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Column: Transforming a Student Newspaper at Mt. Holyoke
Diversity Media Watch from: MontanaMinnesotaIllinoisVirginiaNorth CarolinaGeorgia

Making Diversity News

Transforming a Student Newspaper at Mt. Holyoke
Sophia Ghebremicael, Class of 01, 1999 Diversity Editor, Mt. Holyoke News

Op-Ed's, News, Sports, Arts & Entertainment: We all know what a newspaper includes. At Mount Holyoke College (MHC), a small, prestigious, women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts, we have a unique section in our paper: "VOICES! For women of color, About women of color, By women of color." "VOICES!" was launched in the 1970's to enhance the visibility and recognition of women of color on campus. More recently, the "VOICES!" pages have not been as strong a part of the paper as they once were.

Many assumed that this development resulted because the campus was now more diverse and less segregated than in the past. Some believed that the need for this section was simply not what it once was. Despite this impression, when it began examining this issue several years ago, the editorial board of the Mount Holyoke News, however, realized that the paper still today had an embarrassing lack of representation of women of color in its pages and on its staff. As a result, the 1998 Editors decided to end the "VOICES!" pages and instead to implement a new Editorial position--Diversity Editor.

This policy change, however, angered many members of the ALANA (Asian, Latin, African and Native American) community. After some difficult discussions and negotiations, the Editorial staff came to a compromise and decided to restore the "VOICES!" pages and to implement the new Diversity Editor(s) position.

In 1999, I became one of two Diversity Co-Editors. Alicia Cabrera-Lopez served as my co-editor. Our first goal was to make the paper reflect more of the concerns of the entire MHC community. We critiqued articles and kept the board informed of upcoming ALANA events. We also helped the editors better understand diversity issues. For instance, we explained that someone's national attire should not be called a "costume." We suggested names of women of color to interview for stories. And we pressed when no women of color were included in stories after they went to print.

The process was very frustrating and we felt like the only connection the paper had to the ALANA community. We felt like the "bridge" Donna Kate Rushin describes in "The Bridge Poem."

I believe that we did have an impact, but the paper still has a long way to go toward meaningful inclusion. There are more pictures of women of color in the paper and more coverage of a wider array of cultural events. We realized, however, that we needed to train the entire staff to be more sensitive and aware of diversity issues for themselves. We were affirmed by our news peers and many people believed that we were fulfilling an important mission, but personally we felt very little progress was really being made. We decided to try to hold a workshop for the staff on "Cultural Sensitivity in Mass Media," but had trouble finding a time that worked for everyone.

The intentions were good, but resources minimal and experience lacking. I don't think this experiment was a failure. The Diversity Editors managed to bring a new ethos to the paper. We began a process of gradual change in the mind-set of many people at Mt. Holyoke. We certainly did not, however, "fix" the lack of diversity in the pages of the MHC News. But we did begin a process that we hope will have an influence on the paper and, more importantly, in the Mt. Holyoke community as a whole.

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Media Watch
News Clips


"‘Diversity brings a lot to the campus....Students from different cultures and backgrounds are important to the campus community, and with their influences it's an opportunity for a complete education. The world is not vanilla. Students need experience working with other cultures’....[University of Montana senior] Rod Blackman has taken his experience of being one of a few black faces in a crowd of white as a learning experience. ‘It stretches you,’ he said. ‘It makes you grow. I think a lot of minority groups would tend to stick together; you see that everywhere no matter what race. That's good to an extent but if you keep that as your only world, you get this little dome. If you go outside of that comfort zone, it makes you grow and it makes you deal’." ("U. Montana Faculty, Students Question Scarcity of Black Students," Montana Kaimin, 29 November, 1999).

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"Affirmative action is still clearly needed in a nation where major economic disparities persist among races and between genders....Where racial discrimination still occurs in housing, employment and other areas. Because education is one of the key tools for closing those gaps, colleges and universities have a special obligation to embrace diversity. They must create integrated student bodies both as a valued part of the education experience and to prepare students for an increasingly diverse society." ("Affirmative Action: Preserving the Goal in College Admissions," Star Tribune Editorial, 4 December, 1999).

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[Northwestern University's vice president for student affairs] Peggy Barr was so impressed at Saturday's Diversity Conference that she vowed to match up to $10,000 for all campus diversity events.... ‘Diversity is one of our greatest assets, but it is also one of our greatest challenges,’ said Paula Haynes, Evanston's executive director of human relations and one of the introductory speakers at the conference. ‘It is imperative that we step out of our safety zones. We need to position ourselves to learn about the culture and race of each other.’.... ‘The woven candle is a way of saying diversity can create a series of wicks that can ultimately merge into one flame,’ [another speaker], Rabbi Michael Balinsky, director of Hillel Cultural Life, said. But Paula Haynes said NU will be grappling with its divisions for years to come. ‘Diversity is our past, diversity is our present and it certainly is our future.’ ("Northwestern University Holds School's First Conference on Diversity," Daily Northwestern, 8 November, 1999).

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"Brandi Colander might not have returned for a second year at the University of Virginia had it not been for a peer advising program for blacks. She felt isolated on the predominantly white campus, hours away from the urban lifestyle she's used to in her hometown of South Orange, N.J. What brought her back to the Charlottesville campus this year, she said, was a program run by the Office of African American Affairs. Educators say Virginia's peer advising program is a major reason why the school has a black graduation rate of 87 percent--the highest rate of all public universities in the country that compares with a national black graduation rate of 39 percent....but what makes Virginia's efforts unique is its level of parental involvement, said Rick Turner, Virginia's dean of African-American Affairs.... ‘It's important for parents to know that their child will be well taken care of. You can't just drop young black students off at a predominantly white university and forget about them’." ("Peer Advising Program Helps Boost U.Va's Black Graduation Rates," Associated Press, 6 December, 1999).

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North Carolina

"Homogenized college and universities are not a Black problem, not a white problem and not a campus problem--rather they are a socio-economic problem. Educational research shows that the benefits of campus diversity are not limited to the students who finally get an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Communities grow faster, have a more vital workforce and stronger tax base and welcome more companies that locate and thrive among a larger pool of qualified workers. According to Merck & Co. Chairman and CEO, Raymond Gilmartin: ‘To succeed, we must bring together talented and committed people with diverse perspectives--people who can challenge one another's thinking, people who collectively approach problems from multiple points of view.’... Every sector of our society needs, not only more college graduates but also more graduates who don't all think alike." ("Campus Diversity: A Wonderful Y2K Opportunity," Asheville Citizen-Times Editorial, 14 November, 1999).

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"A new survey had found that more women and minorities are earning Ph.D.'s than ever before, though some said key fields--from business to engineering--are still lacking. The survey of 382 universities nationwide found that 17,322 women earned doctorates in the academic year ending 1997, making up 41 percent of all Ph.D. recipients. Ten years earlier, women received about a third of the degrees; in 1967, the total was just 12 percent. The survey was conducted by the University of Chicago....It found that among minorities, the numbers nearly doubled between 1987 and 1997--from 2,046 to 3,840, to about 9 percent of all doctorates granted." ("Survey: More Women and Minorities Earning Doctorates," CNN.Com, 4 November, 1999).

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