School of Journalism under fire for lack of diversity

The RRJ’s diversity issue and Heather Mallick’s column. (Julianne San Antonio/Ryersonian Staff)

The RRJ’s diversity issue and Heather Mallick’s column. (Julianne San Antonio/Ryersonian Staff)

Correction: This article has been changed. The print version of this story incorrectly stated that Ivor Shapiro had said Janice Neil’s appointment was a nod to diversity. He did say that Neil’s appointment is an example of RSJ’s progress in diversity.

Ryerson University’s school of journalism (RSJ) has a diversity problem and it knows it.

On April 1, the RSJ made headlines when Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick published “You’re pretty pale yourself, Ryerson.”

In her column, Mallick took issue with a post on the Ryerson Review of Journalism (RRJ) website titled, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Canadian Columnists.”

The feature, written in November 2015 by RRJ blog editor Davide Mastracci, focused on the dominance of white opinion writers and the lack of diversity in Canadian media.

Mallick’s main criticism against the RRJ and Mastracci was that he had turned a blind eye to the lack of diversity at the publication’s own hosting program, the RSJ, which Mallick refered to as “stale, male and pale.”

“Ryerson’s journalism department, lovely people all, posts photos online of its teaching staff, including faculty, adjuncts, contract lecturers, etc. There are 49. How many appear to be white? About 44,” she wrote.

“You need instructors who understand what it’s like not to fit in perfectly, to see the world differently,” Mallick said in a Twitter message to The Ryersonian. In addition to racial diversity, Mallick also stressed the need for more gender and sexual diversity.

Ivor Shapiro, the current chair of the RSJ, said that this is a pressing issue for the program.

“Most people would agree that we need to diversify our faculty and staff so that students see themselves represented in the range of people who teach them and work with them,” he said.

As Shapiro put it, Ryerson is a “unionized shop”. There are three different unions currently in operation at the university: the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA) represents faculty members; the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents contract lecturers, part-time and sessional instructors; and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) represents staff members.

In accordance with collective agreements, members of CUPE and OPSEU will get precedence in hiring when respective positions become available. Although these restrictions do not apply to the RFA, openings are far more rare.

 In all cases, Shapiro said that turnover is inevitably slow.
Even so, Mallick, herself an RSJ alumna, said that hiring diverse temporary instructors should be easier and faster.

“They’re on-call, they’re paid a flat amount, they’re in Toronto. Those people are ready and many of them are people of extreme talent,” she said.

Asmaa Malik, an RSJ assistant professor, said that the school’s staff is only part of the diversity equation.

“We’re really fortunate to have a very diverse group of students at RSJ who … really want to make a change in the industry. So, I think that that’s where the change is going to come from,” she said.

Kat Eschner, editor of the RRJ, said in an email that the magazine’s masthead, “recognize(s) that diversity is a problem throughout our industry — even at the RSJ — and that’s why we focused on diversity in our special report.”

In the meantime, the recent appointment of Janice Neil as the next chair of the RSJ indicates a move towards diversity. She will be the first woman to lead the school in its 66 years of existence.

“It’s long, long overdue,” Shapiro said.

With files from Dylan Bell

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