The start of a new school year is always an exciting time, but at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, this year may be more exciting than most.
On the plus side, the school recently opened UNC’s newest building, the 13,000-square-foot Curtis Media Center, featuring a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, podcast studio, and creative space. . But the school also faces serious challenges, including a downgraded accreditation status due to concerns about diversity and inclusion following last year’s controversy around Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Amid all of this, the school is also entering the year with a new dean: Raul Reis, who took over earlier this year after serving as dean of the School of Communication at Emerson College.
What does Dean Reis think of UNC? And what are his plans to address the challenges facing the Hussman School?
97.9 The Hill’s Aaron Keck spoke to Dean Reis earlier this month. Click here to listen to their conversation.
Aaron Keck: What are your first impressions of UNC and Chapel Hill, and the journalism school in particular?
Raul Reis: I think all my good feelings about school have been confirmed. I really admire this school, and I admire the work people do here. I’ve talked and listened to people a lot over the past two months. I’ve had meetings with staff and administrators, and now with faculty and students. The more I learn, the more I admire the work that is done here.
Kek: In these listening sessions, what stood out to you? What themes keep coming up, or what was a surprising thing you weren’t expecting to hear?
Reis: It’s pretty amazing to me to see how hard people work in their courses and research projects. Seeing them so excited to be back, the optimism – I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a surprise, but it’s great to hear first hand, you know, that the students are so diligent, dedicated and excited to be back.
Kek: Of course, you are coming at a very strange time for journalism school. We’re only a year away from last year’s controversy involving Nicole Hannah Jones. Certainly, the ripple effects of this still reverberate, even to the point of some accreditation issues. So what’s your plan to reestablish the Hussman School as an inclusive place where everyone can feel welcome?
Reis: This listening tour is one of them. I want to make sure people know their opinions are welcome. I had two great open conversations with staff and faculty, including a retreat we had on August 12 where we had a workshop on microaggressions. And we obviously pay a lot of attention to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues. We have a whole plan that we have been discussing with faculty and staff over the past two months; Just last Friday we had another meeting with over 55 people around the table (discussing) what we need to do.
So we are developing an action plan, and I will present the action plan to the students. I plan to put together a group of about 20 students that I will call the Dean’s Student Advisory Council. These will be student representatives (from) different parts of the school, different types of students, representing chapters of, for example, the Carolina Association of Black Journalists (and) the National Hispanic Journalists Association – having conversations about their needs and what they need to achieve here.
Obviously, as you mentioned, we try to create a sense of belonging at school. We try to create a welcoming environment where everyone feels they can express themselves fully and which is respected – more than respected. This is a great opportunity for us to build the next chapter of the school and infuse it all with diversity, equity and inclusion.
So we’re finalizing this big list of action items, and we’ll be releasing it later this month.
Kek: Any insight into what some of these action items might be?
Reis: Yes. This group of students (the Student Advisory Council) will hopefully have that impact by opening a direct channel with the Dean, having meetings with me, and then creating programs where we can provide professional development opportunities and leadership to students from all different backgrounds. (We) are planning something for the spring, for freshmen in particular, to create that sense of community. I hope this group of student leaders will help me organize activities. We bring guests, we bring speakers.
(And) we are hiring four new teachers who are either coming in January or starting next year in the fall. There are two more being hired right now. So potentially six new faculty members, many of them from diverse backgrounds, which adds to the incredible diversity we already have among faculty and staff.
And we will also be running a series of workshops for faculty and staff around DEI issues. We just did one, as I mentioned, around microaggressions, (and) we have more to come in terms of class building and program building in how we build a inclusive classroom environment. And we will connect with former students as well as school friends. We will have listening sessions for teachers in the fall and then for students in the spring.
So it will be a very busy year for us. And we are already starting to do the work.
Kek: Another conversation that has come out of this controversy over the past year is a very interesting discussion about the role of journalists and journalism in the first place. You have people on one side who say that journalism should strive to be neutral and free from political bias, that journalists should be as impartial as possible. Another side says that journalists should pursue the truth, even if it means you end up siding with one political party over another, and that journalists should acknowledge their own personal biases and be candid to their topic. It’s a fascinating conversation. Where are you ?
Reis: You know, I think we have to have principles that we apply. Remember, this is a journalism and media school. So it’s very inclusive in that sense as well. We have strategic communication as a big part of the school; approximately 60% of our students and professors are dedicated to the fields of strategic communication. I would say that we want to imbue everything we do with principles, ethical principles and professional principles by adopting the best practices (from) what is happening on the ground – (and) also being the leaders, in the sense that we establish classroom environments (that) are inclusive and also principle-based.
You know, we try to infuse everything we do with not only conceptual conversations about ethical issues and professional issues, but also very practical issues related to technology. For example, I think we can contribute a lot in terms of open discourse in society, building a more democratic and transparent society. I think journalism also plays a part in that. So there are a lot of conversations between the teachers, knowing that we all come from different backgrounds. When we had this conversation about microaggressions in class, for example, we talked at length about implicit biases and hiring processes. So there are a lot of conversations that I think we need to have, and we can contribute a lot to the national conversation about the role of the media, in building a more democratic, participatory, collaborative, open, transparent and ethical society. These are big issues, (and) we want to contribute to them, we want to be part of them. We don’t want to exclude people from the conversation. We want to include all points of view and we want to be an open space for conversation and dialogue.
Image featured via Emerson College.
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