TFAS Diversity Discussion Panel: An interview with Janay Reece

From the classroom to the boardroom, there is a narrative in the U.S. where individuals of marginalized identities seem set up to fail. Monday night’s Diversity Discussion Panel, hosted by The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), was organized to help professionals of underrepresented backgrounds learn how to cope with oppression, inspire one another and ultimately “defy the odds” stacked against them.

Along with current TFAS participants Eli Baker and Kevin Westfield, Janay Reece, 21, is one of the organizers of the panel. A Charlotte native, Reece is majoring in mass communication and broadcasting and minoring in political science at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Currently, the rising senior is the managing editor of The Johnsonian, Winthrop’s student newspaper, and is finishing up a summer internship with RedEye Post, a video production service in Virginia.

Brown Girls Only spoke to Reece about the lack of inclusivity in media and how this panel aimed to address the scarcity of people of color and women, among other minorities, in high-profile industries.

Brown Girls Only: How did the TFAS Diversity Discussion Panel come about? What made you want to do it?
Reece: It came about because Eli and Kevin were talking about it… They noticed after the George Will speaker how a lot of people were not happy with him and the fact that he was one of many non-diverse speakers that we’ve had here at TFAS during our whole time here.

I thought it was time that they acted now — that we find people ourselves — and ask TFAS if we could create our own event for the underrepresented populations here. They thought it wasn’t fair that at these large events where everyone is required to [attend], that no one who was diverse, no one who was a woman, came and spoke. It’s always at smaller events or panels or things like that. It wasn’t fair.

It was because of them that the diversity panel came about.

BGO: So you have this idea and you go to TFAS with it. What was the process of getting it approved and putting it together like?
Reece: It was a lot of emails. Eli had to email a lot of people. It was a lot of editing, a lot of drafting, a lot of communication between all of us. And it was a lot of asking questions and people telling us “no” and telling us “yes.” And it was a lot of organization as well.

Pretty much, we sent an email to Roger Ream, the president of TFAS, we emailed Joe [Starrs], the director of the Institute on Political Journalism, and pretty much went from there. We all used each other’s resources to create the event. Eli and Kevin, they’ve done a lot more than I have.

They definitely got the speakers, they went to a social and networking event. They got the speakers [to be] on board. And they pretty much went for it from there.

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Reece and Baker pose outside of the Capitol during a TFAS site briefing.

BGO: Based on your experience and studying communications, do you think that the media’s lack of diversity differs based on the type of journalism (print vs. broadcast) or subject areas or is it across the board?
Reece: I haven’t been in the field that long, but personally, it depends. I see a lack of diversity mostly in print, because I work at a newspaper and I am one of the only minorities in the office. Broadcasting, it’s getting better, but it’s not as diverse as I’d like it to be. But I haven’t been in the industry yet, so I wouldn’t know.

I’ve seen it changing over the years and I think that within broadcasting, the field that I’m in, it’s very diverse. As for print, not so much.

BGO: Do you think it’s up to the people in the industry now to change the lack of diversity or do you think that responsibility falls on younger journalists?
Reece: I think it’s a collaboration between the millennials and the baby boomers who are already in the field. I feel like when two groups of people come together, anything can happen. It takes millennials pushing our egos aside sometimes and the baby boomers pushing their egos aside sometimes to work together to increase diversity — to maintain diversity — within the multimedia, communications, journalism fields.

BGO: Do you have any journalism or career role models?
Reece: She probably doesn’t know it, but it was Billie Jean Shaw. I’ve always looked up to her and how she carried herself. One thing that she always told us in our chapter of National Association of Black Journalists was, “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” And you can always continue to try. So, I really look up to her. She’s new in the industry, but she took what she was learning at Winthrop, applied it to the real world and is doing very well right now.

BGO: What do you hope to accomplish with the panel?
Reece: Personally, what I want to accomplish is to see everyone unify with one another and not sympathize, but empathize with people who are underrepresented. And to show TFAS that you can’t just pick one kind of person to speak, because it’s going to tick your students off.

Go to other people, who are different. Go to people who aren’t just local. Go to people who have moved places and are doing different things. That, I feel like, would help a lot. Those are my goals.

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