“Let’s talk about diversity.”
Every year a new, and supposedly well-intentioned, white candidate will approach me with the same dilemma when it’s time for club elections.
“How can we increase the number of people of color at the News?” they’ll ask, after giving me a sidelong glance. “How can we convince people to stay involved?”
“Curious,” I’ll say to myself. “Are they asking me this because I’m black? Are they hoping that I’ll put a good word in for them during deliberations?”
Maybe I shouldn’t be so jaded. Maybe most Yale students don’t actually treat club elections like some sort of twisted, Machiavellian power trip. Hell, maybe all this is in my head. People must care about racial disparities, right? After all, they are prevalent in journalism. According to an article published in NPR in 2017, only 5 percent of newsroom personnel were black, Hispanic or Asian at the time. Gender disparities in the field are a huge problem too — there’s a reason that the #MeToo movement became a national firestorm. It’s clear that the dearth of women and people of color in journalism has led to toxic sexual and racial dynamics that need to be changed.
I want to believe that people have a vested interest in these issues.
But even after long conversations — late into the night, in common rooms and on phones — little progress has been made with respect to racial diversity at the News. Wash, rinse and repeat: The conversation happens; the person is elected; things stay the same. This year, many of our editors and writers are white. I don’t think that a single newsroom editor on the Managing Board of 2020 identifies as black.
To be fair, this criticism isn’t limited to the News: I’ve had similar conversations in organizations like the Yale Debate Association and the Yale Political Union. It’s a consistent quandary across campus. And yes, it’s worth noting that the News has taken some steps towards improving socioeconomic equality. Last year, it implemented a stipend program, making it more accessible to students on financial aid. Additionally, editors have discussed expanding mentorship programs in order to make the News a more welcoming place for younger staffers.
But the News has still remained, for better or worse, a mostly white organization. Sure, there are some students of East Asian descent working at the News as staffers and editors. And sure, a black writer occasionally manages to make their way onto the masthead, even if none of their co-editors look like them. But we have to ask ourselves: Is it enough? Is it enough for me to sit inside the newsroom surrounded by white peers and even whiter, older, sepia-tinged photos of white men on the walls? Is it enough to hear seemingly sincere conversations about race once a year during elections, only to hear them brought up again, at the same time, during the next election cycle?
Well I for one certainly don’t think it’s enough.
We can talk about mentorship programs and internal reviews and recruitment until we’re sick to our stomachs, but all of these things, all of these words, mean absolutely nothing unless we act on them. In fact, we can’t even act on them unless we’re willing to readily, and seriously, make a cultural shift at both the News and other mostly white organizations on campus. Students here love to think about the macro-scale issues, the fancy programs and initiatives that bolster their resumes and benefit bureaucracy. In reality, we need to start with much smaller changes. For example, whenever I’m at a social event for one of these “white” organizations, standing in a corner, holding a red Solo Cup and listening to a song like Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” I wonder: Are these kids really willing to put on Mos Def? Can I really expect fancy diversity initiatives to see the light of day, or can I really expect five black editors to be on the board of the News — at once! — if they can’t even change a single song at a party?
All of this isn’t to say that candidates shouldn’t care about racism, sexism, classism (or any other -ism). In fact, what I’m saying is quite the opposite: You need to care. You need to have a stake in the matter. You need to hold people accountable when they don’t keep promises. A song is more than just a song, but talking points are just talking points; you can say the same thing, year in and year out, but unless something happens, people will stop listening. These points — they’ll eventually fade into the background, even if they shouldn’t. I want diversity to be something, to be something real. I want it to be something more than just white noise.
Isis Davis-Marks is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .