Introducing the Texan's Raising Voices initiatives: Same paper, new commitment to diversity, inclusion

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Photo Credit: Angela Wang and Eddie Gaspar | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is an introduction to The Daily Texan's new Diversity and Inclusion Board and our Raising Voices initiatives, which seek to improve representation in our strories and in our newsroom. While this is a newsroom-wide initiative, it is led by three experienced journalists and staffers of color. Learn more about their experiences and goals below.

Maria Mendez, projects reporter

"Since joining The Daily Texan almost two years ago, I’ve had quite a few friends ask, “How do you stand to work there? It’s so white.” Hearing those words feels like a jab, but they’re not wrong. 

When I first became a senior reporter for the news department, I was the only Latina and immigrant on the senior staff. It didn’t dawn on me until I became the go-to resource for news on undocumented DACA students. That’s when I realized why my friends criticized the Texan so much. How could they connect to our news coverage if most of our staffers had little to no knowledge of the experiences undocumented and minority students face?

Since that realization, I have worked with the rest of the newsroom to make sure people like my friends can also see themselves reflected in our coverage. The result has been collaborative series — sharing the stories of DACA recipients, UT’s black community and, most recently, first-generation college students — that give minority writers and sources a platform. 

But these strides have taken a lot of time and effort, and they shouldn’t disappear when I eventually leave the Texan or until another minority student gets frustrated enough to seek change. Raising the voices of those who are unheard should always be a priority, especially in a college newsroom, where the next set of journalists and world leaders are being trained and informed."

 

Lisa Nhan, projects reporter

"Being the daughter of refugees is at the center of everything I am, from what I eat to my core values. And as odd as it may sound, it’s what led to me The Daily Texan. 

I am always thinking about how my life is the product of countless sacrifices of so many and how to honor their efforts. As Maya Angelou, paraphrasing from James Baldwin, said, “Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it.” My response has always been storytelling — to use the voice I was given to uplift those who aren’t as lucky or privileged. That’s why I pursued journalism, that’s why I joined the paper, that’s why I stay here semester after semester. 

We owe this campus, and the voices who encompass it, a paper where they can see themselves inside of our pages. We also owe it to our staff to create a space where our voices aren’t silenced or misunderstood, as I and many others have felt. Until we achieve these goals, we are failing to uphold the values journalism is rooted in: accountability, empathy and fairness.

Before we share marginalized voices, we need to listen to them. We owe it to our campus community and very own staff members to start listening — actively, consistently and with the intent to do better."

 

Tiana Woodard, Life&Arts editor

"The first time I walked into The Daily Texan, I stumbled upon an editors’ meeting. Variations in hairstyle, variations in dress, variations in laptop stickers — variations of every kind welcomed my eyes except that of race. This encounter soured my first impression of the newspaper I had wanted to write for since stepping foot on the Forty Acres. With mainly white males at the top of the newspaper, I feared that there’d be no space for me to grow. 

Even as a department head, there are still times in which I feel isolated or misunderstood by the rest of those at our newspaper. As a journalist of color at the Texan, I always hear conversations about how we need to hire a more diverse staff, but there’s never much weight behind these words. 

Speaking with the many Texan minority alumni for my story confirmed the reason that I’ve stayed at The Daily Texan for these four, long, testing semesters; I can’t expect change without being a part of the change. And by being a part of the newspaper’s new Diversity and Inclusion Board, I firmly believe that I’ll be fulfilling my mission as a journalist: educating the people with an encompassing, diverse narrative of our world.

Journalism cannot exist without diversity, and we are doing a great injustice to our readers by not doing enough to change this. As a student paper, we need to be just that — a paper that represents each and every person at The University of Texas at Austin."

 

What we're doing to change the newsroom: As three minority members of The Daily Texan, we’re coming together in a new Diversity and Inclusion Board to tackle the lack of representation and microaggressions we have all faced. As an extension of the Texan’s management, we are working to make the newsroom more diverse and inclusive for everyone, but especially for students of underrepresented backgrounds of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality and religion. Increasing workforce diversity is a difficult and often abstract task, so we want to actually outline our goals:

• Foster a diverse and inclusive newsroom

  • Diversifying our newsroom will require reaching out to people who may not even know we exist and giving them the opportunity to work for us. We have to go to students as opposed to expecting them to come to us. To do this, we have been presenting to various non-journalism classes that focus on social issues during our recruitment and try-out process.
  • To retain a diverse staff, we must also ensure our newsroom is truly inclusive and supportive of staffers. We also hope to serve as advocates and mediators for staffers, especially when they may be too uncomfortable to speak up about conflicts. But, in hoping to prevent conflicts, we held a leadership training with our department heads this semester to help them also create positive working relationships with their staff. We plan to hold more professional development workshops for all of our staff to have the skills they need to grow.

• Create campus relationships

  • Just like we can’t expect students to just join our newsroom, we can’t expect the campus community to just read us. We also have to be intentional in reaching out to our community to improve our newsroom and coverage of campus issues. To accomplish this, we want to be more transparent about our newsroom diversity and how we report and produce our content. Working with the UT chapters National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association helped us tell forgotten or untold stories in our paper. So, we hope to build or improve our relationships with other student organizations and University departments which we may have overlooked or misrepresented in the past. We want to make sure we’re engaging with all parts of the community, including minorities on campus, UT faculty, staff and graduate students. 

• Develop a long-term strategic vision

  • As a student publication, we have a quick turnaround with our staffers graduating or leaving for internships or jobs and our management changing almost every semester. But this still shouldn’t hinder our efforts to better represent our campus. Our biggest goal this semester is to develop a long-term vision for our newsroom, which will be well researched with input from a bigger diversity committee of minority Texan staffers and informed by the successful approaches other newsrooms are taking. We will present this vision to the Texas Student Media Board, which oversees all campus media, and to the University community to ensure diversity remains a priority for future Daily Texan leaders.

• Create productive conversations

  • The point of all these efforts is to better cover the UT community, so we want to hear from you. Tell us what we’re doing right and wrong. Tell us what you think about our efforts and our coverage of UT. Email us at diversityinclusion@dailytexanonline.com. If you want to continue discussing issues of diversity — in and outside of our newsroom — join our Raising Voices Facebook group.