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Carleton Promises to Address Journalism Students’ Systemic Racism Complaints

June 13, 2020 8:30 AM | The Canadian Press

By Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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Canada’s oldest journalism school is promising to address systemic racism within its walls following a call to action from current and former students.

In its response to the letter signed by numerous students and alumni of colour, Carleton University’s School of Journalism said it would make immediate changes to its curriculum, consult with students on ways forward and have staff participate in training meant to address their implicit biases.

“This is going to be a work in progress, and we have been working on it for a while. And we have much work to do,” said Susan Harada, interim director of the School of Journalism and Communication. “There is a systemic issue. It’s with journalism schools, it’s in the journalism industry.”

The school also said it is reworking its first-year courses to include a new focus on diversity, and will immediately begin recruiting its Carty Chair in Journalism, Diversity and Inclusion Studies.

It will also make mandatory a course on Indigenous history.

“The action plan that we have is not something that we threw together after our students and former students released their Call to Action,” Harada said. “And I want to say this so that our students and former students understand that we have put thought into this.”

She said the school’s examination of systemic racism was renewed by a broader conversation within society following the death of George Floyd, a Black American man who was killed when a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The students’ Call to Action, she said, catalyzed their response.

None of the signatories to the document were available for comment on Friday, but in it, they described feeling let down by previous promises from the school.

“Students can no longer be burdened by public statements announcing change and consultations that are not followed by action,” they wrote. “We need clear signals that these calls to action are being taken seriously before being asked for more input.”

And some of the specific actions the students and alumni suggested, such as a demand to deconstruct and examine the concept of objectivity, were not addressed in the school’s statement, such as the request to re-examine the way objectivity is discussed in class.

“The concept of ‘objectivity,’ a recurring theme examined in all journalism courses, should be thoroughly deconstructed to explore how the term became the industry’s bedrock and who it ultimately serves and silences,” the call to action reads.

“The school must, therefore, acknowledge that the current understanding of journalistic ‘objectivity’ was created by white, straight, cis-male journalists whose human rights were never at risk by keeping silent in the name of their craft.”

Harada said that from her perspective, the concept of balance in reporting has surpassed that of objectivity.

“But this is another thing that is, I would say, done more on a person-by-person, instructor-by-instructor basis. This is not a rule. It’s not a newsroom, it’s a university,” she said. “So people bring what they will to the table when they teach their courses. But this is certainly something that again should be talked about at the program-level, involving everybody.”

She said teaching the “approach to journalism” is something that will be discussed in the unconscious bias training.

CP - The Canadian Press