By Curtis Lawrence | November 30th, 2009
Earlier this month our Journalism Department conducted the re-writing of its mission statement. In most cases I find this process more painful than … (pick your fear of the most painful medical procedure or torture.) The mission meeting usually involves a sports jacket-clad consultant, reams of butcher block paper and clock-watching faculty members. (Our consultant was a woman sans sport jacket.)
In many cases mission statements at colleges and work places are recorded in the minutes or put on file. This is the equivalent of the kitchen junk drawer which is home to the dried out glue stick and refrigerator warranty. Most folks look at the warranty when the fridge goes on the fritz. They don’t check it periodically to see if the fridge is meeting expectations.
Our faculty members also were asked to list individual goals for students and faculty. Of course, the student mission statement included diversity. I’m fortunate to work at a place where diversity is almost always on the table at every level of school operations.
One of the goals initially read that students should apply diversity in reporting, writing, editing and producing. This seemed reasonable, but after some thought it sounded inadequate. This goal could have been interpreted as: students should include more than one race in their source list. Or, it could be narrowly interpreted to imply that you should not have a story that does not include women. Basically the goal as first written could be interpreted in many ways depending on one’s outlook on and/or definition of diversity.
After thinking about this for a moment, I dropped my cynical snarl and took part in the discussion. Eventually we agreed that diversity should be more than a check-off list. Others, including Sally Lehrman, author of “News in a New America,” have challenged journalists and educators to scratch beneath the surface when discussing diversity.
We changed the goal to: “Graduates of our program should demonstrate an understanding and application of diversity in reporting, writing, editing and producing.” The change added one key word: understanding. But it was an important word. It contained the possibility of moving our students and future journalists beyond the check-off list and into really understanding what it means to include a mix of cultures and viewpoints in our work.
The exercise taught me that sometimes we have to drop our cynicism and get our hands dirty if we are serious about diversity. I learned that I will bear some of the responsibility if the mission statement remains in the kitchen junk drawer a few months from now.
Has anyone had similar experiences involving mission statements and diversity? If so, please chime in.
Curtis Lawrence is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee and an assistant professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago.