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College of Information and Communications

Social justice in the media

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was the keynote speaker for the joint CIC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Research Symposium and SJMC Media & Civil Rights History Symposium in March. The event was sponsored by the CIC and the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

The theme of this year’s Media & Civil Rights History Symposium was “Social Justice and the Media,” which made Hannah-Jones an obvious choice. 

Hannah-Jones is an investigative reporter who covers civil rights and racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine. She is also the creator of the landmark 1619 Project which commemorates the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in the United States. The project aims to examine slavery’s modern legacy and reframe the way history and the contributions of Black Americans are understood. 

“Media has had a significant influence on not only how the broader audience sees people of color, but how people of color see themselves,” said associate professor Kenneth Campbell, who organizes the history symposium. “We get a lot of what we think about one another from mass media. The more accurate the media represents people, the more we will be able to see beyond stereotypes in one another.”

The history symposium is held every two years, and the research symposium is held annually. Considering the recent activity in the civil rights movement, the symposium presented a timely opportunity for the CIC and the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office to collaborate. 

“This is a great time for the school and for the university given the social justice movement of the last year,” Campbell said. “I think minds and eyes have been opened. We have become more receptive to a more accurate presentation of open history.” 

In addition to the symposium, the CIC is searching for more ways to engage students in conversations about social justice and race. Campbell helped develop the SJMC’s Minorities, Women and Mass Media course. He said that it has become a significant course in the SJMC curriculum — but there is more work to be done. 

The CIC has also hired three new faculty members whose research focuses on ethnicity and race at the intersection of data, media and society. 

“We need to bring in more faculty who can help us with that focus in individual courses,” Campbell said. “We hope they’ll be  able to help us in to incorporate more diversity into already existing courses when it comes to race, ethnicity and the media.” 

As with anything, there is always room for growth. 

“My hope is that we continue to grow and move in the right direction as we prepare students to understand themselves and one another, and to realize the significant role that the media plays in that understanding,” Campbell said. 

Shirley Staples Carter, the CIC’s associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, hopes Hannah-Jones’ appearance raised awareness of social justice issues and provided an opportunity to share ideas. 

“People are thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion in ways they haven’t before,” Carter said. “Anytime that we can provide intellectual stimulation and engage all of our audiences, internal and external, we think that’s a win.” 

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