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School of Journalism and New Media
University of Mississippi

A Message from Interim Dean Wenger: Moving Our School Forward

Posted on: August 12th, 2020 by drwenger

The School of Journalism & New Media has long embraced the idea that diversity, equity and inclusion are essential elements of any university education, especially for those who will one day work as journalists, integrated marketed communications practitioners or in any type of media-related profession.

We know it is easier to make statements about our intentions than it is to do the work required to achieve our stated goals; however, let us be clear, we are committed to being better – for our students, community and for ourselves.

While we remain distanced by COVID-19, we ask you to unite with us in the spirit to remake our school, university, state, country and world through the uncomfortable and hard work of examining our failures to realize our goal of promoting rich diversity, genuine equity and consistent inclusion.

I want to take just a moment to recognize some of the pieces of our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts toward improvement that are already in place before I switch gears to talk about our plans for the future. Too many people have put forth too much effort to allow their labor to go unrecognized.

For example, the School’s leadership team includes three Black women in the roles of assistant deans. Their individual perspectives and guidance continue to have a tremendous impact on the environment within our School, and it’s important to note their contributions. Of our school’s 32 permanent, full-time faculty – six are Black.

For the past two years, we have invited the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement to conduct workshops to help our faculty and staff to navigate challenges related to bias and to enable us to improve our teaching around issues of diversity and inclusion.

I know of no other program on campus that requires all majors to take a diversity-themed course in order to graduate – something that has been a part of our curriculum for years. In addition, we can point to many examples of teachers regularly incorporating assignments, lectures and discussions around themes of diversity and inclusion into their courses, and our students have won national recognition for their reporting on challenges that touch on DEI issues, including two prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for publications focused on the Mississippi Delta.

Those are just some of the ways that our efforts play out in our classrooms and with our students.

Yet, we know we have not done enough and we acknowledge the harm that’s been caused by our failures.

In the past several weeks, we have recommitted ourselves to our goal of full inclusivity. We are:

  • Proud to be enrolling the first cohort of students in our new Political and Social Justice Reporting emphasis. This is part of a larger curriculum revision that was more than two years in the making.
  • We are scheduling more training for our faculty and staff to help us expand our understanding of what it means to be anti-racist and to be allies for those who have felt excluded in some way.
  • We are starting over with what was previously called our “diversity plan.” It’s been in place since 2011 and needs to be recreated in recognition of its limitations and as a living, breathing document that can serve as a touchstone for our decisions.
  • And in response to recent events that have highlighted another area where we need to be better, we are developing a “Statement of Principles for Fundraising” that will guide our School as we work with donors going forward. We are very grateful for those people who value the quality education we strive to provide all of our students, and we look forward to involving even more donors who share our vision for what our School can be.

This is a School that cares about its students, faculty and staff, cares about creating a better university and cares about creating a better world. We are learning how to be more open, more effective and more aware as we embrace the challenge.

This is an ongoing conversation and we are listening.

Deb Wenger, Ph.D.
Interim Dean/Professor
School of Journalism & New Media