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Diversity: Awareness and inclusion

By Kathleen Nystrom, public relations major.  Reprinted from InterCom.
Infographic by Tori McAnallen, visual communications major.

For Dr. Shirley Carter, diversity is more than just accepting under-represented students in the school—it’s being able to understand those different groups and create an environment of inclusion and awareness for them. Dr. Carter has committed herself to accomplishing this at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC).

“It’s not enough just being here,” said Dr. Carter. “It’s feeling welcomed and finding space where students feel welcomed.”

The university’s Carolinian Creed is a commitment to create a diverse learning environment. Dr. Carter heads the SJMC Diversity Committee, which researches and enacts programs such as partnerships with professional organizations, which maintain a diverse environment. The School of Library and Information Science also has a Diversity Leadership Group, and Dr. Carter represents the College of Information and Communications on the University of South Carolina Diversity Council.

Dr. Carter says that appreciating and understanding diversity is critical to the journalism and mass communications professions. She says the SJMC strives to educate students about diversity so that they can better reach diverse audiences in future careers.

“We can’t be effective communicators if we can’t reach all of our publics,” said Dr. Carter. “We must value and understand our constituency to serve society.”

Dr. Carter says there are four main areas that must be actively pursued in order to create the best diversity: composition, achievement, engagement and inclusion. The SJMC Diversity Committee works to ensure that these four aspects are equally pursued. It compares the diverse make-up of the state of South Carolina to the SJMC. The committee works to make sure that the enrollment reflects the same diversity proportions as closely as possible to the state as a whole.

The committee uses Dr. Carter’s research to determine which groups are underrepresented and where the school needs to focus recruitment efforts. The research looks at all aspects of diversity, including gender, race, geographic locations, religion, gender ID and even religious beliefs or political ideals. She said a big change recently in diversity efforts has been the inclusion of gender identity. Currently, her research has determined that African Americans, Asians and males are the most underrepresented groups in the SJMC.

The committee works with in-house organizations and local professional organizations to encourage more diversity at the college. The school currently houses the Southern Interscholastic Press Association (SIPA), an organization for high school students interested in pursuing journalism. SIPA fosters diversity and encourages young students to pursue journalism. Because they are housed in SJMC, those students become comfortable in the school, which may increase the likelihood of attending.

The committee has also worked to create partnerships with local professional organizations, including Public Relations Society of America and American Advertising Federation of the Midlands. These organizations have outreach programs that attract and recruit underrepresented students to the SJMC.

“I think we do a good job of reaching out to students from varying ethnic backgrounds before they enter journalism school,” said Cecile Holmes, journalism sequence head and member of the SJMC Diversity Committee. “We are trying – and I think beginning to succeed – in offering those students similar support and direction throughout their college careers.”

Dr. Carter said that the inclusion efforts are not just for minority groups, but also for the students who have never truly experienced diversity. She said that many students come to USC from areas that have very little diversity. Dr. Carter said the diversity committee aims to educate students on diversity and create an environment where no student feels left out.

“For some students, this is their first real diverse environment,” said Dr. Carter. “We want to be inclusive to them as well and help them learn about diversity.”

“I constantly run into a wide variety of people with different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations,” said Adrian Workman, third-year broadcast journalism student.

Since 2011, the SJMC has seen increased multicultural student enrollment by two percent, according to Dr. Carter’s research. The committee works to create an environment of inclusion with multi-cultural speakers and study abroad programs, which introduces students to new cultures and puts them in unfamiliar environments in which they are minorities. The college also focuses on recruiting global students to attend USC.

Global experience benefits the engagement aspect of diversity because it creates more culturally aware students and faculty.

“We experience diversity every day,” said Dr. Carter. “We need to appreciate all ways we are different, whether in business, government, education, politics, or communications."

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