Addressing diversity and the Daily

The Daily is not alone in dealing with and celebrating diversity. We are working to retain lessons of the past.

Britt Johnsen

Surely students and University community members have heard the word diversity frequently this academic year.

For those leaders who already are thinking about who will head the student groups on campus next year, students should not lose sight of the word and the meaning.

What’s in a name?

What does diversity mean, anyway? Race? Gender? Ethnicity? Sexual orientation? Socioeconomic background?

According to www.dictionary.com, diversity can mean either difference or variety. But that meaning doesn’t say much.

The meaning of diversity depends on the person and the context. When the Daily chooses stories for the front page, editors think about diversity. A stock broker, however, might be talking about a diverse portfolio ” which means a variety of investments. In terms of accurately reflecting their community, newspapers ” including the Daily ” are looking for ways to diversify staff and coverage.

The Poynter Institute, a school for current and future journalists, as well as journalism teachers, published an article two years ago stating the word diversity is too confusing. It’s unclear and poorly defined.

Perhaps when the word is better defined it will be better acted upon. If leaders know what diversity means to them, it will be easier to attain it.

Education

Most of us are here to learn. With busy lives and full schedules, it might seem difficult to undertake the heavy task of learning the history and culture of an organization. But to make a difference in the community one must understand the context and meaning behind groups and events.

Studies show high school students lack knowledge about basic history. Jay Leno has a segment on his show called “Jay Walking,” in which regular people say ridiculous things, misstate facts and often demonstrate a lack of knowledge about current events and history.

Some students at the University are not exempt from such a demographic. While people can get a good education here, a stunning amount of knowledge about history and the world is missing from students’ internal archives.

To understand, define and demonstrate diversity, we first must understand the past and the present.

Passing the torch

Turnover is a large issue for many organizations on campus. In only four short months many new leaders on campus will have been chosen ” Minnesota Student Association, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, various cultural groups and the Daily included.

One problem with diversity at the Daily is turnover. Some of the same problems with diversity are the same problems that were dealt with in the past. That is why this year we are working specifically to ensure the lessons we have learned will resonate for years to come.

The Daily is not exclusive to this issue. On a campus where the students are a diverse body of experience, knowledge and backgrounds, it’s difficult to keep people from making the same mistakes. That’s where those in leadership positions have a responsibility to make sure they properly pass the torch and to make sure the leader and others in the group understand the history and dynamics of the organization and its role at the University.

Stay proactive, not reactive

The very minimum expected for the remainder of this semester, and for years to come, is what I’ve said before: Be proactive, not reactive. Too many people wait until disaster strikes before something is done. This is human nature and repetitious in history. It even can be found in recent events such as Hurricane Katrina.

On a much smaller scale, students and student-leaders should be proactive in order to prevent mistakes. Rather than waiting to react to a situation, students and groups should focus on what they’ve learned from the past and how they can build on those lessons. The building blocks will serve as protection from repeated mistakes.

For example, this semester the Daily is hosting cultural sensitivity training for its employees. Because the root of the problem with diversity at the Daily lies in a lack of knowledge about stereotyping other cultures, we are taking an extra step to ensure it doesn’t happen. Another example is the multicultural council, an advisory panel to discuss diversity at the Daily. Look for upcoming dates and times for the meetings.

The leaders of the Daily believe an open dialogue on diversity will be another way to pave the path to a more diverse and aware campus. Other groups should do the same. The steps we take will be the foundation for years to come.

Britt Johnsen is editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily. She welcomes comments at [email protected]