Almost a year ago, this newspaper acknowledged its lack of diversity, longstanding inequity and barriers to accessibility since its inception in 1919. We vowed that we had a responsibility to uplift and support diverse voices within our newsroom and nationwide. 

Student journalists operate in a strange space between collegiate and professional worlds, and those at the Wheel are no exception. We often find ourselves reporting on our classmates or breaking news that drastically alters our own academic experiences. Our excessive focus on content production rates and antiquated journalistic standards, however, has contributed to high burnout, low retention rates and high levels of distrust among marginalized campus communities. If we are to truly and effectively better ourselves as a news organization, these issues must be addressed with specific and swift solutions to prevent further harm.

The first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force convened in November 2020, consisting of the Wheel’s then-editor-in-chief, executive board and other editors who chose to join. Our initial attempts to enact change were rocky: we faced collective action problems, burnout from members of the Task Force and disagreement over strategies to implement change. In the months since, however, the Task Force successfully executed a number of changes detailed below. 

To address staff concerns about burnout, the Wheel will take a hiatus from publishing editorial content from April 28 to June 7. During this time, we will only publish a select number of breaking news stories, community op-eds and other pieces on a non-regular basis. This extended break is designed to give our editors and writers, who often put over 15 hours per week into the Wheel, time to recuperate. This hiatus will also allow the DEI Task Force to focus exclusively on planning actionable steps for the summer and following year. 

A report of this nature will become a regular occurrence, with the next one following our hiatus at the beginning of June. 

Stipends for low-income editors

The Wheel currently does not pay all of its editors a wage that compensates their immense time and effort. Any editor position is incredibly demanding, often taking as much time as a part-time job, which can mean foregoing paid employment. The lack of pay is due to budgetary constraints as a student organization that is financially independent from the University. However, the Wheel must work to eliminate this barrier for low-income students and students who work.

In response to concerns about the Wheel’s demanding time commitment for students who cannot afford to take on leadership roles without pay, the Task Force implemented a stipend for low-income editors. At the start of this semester, those who felt they needed financial assistance could submit a request for a $250 stipend. While this stipend does not adequately compensate editors for the time they put into the Wheel, it represents a long-overdue first step in compensating our low-income editors. 

The Task Force plans to continue the stipend program this fall and will seek additional funding for expansion through a summer fundraiser.

Changes to the Wheel’s Constitution

The Wheel’s Board of Editors voted on April 2 to amend its constitution to clarify the definition of a staff member, more clearly define who is eligible to vote in editor-in-chief elections and codify the role of the DEI Task Force. 

During the most recent election for editor-in-chief in February, former editors protested that they had been excluded from the eligible voter list for arbitrary reasons. In response to these complaints, the Task Force created constitutional changes that expanded voter eligibility. Former editors, Editorial Board members, DEI Task Force members are now all allowed to vote in editor-in-chief elections. Additionally, any Wheel member who believes they should be allowed to vote can appeal directly to the editor-in-chief. The Task Force also expanded the definition of staff writer to include more Wheel contributors by lowering the contribution requirement to five per semester and one in each subsequent semester to maintain the position.

Demographic report

The Wheel published its first demographic report on April 2 detailing the composition of the Wheel’s staff during the 2020-21 school year as of February 2021. We believe that having accurate data on who is part of the organization holds us accountable for how we can and must improve. The survey was sent to all individuals who contributed to the Wheel since August 2020  in writing, editing, photography or illustrations. 

Funding for affinity journalism organization memberships

The Wheel will fund 10 memberships to affinity journalism organizations, such as the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalist Association and the Association of LGBT Journalists. Affinity journalism organizations are incredibly useful for student journalists seeking mentorship and looking to break into a competitive industry, especially for communities who face additional barriers. Any member of the Emory community interested in journalism is welcome to apply, regardless of their relationship with the Wheel.

Restructuring recruitment

In the past, recruitment has occurred only at the beginning of each semester, and largely relied on personal relationships with Wheel members or attendance at the student activities fair. As our demographic report revealed, these recruitment measures did not go far enough and often excluded underrepresented communities. Going forward, we have adapted our efforts to actively recruit members throughout the year by advertising frequently on social media and targeting academic department listservs.

We have also revamped and streamlined our onboarding process. Designated editors will help new members get acclimated to the Wheel and we plan to create a mentorship program for new writers. In doing so, we aim to proactively tackle deficits in our work culture while diversifying our staff and improving the breadth and depth of our coverage.

Reexamining our coverage

As the opinion section’s “1963” investigative project released in February revealed, our coverage has historically excluded communities of color or even outright harmed them. Articles featuring white nationalists, sexist coverage and hate speech have graced the Wheel’s archives. “1963” was a first step in uncovering decades-old untold stories and bringing attention to inequities on our campus. 

Going forward, this Task Force commits to continuing these efforts and alleviate areas of underrepresentation. Such endeavors include analyzing our own problematic practices within editing such as code-switching which can alienate marginalized communities, and expanding our coverage to uplift minority voices. We will reexamine the composition of our writing and editorial staff, where we solicit sources and what stories we write. We hope to reform our paper, in both our everyday coverage and larger projects like “1963,” so that underrepresented groups do not get left out of our pages.

The DEI Task Force is composed of Abby Williams, Anjali Huynh, Ben Thomas, Brammhi Balarajan, Cailen Chinn, Caroline Silva, Gabriella Lewis, Isaiah Poritz, Jada Chambers, Jessica Solomon, Ryan Callahan, Rachel Broun and Sara Perez.

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