Bian: Medill faculty seriously lacking women of color

Andrea Bian, Opinion Editor

Northwestern’s faculty across its several schools is overwhelmingly homogenous. As students who attend an institution that claims to be committed to diversity, we feel that the diversity of the faculty body is just as important as the diversity of their students. This column is part of a series focusing on the perspectives of students from different schools at Northwestern. These columns will discuss the importance of diversity at all levels and the effect faculty makeup has on students.

Last September, I entered journalism school excited but extremely nervous. I was grateful for the opportunity to be studying something I was passionate about, having been first introduced to journalism in high school, but I had no idea what it would be like to study the subject as a full-time student. I didn’t know how classes were run, who I would be working with, or if I would do well.

Journalism 201-1, or Reporting and Writing, was my introduction to not only the college journalism curriculum but also to the types of people I would be working with for years to come. I met countless people from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences and became excited at the thought of them being my peers.

One of my first journalism lectures involved a guest lecture by associate professor Mei-Ling Hopgood, who spoke about her life experience as a journalist in the industry. She touched on her Asian-American background, and I found myself relating to several things she said about her experience. As it was one of my first lectures, I hoped that I would be able to have more experiences like this one in the future and gain different perspectives from other members of the Medill faculty — specifically women of color.

After my first few weeks at Medill, I quickly realized that working with faculty of color would be more difficult than I thought. An overwhelming majority of Medill’s faculty is white and male. Besides Professor Hopgood, I didn’t hear from or interact with any other female faculty of color in Medill throughout the fall and winter quarters.

While the caliber of the Medill faculty — in terms of experience in the industry — is unquestionably high, I still find myself yearning to hear more about the specific experiences of women of color in journalism. I want to know how they navigate reporting and writing for prominent publications, and how their varied identities play into their work. It’s something I often think about when writing for The Daily Northwestern, a majority-white organization where we talk about diversity and inclusion frequently.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the things spurring my apprehensions at the start of my Medill experience was my awareness of the lack of diversity in journalism. It’s no secret that the industry is largely white and male, but the numbers are still jarring: 77 percent of newsroom employees are white, according to the Pew Research Center, and 61 percent are male. Even though these numbers are slowly changing and becoming more diverse as more young people enter the workforce.

Since entering Medill, I have been acutely aware of my experience with my own Asian-American identity and its contrast to the majority white and majority male industry, and I realized very quickly that the path I would take to begin a career in journalism would be different from theirs.

Only 3.8 percent of U.S. news analysts, reporters and correspondents in 2016 were Asian — a number that is quite intimidating to me as I consider my career choices.

It’s easy to see why a lack of diversity is a huge problem in journalism. Without a range of identities, cultures or thoughts, important events and issues affecting people of color can often go uncovered, and therefore unnoticed. A newsroom that does not reflect the demographics of the public does them a disservice. It pushes them to the sides of the public eye, giving precedence to one-dimensional news coverage.

Students of color who wish to pursue journalism would benefit greatly from working with faculty of color — journalists from similar backgrounds as their own who have been through the highs and lows of the field and and can use their specific experiences to empower those just starting out. It’s also important that all students, not just those of color, interact with diverse professors. All students who get the opportunity to interact with a diverse faculty will be able to see the benefit of diverse coverage firsthand.

As one of the most highly regarded journalism schools in the country, Medill should hire more women of color to be part of their faculty. Yes, they are underrepresented in the journalism industry, but countless qualified female journalists of color do exist. Medill should make more of an active effort to hire them — ultimately, to benefit of all their students.

A statement on the Northwestern website proudly declares that the school “is committed to increasing our faculty diversity.” Northwestern should match its words with actions, and hire qualified, diverse faculty who will not only share their valuable expertise with future Medill students but also provide encouragement to those who feel apprehensive of an industry that wasn’t built for them.

Andrea Bian is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.