Staff Editorial: The Graphic Commits to Amplifying Black Student Voices

Editors’ Note: Staff editorials are an opportunity for the Graphic to provide a united front on a topic that affects the Pepperdine community. Although these pieces are typically written anonymously by several staff members, this one is a collaborative effort between five of the nine senior leaders. It still, however, represents the opinions and discussions of the entire PGM staff.

Art by Madeline Duvall

Being Black at Pepperdine

As a Black student, living the full experience at a predominately white institution such as Pepperdine is easier said than done. Oftentimes, I find myself in classes, groups and clubs as the only student of color. If a topic related to race or African Americans comes up while in these spaces, I suddenly feel as though all eyes are on me and I’m required to be the spokesperson of my entire race.

I, Brianna Willis, digital editor of The Graphic, am by no means representative of the entire Black population in America or at Pepperdine. I, however, have a voice and intend to use it.

While people of color do not owe anyone an explanation on their background or racial history, I choose to help educate those around me.

At Pepperdine, I’ve been asked, “Why do you wrap your hair at night?” and “Is it OK to say the N-word?” I am now at a point where I have no problem explaining why I have to wear a scarf at night and why it is not OK for someone who is not Black to say the N-word.

But there were times when I never wanted to come out of my room with my hair wrapped because I did not want to answer these questions and feel uncomfortable.

This extends beyond just hair and the N-word. This is a Pepperdine and worldwide issue: Black people and African Americans have to try day in and day out to make themselves comfortable in a consistently uncomfortable setting.

One of the most uncomfortable parts about being Black is having friends outside of your race. While I may develop a great bond with that person, thoughts still linger as to whether this person knows anything about where me or my ancestors come from. I also wonder if I share the same political beliefs as this person and if those potential beliefs may cause an issue down the line.

For the majority of Black students and myself, being Black means that we have to try 100 times harder than our white counterparts to be the best version of ourselves. Society has set this precedent, and it’s time for change.

My fellow senior leaders would now like to comment on the Graphic’s dedication to inclusion on campus.

The Graphic’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

As an editorially independent student publication, The Graphic seeks to “[serve] the community with news, opinion, contemporary information and a forum for discussion” and “[pursue] truth, excellence and freedom in a context of public service.” As senior leaders of The Graphic, we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to ceaseless diversity and inclusivity, covering instances of racial injustice against the Black community with truth, accuracy and fairness.

Journalists often aspire to “give voice to the voiceless,” and although this is true for us, we realize that it is often more complex. Everyone has a voice. The problem is that not everyone feels empowered to use it; the problem is that not everyone is given the same amount of attention and respect. We recognize that we have a powerful platform, and we promise to make the most of it by amplifying the voices we seldom hear to boldly share the full spectrum of the human experience. We promise to stand with our students, especially our Black students, by listening more — not just today or tomorrow but always.

Although we acknowledge the public’s disappointment in the media and the media’s flaws, the Graphic is a local media outlet, not “the media.” The stories that matter to members of the Pepperdine community matter to each of us, and we are dedicated to sharing stories long after they are no longer breaking news.

We covered the Woolsey Fire while its flames could be seen from campus, and we covered the Borderline shooting while several of our peers were still unaccounted for, but we continue to cover the effects of these events today and will continue to in the future.

The injustice and oppression that the Black community continues to face are important every day — not just on the days when the inequality is featured on every news channel.

Our principles and actions are stronger and more permanent than any social media post or statement of thoughts and prayers and hope could ever be. We are here to stay, so we ask you to hold us accountable to our commitment.

How We Will Take Action

Going to college is a hard-earned accomplishment for students; one’s university should be a second home, including to Waves of color. In 2016, student journalistBerkley Mason diligently uncovered the death of Larry Kimmons, an unarmed Black teenager, on Pepperdine’s campus. PGM never let go of Mason’s spirit to tirelessly uncover stories and hold Pepperdine and the community accountable for their actions.

Today, our staff wants to verbally reaffirm our ambition to never step away from the truth — even when it’s hurtful — and uplift underrepresented voices, which include Black voices. PGM will manifest this dedication by intentionally seeking diverse stories and perspectives. Every student has a voice that can be heard through student media. The goal is for student journalists to be more inclusive in their search for sources.

