The quest for inclusion and attention to diversity that has swept the nation this summer has made its way to the University of Texas at Austin student newspaper in the form of criticism about the mistreatment of and lack of Black, indigenous and other people of color in the newsroom.
The Daily Texan’s Diversity and Inclusion Board recently took to Twitter to announce a list of action items its members want addressed by management at the 120-year-old newspaper, including more funding for minority lead organizations, inclusion in hiring and decision-making, and proper representation of BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and students with disabilities in published stories.
The board, created only about a year ago, claims it is constantly fending off attacks about its need to exist.
“Sources in stories published by the Texan have repeatedly been misrepresented and harmed, such as describing students as ‘suffering from’ disabilities, incorrectly stating someone’s citizenship status, or LGBTQ students being outed in photographs and stories without their consent,” the board’s statement reads.
The incoming external relations director for the board, Austin Martinez, has felt unwelcome and excluded in the newsroom. She hopes the Texan will move toward building a better future for incoming journalists of color.
“From what I have seen, the Diversity and Inclusion Board hasn’t been given the amount of authority and respect as it should have. As an incoming board member, I will work with the board to make its presence more known and approachable,” she stated.
Martinez sees the lack of inclusion showing up the most with how the newspaper handles stories related to communities of color.
“Pitches with diverse voices are not always welcomed with the greatest support,” said Martinez. “Some staffers, whether or not it is intentional, do not always treat stories including racial and ethnic issues with the most care and respect.”
Martinez, a former reporter for the Texan, also said that she often felt confused about the target audience and questioned the paper’s support of marginalized communities.
“I am constantly trying to figure out who the audience of the Texan is, but I have a feeling it has not been too considerate of marginalized communities. I remember pitching a story that included the Black community and being told ‘this story would reach too small of an audience here,” said Martinez. “This made me uncomfortable because how can we promote stories with diverse voices if we are writing for a specific audience?”
A response from newspaper management states that they, “unconditionally support the D+I Board and all of these efforts to make the Daily Texan’s newsroom and coverage more diverse and inclusive.”
“After deeply hurting many students, staff and faculty, we take full responsibility for all the hurt we have caused, and we plan to do so in the future as well,” read their statement. “The management team is dedicated to immediately changing our actions and behavior in order to make the Texan a more inclusive place for everyone at the University.”
Parent organization at UT, Texas Student Media, also issued a response.
“If the Diversity and Inclusion Board would be open to meeting, we can define a path that builds structure and framework to accomplish these requests by October 1,” according to the response. “It will require work by committee, but that achievement is possible.”
This is not the first time that the Diversity and Inclusion Board has tried to make their suffering clear.
Frustrated and burned out, the board’s director left the newspaper earlier this year.
“I’m going to be frank. I knew there were and still are people here who don’t see a need in what we’re trying to do,” wrote Tiana Woodard. “I knew there were and still are people who feel that I’m too critical of this paper. I know my blackness makes every step toward progress seem aggressive, so I won’t stay silent.”
Woodard addressed explicitly the system in place that is hindering movements toward inclusion.
“The Daily Texan isn’t systemically ready for the diversity and inclusion I and many others in this space want to see,” she stated. “Producing a daily paper goes before any diversity and inclusion when it should be the opposite. Its managing editor and editor-in-chief structure needs amending.”
Will this long-established institution, like many others, be forced to address the elephant in the room?
Martinez said that she is hopeful for this coming semester despite the struggle and tragedies that have occurred.
“I believe this school year will be a year of great change for the Daily Texan. Unfortunately, there have been countless unnecessary and tragic killings for many decades,” said Martinez. “But after the tragic deaths of various BIPOC this summer such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Vanessa Guillen received global attention, organizations like the Texan can no longer sit in silence and ignore the inequalities experienced by staffers from marginalized communities.”