In its entire 140-year history, the Yale Daily News has had just one black opinion editor and one Latino opinion editor. They were elected in consecutive years: 2017 and 2018. While the exact statistics surrounding other desks are at this time unknown, we can assume from a glance at the photographs of each of our editorial boards that they are similarly dismal.
The News has a diversity problem. Yale students know it, and we know it, too. While the News has been a primarily white and East Asian space in recent years, the true extent of this problem became clear in light of protests that overtook our campus in fall 2015. Communities of color felt alienated from the News as a result of the ways in which we covered — and more importantly, failed to cover — the conversations surrounding the Christakis Halloween email, institutional racism at Yale, Calhoun College and the title of “master.” People of color felt sufficiently estranged that they turned to alternate publications for their news. While we support a space for people of color to create news that is for them and by them, we are ashamed that we have failed to create a space that covers all news for all communities, particularly those who have been left out of the conversation for far too long.
Our editorial board is, as we should be, even further ashamed by the following statistics: We are 59 percent white and 22 percent East Asian. According to the College Board, Yale College is 45 percent white and 18 percent Asian (including East, Southeast and South Asian subgroups). We have four Latinx students. We don’t have a single black, Middle Eastern or Native American student on the Managing Board of 2020. There are Latinx, black, Middle Eastern and native students at Yale.
About half of us have annual household incomes greater than $200,000, with most students’ falling between $250,000 and $500,000. According to a 2017 New York Times report, the median family income of a student at Yale is $192,600. For context, the median American household income is around $59,039, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2016.
The News can only fulfill its true purpose if it is comprised of those it seeks to cover. As it stands now, we will never do our job in the way that we need to because of our lack of diversity. We actively and passively contribute to this problem in a variety of ways. Really, the problem begins before any of us set foot on campus. Only high schools with large budgets — private schools and exceptional public schools — can afford robust journalism programs, meaning that only a small minority of students are privileged enough to access journalism before coming to Yale. This minority develops into a network that passes on information about how to succeed and advance at the News. Others are unintentionally left out of the loop. What’s more, the News demands a significant amount of time from its staffers. Historically, this labor has gone unpaid, meaning that only those wealthy enough to afford working without pay could participate fully in the News.
As a former opinion editor at the News pointed out, calls for greater diversity at the News seldom amount to more than lip service during our annual elections. But this year’s managing board recognizes that diversity is not about numbers on paper. For some of us, the fight for diversity is personal.
Diversity has become a buzzword — many of us have forgotten why it matters. For the News, our pursuit of diversity is to offset centuries of historical barriers for people of color, women and those who are LGBTQ. We pursue diversity because voices like yours have been silenced, because they matter and because they belong on our pages. We believe that the makeup of our staff affects the way we report. It is a commonly known fact that those who tell history shape how history is remembered. It’s why indigenous people and people of color in particular never see themselves in textbooks. As the News, we strive toward a more diverse staff because we believe that our organization should be more representative of the student body and the city we cover.
Marginalized communities have struggled with representation for centuries. When an entire community grows up without seeing people who look like them in Congress, or blockbuster movies, or leadership, it becomes difficult for them to imagine themselves in those positions. We want readers of the News to see themselves reflected in the makeup of our writers, so that readers can relate to their experiences. We hope that as students begin to see themselves reflected in the stories that we tell, that they too will begin to see themselves as reporters, columnists, photographers, designers and artists — that they will begin to see the News as theirs. We pursue diversity not because it is a buzzword for us to throw around, or a laudable goal. We pursue it because we understand the historical barriers that marginalized communities have faced and the real effects that a lack of representation can have on how people view themselves. We pursue diversity because it is an issue of the quality and worth of our very paper. If we are not covering the news — all news, especially news about those who have been historically underrepresented and misrepresented — then we have failed as reporters, as a publication and as an institution.
In the last month, the Managing Board of 2020 has begun to take concrete actions in pursuit of diversity. One of our focuses has been the stipend program, in which we provide supplementary income for editors and beat reporters who are on financial aid. We recognize that the amount of time that they put into the News is time that they could invest into a paying job, contributing to their personal finances. This year, the Yale Daily News Foundation increased the stipend program to a total capacity of $35,000 (an increase from $25,000 last year) and continues to publicize it among our editors and beat reporters. We hope that writing about it here further increases its visibility — please come take advantage of it.
We are also beginning to tackle inequality of information: how to join staff, what heeling requirements are and how to advance at the News. If your parents or high school classmates went to Yale, you know how to navigate these spaces, or at least have connections that can help you figure out how to. But for immigrant communities and first-generation college students, it is much harder to get your foot in the door of the News. For that reason, our web development team is beginning to build a recruitment website separate from our current Yale Daily News website. It will explain how each desk at the News works and will include infographics that demystify various aspects of the News. Until then, we will put out information through public channels like class Facebook groups and cultural center newsletters.
Last month, we also started a database to collect demographic data of each year’s managing board, as well as our newly inducted staff each fall. This survey collects anonymous information on the makeup of race/ethnicity, household income, gender identity, financial aid, first-generation college students, public/private school students, legacy students and comfort level at the News. This data has already been collected for the Managing Boards of 2019 and 2020 and will be published in a diversity report online and in print within the next two weeks. When the News’ recruitment website is completed, we will make the data accessible online. Our goal with this database is to identify whether diversity initiatives are working year to year and to help the Yale community keep future boards accountable.
We want to call for other organizations to do the same, publishing diversity reports for the community at large. A lack of diversity is not only evident in journalism on campus. It is an issue with most mainstream and powerful organizations at Yale. For that reason, we ask that groups like the Yale College Council, Yale Political Union, Yale International Relations Association, Model United Nations Team at Yale, Yale Debate Association, The Politic, Yale Mock Trial, sororities, fraternities, a cappella groups and comedy groups to begin a serious conversation on diversity by collecting data about their respective organizations. At a place like Yale, conversations like this matter because membership and leadership in prestigious organizations lead directly to positions of power in post-Yale life. Being an editor at the News is a pipeline into the journalism industry, among other fields. When those positions have, for decades, been disproportionately given to those with privilege, then the News becomes complicit in furthering the fact that, according to NPR, only 17 percent of the journalism workforce is comprised of people of color, contributing to the dearth of minorities in professional positions at large. We strongly believe that this is the same for other prestigious and powerful organizations at Yale — none of us should be excused from this discussion.
It will not take 140 years to make the News a more diverse place. In the next year, we, as the Managing Board of 2020, will do our best to rectify the mistakes of the past — we ask that you hold us accountable as we move forward. More importantly, however, we ask that you join us on this journey.
Editor’s Note: The Yale Daily News, in pointing out that East Asians are well represented in our Managing Board, did not intend to dismiss the discrimination that East Asians face in accessing top leadership in institutions like the News, or to make the point that they are proximal to whiteness. These are issues that need to be discussed in depth outside of this News’ View, which chose to focus on the relative lack of representation for black, Latinx, Native American, Southeast Asian and South Asian students.
However, the News also believes that the lack of representation of Southeast Asians and South Asians relative to East Asians is crucial to discuss. These two groups, as minorities within a minority, often face both a lack of representation and struggle with the issue of upward mobility that East Asians deal with within the News and society at-large.