We are looking forward to implementing a weekly suggestion box via the Pixel, PGM’s weekly e-newsletter, or our social media platforms. The intention is for Waves to feel encouraged to suggest stories affecting their individual or communal experiences — whether they deal with racial discrimination or uncomfortable circumstances unseen by the greater community. While PGM is headstrong in being the know-alls of campus, the staff cannot see everything. We need students’ help to recognize stories. This forum should also be used to highlight hopeful and positive occurrences of people in the community.

We are always open to hosting guest writers. If someone has something to say, PGM invites students to publish a byline in the Perspectives section.

In the past, we have put together town halls about current events and important topics, such as DACA, diversity and inclusion, and drugs. PGM is open to hosting more frequent town halls to have ordinary discussions with the community.

Along these lines, PGM’s inbox is always awaiting suggestions or interactive dialogue. The email is:

Again, PGM is committed to becoming a more inclusive media outlet dedicated to sharing hard truths. If any member of Pepperdine’s community has any other suggestions as to how PGM can pursue the staff’s commitment, we are here to listen. Please contact us through email or social media.

Hold Us Accountable

We do our best to report on and represent the students to the best of our ability, but we can and will do better.

We hope and encourage you to hold us accountable to our commitments. Make sure we are including diverse voices, and make sure we are holding the administration accountable.

Letters to the Editor are a longstanding but rarely used forum of communication between PGM and the community. They are letters from students or community members who wish to address their grievances with the paper. Letters to the Editor will be published in the upcoming issue from when they are sent. Letters must be fewer than 300 words and include the individual’s contact information. One can send one’s concerns via email or mail. PGM encourages the community to engage in this dialogue.

Holding Pepperdine Accountable

As journalists, we are committed to being a voice for truth and holding those in power accountable for what they say and the actions they take related to raising Black voices and cultivating diversity on campus.

President Jim Gash stated June 8 he plans to create a Chief Diversity Officer to join his cabinet — or as he calls it, his Steering Team. He also shared the creation of a Presidential Action Advisory Team to work with the University Diversity Council to continue to lead the conversation of diversity at Pepperdine and hear from community members on what other changes the team can take.

Gash made a promise to our community to continue sharing diverse voices, and we will hold him to that. Gash promises to listen to and act on the opinions of diverse student voices, and we will hold him to that. Gash commits to creating long-term change both in and through the Pepperdine community, and we will hold him to that.

We pledge to continue sharing the stories of our students, our staff, our campus, our community, our Malibu and our world. We will continue to search for stories that challenge, comfort, chafe, confuse and change us because those are the stories that need to be shared.

The Graphic is here to listen. Black lives matter. Your story matters.

Our Individual Commitments

As senior leaders, these are our commitments to you.

As news editor, I, Ashley Mowreader, promise to write with impartiality, report with integrity and lead with humility. I promise to create a news section focused on truth that seeks to tell all sides of the story. I promise to cultivate a news culture that aims to share not just breaking news but to stick around for the long-term reporting and rebuilding. I promise to teach and train my news team to write their best story every time because each story deserves our best. I promise to share diverse viewpoints, especially those I disagree with, because discourse belongs in print. I promise to hold leadership groups and administration accountable and speak out for students because democracy dies in darkness.

As digital editor, I, Brianna Willis, promise to leave no story left untold. As the last line of defense, I will make sure that all stories tell all sides and come from a diverse standpoint. I will make sure that our digital content is a reflection of the Pepperdine community as a whole and not just the majority of the population. I promise to give a voice to the voiceless and ensure PGM is telling stories that matter. Last, I promise to listen and be a journalist who seeks to share the real story — not just the quote or soundbite.

As business director, I, Hadley Biggs, promise to promote a diverse set of beliefs and voices in all public relations, marketing and advertisements for PGM. I promise to lean on my fellow staff members to keep me accountable in my actions and my promise of representing all voices. I also promise to hold my staff accountable to this same commitment.

As Pixel editor, I, Kiley Distelrath, promise to highlight more than what’s considered breaking news or most popular in the weekly Pixel. I will take into consideration every story’s voice and make sure culturally and racially related news and perspective pieces do not go undervalued. Every news piece PGM shares has value, but I believe the stories rooted in personal experiences hold some of the most valuable messages.

As managing editor, I, Makena Huey, promise to challenge the entire staff to seek and include the widest possible variety of sources, giving a voice to members of the community who often feel unheard or underrepresented, especially Black students; I promise to challenge the entire staff to cover the hard stories — the stories that some may wish to remain untold — because our university and the walls of our newsroom affirm that “truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly.”