Letter from the Editor: There is no ‘voice to the voiceless’

Alexandra Abrams | Daily Trojan

It took 108 years for the Daily Trojan to create a position dedicated to diversity and inclusion. 

Moreover, it took 108 years for us to acknowledge the undoubted truth that Black lives matter. This is not a number I am proud of, but nonetheless, there is crucial work that needs to be done now. 

Despite thinly veiled performative progress, the shape of our society hasn’t changed much since the Daily Trojan published its first issue in 1912. The same evils of white supremacy, racism and bigotry permeate this nation; they are arguably as prevalent as ever, with or without mobs draped in the white-clad uniforms and pointy hoods. 

Many journalists go into the field thinking they will somehow lead the charge to eradicate these issues while causing just the same degree of harm in the same breath. This is part of an outdated notion that we, as journalists and allies, serve as the “voice to the voiceless.”

I’m here to tell you that giving a “voice to the voiceless” is not part of the job and never should have been in the first place. It implies that marginalized communities need white saviors to speak on their behalf and that without these saviors to shine a light on them, these communities are powerless and relegated to the margins of invisibility. These communities do not need those with privilege to overstep and insert themselves in conversations. Rather, they need support; they need people to step out of their ivory towers to realize that the system that has been built to benefit them oppresses others and then work to actively mitigate that disparity. 

Amplification, accountability and action make up the bare minimum that allies can do. Even then, newspapers, including the Daily Trojan, have failed to reach those standards. The Los Angeles Times editorial page once published a piece in favor of Japanese internment; The New York Times, on June 3, published an op-ed written by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for military force against protesters. 

At the Daily Trojan, our Spring 2017 sexual assault supplement’s cover featured an illustration of black hands grabbing white legs. We have circulated stories with photos that blindly exploited the pain of Black women, excluded marginalized groups in our coverage and took our staffers of color for granted. Even as it stands right now, our newsroom and its leadership are predominantly white. 

This semester, our diversity and inclusion team will lead several initiatives to remedy the Daily Trojan’s past failures and palpably work toward a more inclusive present and future. Although these initiatives will not make up for the harm the newspaper has inflicted on marginalized communities, they will assure that the Daily Trojan moves forward with a commitment to upholding harm-reductive, equitable and anti-racist practices. 

In September, our team will be releasing the paper’s first diversity staff report. This report, which will be published for everyone to see, will present our staff demographic breakdown with regard to race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, record of disability, gender identity and more. This report aims to indicate which groups make up the majority of our newsroom, which communities we are leaving out and how we can improve our outreach efforts to include and amplify more voices in our content and in our staff. 

Diversity, however, does not and should not stop at a general membership level. At the Daily Trojan, we have only two Black editors and a majority-white management team on our Fall 2020 masthead. Moving forward, we plan to fast-track Black staffers to assistant positions that will lead to senior editor roles. 

Amplification, accountability and action make up the bare minimum that allies can do. Even then, newspapers, including the Daily Trojan, have failed to reach those standards.

Angie Orellana Hernandez, Diversity & Inclusion director

In terms of content, the Daily Trojan will be conducting coverage reports of our daily stories to ensure that we are representing all members of the student body, especially communities we have historically neglected. We will be prioritizing stories from Black students, Indigenous students and students of color this semester and every semester to follow. 

We commit to holding ourselves accountable; therefore, we will be conducting editor evaluations throughout the semester in case they are failing to lead their staffers adequately due to the creation of a hostile work environment. Additionally, to ensure our writers’ voices are maintained and preserved, we will be conducting a more inclusive editing process. This entails having feedback to writers resemble more of a dialogue and less stripping away parts of a piece that are important to our writers at a given editor’s whim. 

We will also conduct diversity and inclusion workshops to cover topics such as empathetic and non-extractive reporting, the importance of minimizing harm, avoiding trauma pornography and fault lines in our coverage and newsroom accountability. These workshops will be mandatory for all editors and staffers to attend. 

These initiatives are only the beginning, and they are intended to set the foundation for what the position of diversity and inclusion director will entail in the future.

Confronting racism is not an issue that belongs solely to Black and brown communities. If we want to wholly eradicate this evil, we need to hold ourselves accountable for what we have been failing to do. For journalists, this means having reckonings within our newsrooms. It means realizing that our position in society is not to overstep and be a “voice to the voiceless” but rather to amplify the voices that have already been speaking out. It is our responsibility to tell the truth, to speak out when it is necessary — not just when it is trending in the news cycle — and to always conduct equitable, honest reporting. 

Most of all, we need to look inward and realize that we are no one’s saviors, but merely allies in a long fight against all forms of bigotry.

Angie Orellana Hernandez

Diversity & Inclusion Director

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Alexandra Abrams’ name. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.