Open Letter to Journalism Students & Alumni

July 6, 2020

On June 15, students and alumni of the University of King’s College issued a call for the School of Journalism to develop an action plan for more diversity and inclusion in the School’s student population, curriculum, faculty makeup and support of students who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. As of July 2, an online petition supporting that call had received more than 400 signatures.

Faculty acknowledge your criticisms concerning racism in the School of Journalism. We thank you for bringing them forward to improve the School and the experience of BIPOC students. We understand we have work to do.

We acknowledge we need to do more to ensure the School is a welcoming environment for all students, with a curriculum that prepares students to report on all people in Nova Scotia. We also accept that the School, as a conduit to the workplace, plays a role in the systemic racism that characterizes the Canadian media landscape.

We will work with our colleagues to engage the School, the King’s community and Equity Committee, the wider community, and you our students and alumni to further the work that has already begun at King’s. We are working to formalize a plan to achieve these calls to action.

Faculty are taking the following action in the 2020-21 academic year to set the foundation for further initiatives in subsequent years.

Concerning its curriculum the School will:

  • Initiate significant changes to the first year of the BJH, which introduces students to the role of journalists in society and their methods.
    • Immediate changes for 2020-21 will involve:
      • A deeper examination of journalism’s role in scrutinizing institutional power — particularly as it pertains to race and inequality.
      • Broader consideration of the “big tent” of journalism — including different kinds of journalism and their intersections with opinion and advocacy.
    • For 2021-22 and beyond, a curriculum review of the now-split first-year BJH courses, JOUR 1002 and 1003, will examine their overall intent and approach toward exploring how issues such as race are covered by the news media.
  • Re-work ethics instruction in JOUR 3339 Ethics & Law for Journalists and JOUR 5701/6709 Journalism & Society with a more robust interrogation of objectivity and journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy, especially as they relate to reporting on race, equity and inclusion.
  • Work with Black part-time faculty to offer a new BJH elective related to reporting in African Nova Scotian communities for 2021-22. This course will complement the School’s offering of Reporting in Mi’kma’ki.
  • Inaugurate a recurring Carrie Best Symposium, in honour of the Black radio broadcaster and newspaper founder from Pictou County. The symposium will examine important issues pertaining to journalism, in concert with the School’s Joseph Howe Symposium. The School will invite Dr. Carrie Best scholars to guide the planning and delivery. The first lecture will be in relation to the international Universities Studying Slavery conference, set for fall 2021, hosted by King’s and Dalhousie.
  • Re-cast JOUR 2701 Intermediate Reporting in the BJH to focus on reporting within Nova Scotia’s diverse communities. Changes will include involving non-journalists as guests to help students understand the issues and sensitivities of reporting in Black and Indigenous communities, among others.
  • Offer learning modules on the history of Black and Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia. These modules will explore the history of the Mi’kmaq, and African Nova Scotian communities. They will be delivered either online or face-to-face, and be a requirement for students in the BJH, BJ and MJ. We intend these changes, and the others, to meet more fully the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action to journalism schools.
  • The Indigenous Blanket Exercise offered in September will be a mandatory requirement for fourth-year BJH, BJ and MJ students.
  • Review the Canadian content courses listed as possible fulfillments for the two electives in the BJH. The aim will be to highlight offerings related to Black and Indigenous studies.

Concerning Faculty, the School will:

  • Immediately resume the selection process for a new tenure-track hire in the School. That process, begun in December, was suspended at the interview stage in March due to disruptions related to the pandemic. A major goal of that hire is to further diversify the School’s faculty makeup.
  • Commit to hiring additional BIPOC journalists into tenure-track faculty positions in the future, in cooperation with the University.
  • Immediately begin the process to fill the Rogers Communications Chair with a BIPOC instructor.
  • Commit to increasing the roster of BIPOC part-time instructors — especially those teaching core courses. (The School will have six BIPOC part-time instructors teaching eight courses in 2020-21.)
  • Initiate an annual program of anti-racism education for Journalism faculty. These sessions will be oriented to inclusive teaching strategies and unconscious bias training to prevent and respond to racism in the classroom.
  • Provide information to better describe the resources at the University to students, including the role of the Equity Officer, the Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Officer and related policies and procedures, including the code of conduct and grade appeals. Additionally, the School will provide information for filing a complaint or accessing support through the Equity Officer and the Policy & Procedures for the Prevention of Discrimination & Harassment. The School’s syllabi and handbooks will outline the pathways for students who have complaints about the learning environment, or concerns regarding racism and other forms of systemic oppression.
  • Involve journalism students of colour in regular discussions with the Director about their experiences in the School.
  • Work with the University administration in their outreach efforts toward implementing a stronger recruitment strategy for attracting BIPOC students to the study of journalism.
  • Involve part-time instructors, esp. BIPOC ones, more fully in the life of the School.

The School pledges to review these initiatives and to report on them publicly each year.

 

Tim Currie, Director
On behalf of Faculty of the School of Journalism