OPINION: Media diversity can impact all fields

Art by Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Earlier this week, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism announced its plan to launch the Inclusion Initiative under the leadership of journalism professor Stacy Smith. The goal of the project is to promote diversity in a broader range of industries; while the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative focused on film, this project will involve both the film and music industries. The project was heralded by Annenberg Dean Willow Bay as “a true force for industry change.”

Smith’s Inclusion Initiative is necessary because the entertainment industry is a crucial channel through which people — especially young people — absorb information and develop their understanding of society and identity. For example, American teenagers consume an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day. The influence that entertainment media wields over this rising generation cannot be understated. Subsequently, the industry has the ability to shape young people’s values and perspectives to be welcoming of diversity, inclusion and their greater roles in society.

In other words, when underrepresented groups are not given the same opportunities in media, a non-inclusive culture is dangerously normalized. If characters, actors and artists of varying minority groups are not given the same kinds of careers, hobbies and relationships in entertainment media as majority groups, we are more likely to see this passively accepted in the real world. A prime example of underrepresentation in a certain is the lack of minorities and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at Annenberg recently held a panel called “Cracking the Code” earlier this month and discussed a project the think tank has been working on with Google. The project aims to represent more women and minorities in the field of computer science on television shows by replacing the stereotype of the straight, white male computer scientist with an equally competent scientist who represents one or more underrepresented groups.

This diversity and representation could mark a key step toward changing the demographics at institutions like USC. While the Viterbi School of Engineering saw its highest number of female students yet at 44 percent last year, there is still work to be done to improve the skewed gender ratios in faculty. Only one third of faculty in Viterbi are female, and the diversity of both students and faculty in terms of ethnicity and sexual identity and orientation. However, the University is taking necessary steps to remedy the cultural biases that shape these demographics. As seen in the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative’s work with Google, USC recognizes that a crucial component in changing dated norms is changing our media.

Through their various projects and initiatives, Annenberg and Smith are actively addressing USC’s desire to increase diversity in other fields as well. Another important part of the new Inclusion Initiative Think Tank addresses storytelling and discourse within the music industry. As Bay explained in a statement, “The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is a leader in addressing inequality in entertainment and by expanding their work to include examinations of mental health in storytelling and inequality in all aspects of the music industry.”

Not only are groups represented through visual portrayals, but they are also represented through spoken word, audio media and, of course, the everyday dialogue unfolding around us. Outside of the music industry, the inclusion of all groups in the conversations at USC is crucial for creating more opportunities for and recognizing the different needs and experiences of everyone.

While it is difficult to determine the solution to promoting diversity in each field, changing what we see in the media industry marks a crucial starting point. What we see and hear in the media shapes what we believe is normal. It’s what shows young boys and girls their potential. It plays a decisive role in shaping their futures. Representation in both media and popular discourse is the key to increasing diversity at USC.