A few weeks ago over dinner, I was chatting with a friend about journalism at Yale. We threw out the names of well-known journalism professors whom we both admired and hoped to take classes with at Yale. While reflecting on those names, I realized that none of those professors were people of color.
Last Monday, the News published a News’ View on its diversity problem. In its entire 140-year history, the News has had just one black opinion editor and one Latino opinion editor. The entire editorial board is 59 percent white — half of whom have annual household incomes greater than $200,000. I was initially shocked, but, as I thought about the makeup of students who edit for the News and our English faculty, I was not surprised.
The News’ View highlighted how diversity is not solely a question of race but also of class. Many peers who attended wealthy high schools and were groomed to pursue journalism now edit major publications at Yale, gaining entry into elite journalism workshops. Many students of color like myself who attended public high schools lacked opportunities to learn the language of journalism. In high school, I sought out journalism opportunities outside of class because I so badly wanted to write, in spite of the dearth of writing resources at my school.
Students subconsciously associate fields such as journalism with what they see in their peers and in the faculty that represent those fields. If students do not see any part of themselves in professors within these fields, or in organizations like the News, they may be reluctant to pursue journalism. How can students realize their talent if they do not feel welcome or able to write for a campus publication? They may begin to believe that these spaces are not for them — a disservice not only to these students and their talent, but also to the people their work could have impacted.
In their junior year, students begin to decide what they will pursue after Yale. Many of my peers have interviewed for jobs in consulting and finance. At first, I criticized them for it, feeling as though they could do so much more and use their creativity in other ways. But I’ve realized that creativity, too, is a question of privilege and security.
A recent article in The New Journal detailed the experience of an undergraduate art major who, because he could not afford art supplies, realized he had to curtail his creative ambitions, adapting to what was feasible for his art projects. The questions of creativity, risk and class are deeply intertwined.
Many students who do not come from wealthy backgrounds opt out of following creative passions such as art or writing or journalism. Rather, they follow a trajectory that they are familiar with. It is difficult — and a risk — to traverse a path you have barely seen anyone who resembles you traverse before. As a child of immigrants, I know this from experience.
Growing up, I told relatives and family friends that I wanted to be a writer. They often responded with confusion or pity. “But you’ll do something else too, right?” they would ask, as I nodded. I still feel reluctant to tell my relatives that I’m majoring in English, and that most of my time is spent editing pieces for The Globalist and writing work of my own.
Continuing to see particular demographics of people populating journalism and writing spaces on campus makes me feel even more afraid that this is what I love. It reminds me of a feeling associated with my childhood: a lack of stability, a faraway dream. Images of departments such as English — in the faculty as well as students — as well as student publications like the News, alienate students of color. It is therefore even more urgent for students who do not see themselves reflected in writing and art and journalism to pursue it, to become writers and journalists and artists.
We need to do better in communicating to students from diverse backgrounds that their creativity is valued, that writing and art and journalism are for anyone who has the hunger to create. We can disseminate information more clearly, as the Opinion desk at the News has done, making it easier for students of all backgrounds to understand how to pitch an idea, or how to become a staff columnist. As more voices begin to populate the pages of our publications and workshops, these spaces will feel less guarded.
There are so many students who do not believe that they can pursue creativity — who see these fields as reserved for the wealthy, for the white, for those who can afford to take risks — they choose to pursue stability. These students’ voices must be heard, for their talent to tell stories is greater than the number of stories told by and about people like them.
Meghana Mysore is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com .