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Mayborn faculty sign list of diversity and inclusion recommendations to deans

Mayborn faculty sign list of diversity and inclusion recommendations to deans

Mayborn faculty sign list of diversity and inclusion recommendations to deans
June 19
10:00 2020

This story has been updated.

All but one faculty from the Mayborn School of Journalism sent a letter Wednesday to the Mayborn Dean and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Executive Dean recommending courses of action to improve diversity and inclusion.

The letter to Dean Andrea Miller and Executive Dean Tamara Brown calls for steps to be taken to combat institutional racism and advance inclusivity at the Mayborn, and is signed by several faculty members such as Professors Tracy Everbach, Newly Paul and Dorothy Bland among others.

Some of the demands listed include a “diversity advisory board made up of industry professionals who can give guidance on what MSOJ do [sic] to improve diversity and inclusivity,” “form student mentoring groups” and “direct the MSOJ Scholarship Committee to examine at [sic] our scholarships and see if we can update them and make sure they are fair. Can we use any of them to fund learning experiences like study abroad?”

Speaking on the issues leading to the letter, Paul said there was already discussion around “cultural awareness” following the Sewell incident, such as a book detailing ways to incorporate diversity into classrooms.

“When the protests started, a small group of faculty members came together informally to discuss what changes we could make in our own department,” Paul said. “We had read about student experiences with racism at UNT through the #BlackatUNT hashtag and wanted to help as much as we could. We brainstormed ideas and put together a document, which was eventually presented to the entire department and then to the deans. So, I think while the current environment moved us to take action, we have been talking about some of these ideas for a while.”

Bland previously served as Mayborn Dean from 2013 to 2018. She said the college has improved a lot in terms of diversity.

“During my tenure, we grew overall student enrollment, faculty and staff in the Mayborn,” Bland said. “We moved most of the Mayborn team into the renovated Sycamore Hall, launched the MS in Digital Communication Analytics and Grad Track programs under my leadership. Both the undergraduate and graduate programs were re-accredited by ACEJMC through 2022. I also secured major gifts to support faculty research, broadcast equipment and funds toward renovation of a broadcast studio.  I am proud that the Mayborn became more diverse under my leadership, and earned the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Equity and Diversity Award in 2016.”

Bland said she is still dedicated to making a difference even though she is no longer the dean.

“As a female African American woman, I know what it is like to be disparaged and demonized,” Bland said. “I understand pain. Still, I love our students, value my colleagues and working at UNT. As evidence of my ongoing commitment, I created the First Generation Diversity Champion Scholarship years ago for a journalism student. I have secured at least 20 grants to support the work of students, faculty and staff over the years.”

Everbach, who is also the Chairwoman of the Women’s Faculty Network Executive Committee, said the letter was driven by a desire to provide more support to students of color, whom she saw as underserved.

“We wanted to show support for students of color and diverse faculty and that we’re committed to diversity and anti-racism,” Everbach said. “More than half of our enrollees are students of color, and we wanted to show that we do support them, we are willing to listen to them… All of our students.”

The Women’s Faculty Network released a statement around the same time, which included similar requests to those found in the Mayborn one.

Political Science Professor Kimi King, who is a member of the WFN said she had been at university since 1993 and they are still talking about many of the same issues.

“We do not have a faculty that reflects our student body, and when you look at tenured faculty you will see there are disparities,” King said. “UNT, as a minority-serving institution, should be a leader in the state of Texas as a Tier 1 school. Why is it that we do not have more people of color at the senior level where critical decisions get made? We are standing at the crossroads where our next steps will determine what kind of country, state, and university communities we want to have. The letter is a recognition that we want mechanisms in place which are not just empty statements made during times of turbulence and turmoil. We have responsibilities as state of Texas employees to ensure that the laws are being equally and equitably applied to all.”

The same day the letter was sent, Coalition1956, a recently-emerged student group calling for more anti-racism efforts, released a set of demands, which asked for a plan from President Neal Smatresk to combat institutional racism within 48 hours.

After a lack of concrete response from President Smatresk 48 hours later, they released a call for his resignation.

Everbach said there was no collaboration between Coalition1956’s demands and the Mayborn faulty’s letter. Everbach also said Dean Miller responded to their letter and set up a meeting with faculty.

“I think she’ll take our concerns seriously,” Everbach said. “So will Dean Brown. I don’t have any reason to think she wouldn’t listen to us.”

Executive Dean Brown said in an email they planned to address the demands outlined and initiatives similar to some of those in the letter were already being developed. Brown also sent a letter to faculty and staff prior to the Mayborn faculty’s letter, denouncing racism and calling for change.

“I immediately responded to their email letting them know of my support, that I am pleased to see the fruit of their conversations around diversity and inclusion, and that I am looking forward to meeting to discuss their ideas,” Brown said in an email. “The fact that the MSOJ faculty have responded to the latest wave of discrimination and injustice gripping our nation by getting together to discuss what they can do is a signal that they . . . have heard and heeded the call to action I recently issued as Executive Dean of the College. I am proud of them for the thoughtful way they have listed what they, as MSOJ faculty, are committed to doing to more deeply embed diversity and inclusion into their curricular and extracurricular activities and standard ways of operating for the benefit of faculty, staff, and students.”

Paul said she is optimistic and hopes the list changes things for the better.

“As an educator, my aim is to help students achieve their best and this list should go a long way in addressing the barriers raised by systemic racism,” Paul said. “The list is wide-ranging and its recommendations encompass many aspects of life at Mayborn. We are aiming to make diversity an ongoing conversation, not an issue that is brought up at special occasions.”

This story was updated June 19 to clarify the number of journalism faculty members who signed a letter on diversity to university administrators.

Featured Image: Sycamore Hall, home to the Mayborn School of Journalism is currently closed due to COVID-19. Image by Ricardo Vazquez Garcia

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Will Tarpley

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