA has focused on diversity before, but its efforts should be expanded. The school stated that it wanted to focus on diversifying the school by creating a committee to increase minority presence within the program in 2016 and organizations like the GW Association of Black Journalists seek to provide a home for minority students in the school, but these efforts are only small steps.

The lack of diversity in SMPA ties into the bigger issue that diversity efforts can be marginalizing. Diversity is about inclusivity and representation, yet as an Asian-American, my perspective and voice is rarely included in diversity discussions because of a myth that argues that Asians or Asian Americans, achieve higher income than other minorities and are therefore not underrepresented.

While SMPA has pushed forward with some efforts to be more inclusive, there is still work to be done when it comes to leveling the playing field for students in all racial groups in the school. Focusing on diversity efforts will ensure that future students will feel welcomed and not only while at GW, but in their future careers.

Hannah Thacker, a freshman majoring in political communications, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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