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Home > Reading Room > Diversity Curriculum

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Diversity Curriculum

Diversity (di-ver-si-tee) variety.
Culture (kul-chur) 2. the customs and civilization of a particular people or group.
From: The Oxford American Dictionary


Dealing with culture and diversity in the classroom can be frightening. Not only can the subject matter be daunting, it can also force a professor to face his or her own bias and/or lack of understanding.

But in a profession that demands excellence, part of that distinction is accurately covering an entire community. Every reporter, public relations professional and advertising representative will find diversity issues of all kinds in their stories and work.

So what's a professor to do?

Jim Clark, an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, first cautions that people who do not like or who are not willing to try to understand diversity should not teach or should not teach until they understand what diversity is — and isn’t.

“We have to teach diversity in virtually every class because it is ingrained in everything we do,” said Clark, who is a 35-year veteran of international public relations, marketing and advertising. “People make far too many assumptions, so you as a professor need to take the time to find out the facts. You should first look in the mirror and face your own demons, prejudices and bias; and then deal with them consciously in what

you present to students. We have a lot of diversity in the profession, and these courses we teach should define that path for our students.”

Dr. Lillian Dunlap agreed with Clark, adding journalists need to think about diversity issues when doing stories.

“It’s just not possible to produce excellent journalism without asking those questions,” said Dunlap, vice president of Stinsights, Inc. of Tampa, Fla. and a Poynter Institute faculty member.

“We need to ask: who’s missing, whose voice is missing? What is the story really about? If the story is about Black people, we cannot just interview white people. The story needs to be complete.”

However, defining the word “diversity” can be a problem, Clark said. He recommended exploring diversity with each class to see where everyone’s thoughts and biases lie at the start. By bringing the students together to talk about what they see as diversity as well as the professor’s understanding, Clark said the class can gain a working definition.

“I have a difficult time defining culture because the students will try to define it geographically,” Clark said. “But, take the Muslims for example: there are Muslins in the Middle East, England, the United States ... you have to go to small groups with common beliefs and not look at culture as a geographical model.”

Dunlap said journalists should always look at the context of the story and start asking questions that can make the story more complete.

“If you ask those questions, it will force you to go out and find voices you didn’t think about when you went out as a journalist this morning,” she said. “It will get you out of your comfort zone. Look at the story after it has run and continue to ask questions. Can you do this with every story? No. But, you can do it more often.”

Four Ideas for Teaching Diversity

Professors should understand incorporating diversity through a curriculum does not have to be an intimidating task. Start with the idea of journalistic excellence, the basic tenets that journalists profess to believe in order to deliver quality stories. In other words, make diversity an act of journalism.

1. Beginning with the basic journalism principles, such as truth, ethics, fairness and accuracy, so it is easy to see how the idea of inclusiveness - adding in people of color, women, people with physical disabilities, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, age and people at various socio-economic levels - plays into those basic principles. This concept can be used throughout the journalism curriculum, including news, public relations and advertising.

2. Use current news and advertising to examine how a story might be better told if diversity had been a part or a larger part of the story, or if the diversity was so overemphasized that it buried the real concepts of the story.

For example: how might a city budget look to someone who is poor? (Will certain necessary services continue?) How could a school's decision on grooming rules impact people of color? (Could this mean that Native American male students might not be able to wear symbols of their heritage, such as long braided hair or prevent Muslim women from wearing head scarves or burkas?)

3. For public relations and advertising classes, look at the images portrayed in the messages sent out by the client: are the images inclusive of the target audience and do the images present any problems or a better portrayal for various audiences? As an example, Clark said, professors and professionals should look at the Brazilian portrayal of homeless people in a set of print advertisements.

“A homeless man wears a sign that says ‘I helped a copywriter become a creative director’,” he said. “The message is “Be responsible when you create ads.”

Everyone should also ask: is a press conference located in a place that makes it difficult for a person with a physical disability to attend or participate because they use a wheelchair or are deaf? Does the ad or commercial create violence toward women because it only contains a woman's body parts (such as a headless torso), not the whole person?

4. Professors can also become better journalists by finding resources to help understand the different issues. There is no exhaustive list, but some of the better resources include:

— The Poynter Institute at http://www.poynter.org. Here anyone can find articles and information about diversity issues as well as workshops.

— NewsU.com, sponsored by Poynter. There are on-line classes to help professors and students think about diversity is different ways.

— Let's Do It Better!, a journalism workshop sponsored by Columbia University. A hard look at good diversity coverage and how reporters can do a better job of covering diversity issues. For more information, check out http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/events/race/.

— The Diversity Wheel by Kenny Irby, a one-page diagram presenting 12 points of difference that separate individuals. The wheel is available through the Poynter Institute.

— In books, The Authentic Voice, the Best of Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, with a companion DVD that helps students take a closer look at print and electronic reports. Edited by Arlene Notoro Morgan, Alice Irene Pifer and Keith Woods, it is published by the Columbia University Press.

— A number of books are available in the popular press, including: Covering the Community: A Diversity Handbook for Media by Leigh Stephens Aldrich and The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

— For culture in general, or how it impact in business (great for public relations, advertising and business reporting) Geert Hofstede’s book Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations and Marieke deMooij’s Global Marketing and Advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes.

— Articles include “The Other Side of the Rainbow” from the Columbia Journalism Review and “Ain’t I A Woman,” a speech by Sojourner Truth

— For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues, the Web site The Commercial Closet (www.commercialcloset.org). This site has many good, bad and indifferent ads and commercials of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, complete with commentary about what makes each good, bad or indifferent.

— There are a huge number of resources available on the topic, especially on the Internet. One way to focus a search is through a multiple keyword search on search engines. Use a search string that begins with the words “cultural etiquette” followed by transcultural, cross-cultural, cultural or intercultural; then give a specific culture. For example: Transcultural/communication etiquette/Olmec.

— Clark also recommends professors visit www.adsoftheworld.com and see how marketers from other parts of the world treat diversity issues.

— Use local resources, such as the campus diversity office, women’s studies department, the Gay-Straight Alliance and professors from various departments who can help address the different issues. Another good resource are community groups, such as a local disabilities advocacy group, a local women’s shelter and community service organizations that assist the poor and elderly.

No matter what the resource, Clark stressed professors need to look at their own prejudices and realize that people value things differently. After a moment of thought, he said perhaps diversity can best be summarized by Pogo’s famous observation in the Walt Kelly POGO comic strip: “’We have met the enemy and he is us.’ Or, ‘he might be us’ if we aren’t sensitive to the fact that the key to marketing diversity.

“I totally agree that the key to ‘marketing diversity’--which is what teaching does—lies in the teacher,” Clark added. “Not in the student. Not in the culture. Not in society. And if a teacher understands that, he/she can use effective ‘marketing’ research, strategies and tactics to get the message pounded into the heads of students. So in time ... little by little ... minds will change in a positive way.”
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