From the Editors: On Diversity
Opinions / September 27, 2016
The Runner Editorial Board
Institutions need to be representative of the communities they serve. We see the importance of this concept reflected daily, when reports of predominantly white police forces failing to protect and serve largely black neighborhoods fill our newspapers and feeds.
The need for accurate representation is particularly crucial in media, where groups of people can see themselves and, more importantly, the narratives that are created about them. When a minority group makes up 20 per cent of a population, but is only represented in five per cent of media stories that often perpetuate negative stereotypes, something is seriously wrong.
That goes for movies, television, advertisements, online content, literature—even university newspapers.
Over the years, The Runner has been published by a diverse group of writers, artists, and editors of wildly differing backgrounds and ideologies. Who they were as people helped determine the nature of their work, and the paper benefited from their unique insights into the stories they covered. These days, however, a quick glance at the illustrations of our staff members on the opposite page will show you that The Runner is a little less diverse than we have been in the past.
It’s not enough to say that our intentions are good, or that we mean to cultivate a more diverse staff but have trouble finding willing applicants who are not white and male. It’s on us to reach out to groups who are not represented in the paper and encourage their involvement. How can The Runner claim to represent KPU the students—all KPU students—if our conscious and unconscious biases affect what appears in our paper. We have a duty to them not only to be inclusive, but also representative of the demographics of Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Last fall, KPU’s Office of Institutional Analysis and Planning conducted a survey to study the diversity of KPU students. What they found is that 20 per cent of KPU students are of Indian descent,13 per cent are of Chinese descent, six per cent are of Filipino descent, and that women make up a slight majority of the student body at 53 per cent.
While our contributor pool is more diverse than our staff, our coverage is still hampered by a lack of accurate representation. In every issue we publish we strive to be inclusive with our coverage, printing stories that seem representative of KPU’s diversity, but without significant diversity represented in our contributors and staff members, there’s only so much good that will do. Diwali is right around the corner, and while there would be nothing wrong with assigning the story to a non-South Asian student, we need to hear the voices of students that have a personal investment in the cultures we depict. The same goes for stories about Black Lives Matter, women’s reproductive rights, and a hundred other topics.
A few issues ago, a writer pitched us a story about a lack of visible support for the LGBTQ+ community at KPU. We worked with the author—who, as a member of that community, understood what this lack of support meant to LGBTQ+ students on campus—to set up interviews and to edit the story after it had been filed. When we published the piece online, it quickly became one of our most shared stories, with a number of students commenting that they too had felt underrepresented and insufficiently supported during their time at KPU.
This is a story we couldn’t have printed without having a team that is representative of this university’s diverse student body. As editors who aren’t members of the LGBTQ+ community, we didn’t see the problem until it was brought to our attention. And once the piece was published, it spoke to students who were experiencing that problem. It told them they were not alone.
Media is a powerful tool for reinforcing norms, even when that’s not the intent of those who create it. When The Runner depicts KPU through our publication and website, we establish narratives about what goes on here. We want to make sure that those narratives fairly represent the student body in all its diversity.
In addition to our regular, ongoing search for more contributors, we will be reaching out specifically to students of colour, female students, LGBTQ+ students, and anyone else with a unique voice to contribute to our paper.