Calling for Necessary Change at the University of King's College School of Journalism

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Monday, June 15, 2020.

As recent graduates and current students of the Bachelor of Journalism program at the University of King’s College, we experienced a lack of diverse representation and programming from our University. We are calling on King’s to reconcile this issue by putting its words of inclusion, as voiced by President Bill Lahey in a statement, into action.  


We are joining journalism students from Ryerson and Carleton to call for more inclusive, diverse representation and programming from journalism schools in Canada. The Canadian Association of Black Journalists has also called for these changes.


The roots of systemic racism at the University of King’s College run deep. As the recent scholarly inquiry into the university’s ties with slavery shows, the institution itself was partially funded from taxes on slave-produced goods, and many of its founders, including Bishop Charles Inglis, owned enslaved people. 


Considering that King’s royal charter was attained in part from profits of the transatlantic slave trade, each degree the university bestows upon a student is made possible because of this history.


King’s also stands on unceded Mi’kmaq territory.


King’s is not immune to the systemic racism that continues to form the basis of so many institutions in Canada. We believe that as a school laying the groundwork for young journalists in Canada, the University of King’s College has an obligation to do better. As both alumni and current Master of Journalism students, we consider ourselves a part of this community and feel we too share the weight of this obligation. 


Unlike our peers from other journalism programs who are agitating for change, our 2019-2020 graduating journalism class was largely white. We were exclusively taught by white faculty members and white sessional instructors, and we had limited exposure to perspectives and knowledge from journalists who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). 


In newsrooms across the country, there is a startling absence of BIPOC journalists. More and more Black journalists and activists are coming forward with stories about how Canadian journalism has failed them. As protests and critical conversations spurred by Black Lives Matters activists continue, we believe journalism schools have both an opportunity and a responsibility to engage wholeheartedly and challenge racism in the Canadian media landscape.


As graduates of the 2019-2020 journalism program, it is our experience that the University of King’s College is seriously undermined by its lack of diversity. This issue has many repercussions for students. White students can graduate from the program without adequate knowledge for reporting on BIPOC communities.

Furthermore, in recent years, there have been instances of professors perpetuating racism and microaggressions in the classroom. 

With these points in mind, we are calling on the University of King’s College to commit to the following six Calls to Action:


1. Meaningful recruitment, scholarships and funding for BIPOC journalism students - The majority of Canadian newsrooms are dominated by white voices and therefore fail to adequately meet the needs and concerns of BIPOC communities. 

Fair and just representation of racialized communities in Canadian media starts in journalism school. For King’s new partnership with the Canadian Association of Black Journalists to be successful, more must be done to diversify the student base and faculty.

Echoing calls from the King’s Student Union, King’s must commit to providing more scholarships and bursaries for Black and Indigenous students to help overcome potential socio-economic barriers.


2. Hiring BIPOC faculty members - In order for students to graduate journalism programs feeling equipped to cover the multitude of topics affecting different communities, they need to be instructed by a faculty that accurately reflects the diversity in Canadian society.

It is unacceptable that, in our time at King’s, we were taught by an overwhelmingly white faculty. White professors led all of the required courses in both the one-year and four-year programs. Students in both programs were exclusively graded by white instructors.

El Jones, a Black journalist, activist and instructor at King’s, joined us twice as a guest speaker. Afterwards, in debriefs of these sessions, faculty members were clear to state that Jones’ work should be thought of as “opinion writing” and not journalism. As avid consumers and producers of journalism, we know there is not just one type of journalism. 


Without dedicated space to question these ideas, the resounding message students receive is that when a Black person writes about the issues in their community, it is viewed as biased and not objective.


We believe the University of King’s College must prioritize the hiring of tenure-track BIPOC faculty members in its journalism department and making sure they are supported and not tokenized. These types of positions are necessary so that BIPOC faculty members are a part of the King’s community and are included in decision making processes about the journalism program and school.


3. Mandatory education about the history and current context of Black and Indigenous communities in Canada, with a focus on Nova Scotia - In order for graduating students to have the tools to report on current affairs, they must first have a concrete understanding of the history and conditions that have shaped our society. 

We have serious questions regarding the program’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice for journalism schools. The call from the TRC is as follows:


“We call upon Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.”


In the one-year program, the vast majority of our education on Indigenous history and contemporary Indigenous issues occurred in the span of one afternoon through an optional Indigenous-led blanket exercise. 


