The Emory Wheel’s recent decision to hire a diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) editor spurs debate on how to best approach a tenuous issue that has plagued the Wheel for decades. To me, DEI begins with having a cacophony of diverse voices at the table and continues by giving them reasons to stay. Before I continue, I want to clarify — I do not write this to state the Wheel is improving diversity, nor do I intend to sugarcoat the issues with how the Wheel is currently approaching DEI. Alongside a taskforce of 10 editors, I hope to make the Wheel a more sustainable place, and the first step in doing that is acknowledging there is a problem and outlining how to enact reform. I urge every member of the Emory community to reach out to me to schedule a meeting should you have feedback or ideas.

Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) members have consistently voiced issues with the Wheel’s structure and environment. Most recently in March 2020, former Managing Editor Shreya Pabbaraju authored a scathing, but incredibly necessary, letter to the editor. Pabbaraju exposed issues that editors have since brought to me in private, including that the environment at the Wheel is hostile toward BIPOC members, the time commitment is unsustainable for low-income students and that there is a lack of concentrated effort to recruit and sustain diverse talent. The Wheel’s Board of Editors and Editorial Board have been predominantly white, which I believe is precipitated by the unfriendly environment at the Wheel, as well as the huge barriers to entry into the organization that exist for low-income and BIPOC.

The issue of time requirement is crucial — an editorship role can require 35 to 40 hours per week. It is absurd to expect low-income students to be able to contribute to the Wheel, work part-time jobs and carry a full academic course load. Furthermore, the Wheel historically had a single editor and assistant editor per section, which placed undue pressure and work on a single student. The Wheel has recently migrated to a system that allows for two editors and two assistant editors within sections, which allows for both more leadership within the Wheel and a more even spread of workload. I would like to see that system consistently implemented across every section, as well as the creation of part-time associate editor positions for students who cannot commit to a full-time role but would still like to edit in some capacity. Additionally, given the rigor and intensity of the job, we must compensate editors for the work they do at the Wheel. A semester stipend of $250 for editors has been discussed and is a long-term project the DEI taskforce has begun working toward.

There needs to be a radical shift in the way the Wheel discusses and reports on diversity. If we do not have diverse voices in the newsroom providing a range of perspectives, the Wheel’s coverage will remain in decline. The Wheel’s DEI taskforce has discussed bias training to teach editors how to better edit pieces centering on communities of which they might not be a part, which I personally opposed because of the proven inadequacy of those programs. Positive effects of bias training do not last for more than two days and have no effect on women’s or minorities’ careers or on managerial diversity. The Wheel’s issues with diversity are extensive and have much to do with the audience to which the Wheel always catered. Emory has grown, and the Wheel must grow with it. A strong alternative to bias training would be requesting current and past marginalized Wheel staff, should they be willing, to discuss the challenges they faced. Collaborating with on-campus affinity offices to better the Wheel’s coverage as it relates to the Emory community specifically would likely prove far more effective, which the taskforce is currently planning. 

The Wheel must do the important and difficult work to make editors feel completely welcome and must build lasting change behind our doors. Substantive change requires making difficult calls, starting uncomfortable conversations, paving concrete paths of mentorship throughout the Wheel for marginalized communities and having diverse members in the room when making important decisions. It also requires consistent engagement with BIPOC by developing long-term relationships with individuals and campus offices. We need to cover community positives, not just community trauma. To facilitate these changes, I hope to implement a weekly series in which all editors, not just those within the taskforce, come together to discuss DEI at the Wheel and implement concrete solutions to those problems. All editors should be required to do the work to make the Wheel more equitable, not just the few members that have currently opted to join the taskforce.  

Furthermore, the Wheel needs to start concretely and quantitatively tracking its coverage to monitor how effectively student journalists can report on diverse issues. The Wheel has routinely harmed communities of color through its coverage in the past, and it must earn those relationships back through better reporting, editing and tracking. I am specifically intrigued by the University of Minnesota’s diversity tracker and am eager to introduce a similar version of it within the Wheel to examine sources and monitor accuracy and content of coverage. Coverage also needs to be tailored to sections and tracked to ensure that sections cover marginalized communities effectively and accurately. Within the Wheel, we have discussed how the composition of our writers and editors can harm our coverage, as writers might be hesitant to cover communities they do not belong in fear of not doing those communities justice. The solution is twofold — the Wheel needs to encourage and promote BIPOC writers while also teaching nascent writers how to cover a myriad of topics effectively. We can do this through enabling mentorship, conducting workshops and fostering better relationships within those communities.

As I conclude this piece, I want to emphasize these solutions are not exhaustive. When it comes to DEI, the Wheel’s issues are numerous and penetrative. This piece is merely a starting point for the structural and cultural changes I hope to implement at the Wheel. Criticism plays a significant role in our reform, and I urge everyone to be vocal about discontent with the paper. Your input is vital and will be heard. Most importantly, your input will create lasting change.

Rhea Gupta (23C) is from Mumbai, India.

This article is one part of “1963,” an investigative opinion project. Read the rest here.