This was a meaningful and powerful session; however, it is not possible for students to learn about the history of injustice, make sense of how this history shapes current day journalism and integrate this knowledge into our own journalism in one afternoon. A more serious response to these commissions’ calls to action is critical for both the one-year and four-year programs.


We recognize the work and relationships built to create the “Reporting in Mi’kma’ki” course that will be offered to students in the four-year journalism program. This course must be made a mandatory requirement for students in both the four-year and one-year journalism programs at King’s. 


4. Updated ethics class - Objectivity and speaking truth to power are foundational tenets of journalism. It is necessary for journalists to critically engage with the many ways whiteness and ingrained racism have defined what is thought of as “truth” and “objectivity” in media and journalism. 

Throughout both programs, some of us had the opportunity to engage with guest speakers on these topics. We acknowledge the BIPOC journalists who shared their time and knowledge with us in this capacity and the faculty members who worked to organize these talks. 


Some students were fortunate to attend a one day lecture by Duncan McCue about reporting in Indigenous communities — although the invitation was not extended to students in all classes. While the session was highly informative, one day of instruction is not enough to equip young journalists with the information needed to ethically report on Indigenous communities. 


King’s must commit to making these learning opportunities available to all students, not just the ones who happen to be in a particular course. 


We believe there is an opportunity to integrate these learnings into the ethics class in the one-year and four-year program. This would mean a more robust curriculum developed in collaboration with BIPOC journalists, focused on engaging with these critical issues.


5. Zero tolerance for racism in the classroom (with serious disciplinary action) - The faculty at King’s should make it clear to students that the university has an Equity Officer. 

King’s must establish a guideline for serious disciplinary action if an instructor or student is found to have engaged in discrimination of any kind. 


When an instructor is accused of racism, the equity officer must intervene and investigate the issue. If the accusations against the instructor are true, they must face immediate disciplinary action. 


If an instructor is accused of racism in the classroom, the equity officer or a third party should review the instructor’s marking to make sure it is not discriminatory.  


6. A concrete plan to achieve these calls to action and a commitment to meaningfully engage with students, faculty, alumni and the wider community about improvements - King’s School of Journalism must establish a committee consisting of students, members of the community, alumni and faculty to ensure these changes are implemented in a timely manner. This committee must meet regularly. Minutes of these meetings must be made public and journalists allowed to attend.

Every year, King’s must release a report and hold a publicized open forum to discuss the progress made following this call to action.


We expect Bill Lahey, President and Vice-Chancellor, Tim Currie, Director of Journalism, and Pauline Dakin, Associate Director of Journalism, to release a formal response to this letter within 3 weeks. We would also like to schedule a meeting to speak further about these calls to action. 

Signed,


Adam McNamara, BJ '20

Alec Martin, BJH '21

Alexander Johnson, BJH '21

Alix Bruch, BJ '20

Amy Brierley, BJ '20

Andrea McGuire, BJ '20

Becky Dingwell, BJH '15

Ben Elliott, BJ '20

Chelsea Cleroux, BJ '20

Danielle McCreadie, BJH '18

David J. Shuman, BJH '23

Dayne Patterson, MJ '21

Decklan Zion Rolle, BJH '23

Dominique Amit, BJH '20

Ethan Lycan-Lang, BJ '20

Ellen Riopelle, MJ '21

Feleshia Chandler, BJH '20

Faith Saar, BA'23

Hannah Daley, BJH '18

Jack Ronahan, BJH '23

Jacob Boon, BA '11

Jacob Webb, BJH '23

Jennifer Lee, BJH '17

John Last, BA '15

Julian Abraham, BJ '20

Julia-Simone Rutgers, BJH '19

Kaija Jussinoja, BJH '22

Kaila Jefferd-Moore, BJH '19

Kristina Pappas, BJ '20

Kristin Gardiner, BJH '20

Leslie Amminson, BJ '20

Lucia Helder, BJH '20

Lucy Harnish, BJ '20

Madeline Biso, BJH '20 

Mason Carter, BJH '23

Matt Stickland, BJH '19

Marianne Lassonde, MJ '21

Michael Trombetta, BJ '20

Olivia Malley, BJH '20 

Seyitan Moritiwon, MJ '21

Stephen Wentzell, BJH '21

Talia Meade, BJH '21