Under ‘Review:’ The Paper of Record Takes a Look in the Mirror

Rosemary Boeglin, Editor-in-Chief

In this installment of “Inside Campus Publications,” the Review turns the critical lens onto its own journalistic and organizational practices. This April marks The Oberlin Review’s 140th anniversary, and to properly honor the legacy of one of the nation’s longest-running student newspapers, its staff is using this occasion to assess the publication’s ability to live up to its role as newspaper of record for both the city of Oberlin and Oberlin College.

College President Marvin Krislov put it frankly: “One of your questions was about diversity and inclusion, and I would just say — and I know you’re the Review — but I don’t think the Review does particularly well with that.”

In last week’s edition, the Review’s Editorial Board outlined a few of the publication’s deficiencies, including its failure to reflect the diversity of the Oberlin community that it purports to represent.

A diminished range of journalistic perspectives accompanies this lack of diversity among staff members and contributors. Ale Requena Ruiz, College senior and production editor for The Grape, said that the presentation of limited perspectives is not a problem unique to Oberlin’s “alternative” newspaper. Recalling a piece printed in the Review, Requena Ruiz said,

“It talked about [immigration and border control] in a removed way that’s possible only for people who aren’t affected by those issues in reality, which is a lot of people writing about a lot of things in The Grape and in the Review.”

Largely white and cisgender, the Review’s pool of contributors and editors fails to mirror the myriad of identities found in the Oberlin community. According to Jan Cooper, professor of Rhetoric & Composition and English and the Review’s faculty advisor, it is the duty of the Review to reflect the community at large.

“I strongly believe that — especially because the Review is the publication of record for campus — that the whole campus community should be covered,” Cooper said. “And of course you can’t cover the whole community in every single issue, but that there should be attention paid to South Campus as much as to North Campus, to speak metaphorically.”

Alison Williams, associate dean for academic diversity and director of the Multicultural Resource Center, agreed.

“I think it’s important to have a wide range of perspectives represented no matter what because, especially in a community where you have people from all different backgrounds, you want everybody to have a voice, and you want everybody to be represented,” she said.

“So I think it’s very important to have as diverse a community as possible participate in that vehicle, understanding that at some points, different communities may choose to have their own publication or radio show, whatever, to give particular strength to their unified voice and their experience. But if you have a paper like the Review, which is all-campus, meant for the entire community, then [it has] to have that community represented among the staff.”

In her explanation of the publication’s responsibility, Cooper echoed Requena Ruiz’s emphasis on acknowledging the identity and perspective of the individual reporter. “I think it’s especially important to have members of particular sub-communities doing the reporting and bringing the special insight they have into those things and their special abilities to talk to their peers, and to bring their own individual critical perspectives to the ongoing events at Oberlin College,” Cooper said. “And that means journalists of color. The issue lies in part with the paper’s hiring practices [and its failure to attract] journalists who come from different economic backgrounds, journalists of various genders and sexualities. It does make a difference what your life experience has been.”

Although the Review attempts to cast a wide net — extending open house invitations, offering office hours and encouraging submissions — editorial homogeneity remains far too consistent.

According to former Review editor, 2011 Editorial Fellow for the Office of Communications and working journalist EJ Dickson, the same issue persists outside of Oberlin.

“Like any other industry, hiring practices in mainstream journalism seem to be largely dictated by cronyism — although I can’t say I’ve witnessed that [or] benefited from it directly, either at my Salon internship or my current job [at the Daily Dot] — and I’m sure the same still goes for the Review, to a certain extent,” Dickson said.

“When people are interested in hiring their friends, most other concerns, including diversity, kinda fall by the wayside. So I think that’s probably a large part of why this is an issue for some publications, student and otherwise.”

The staff ’s relative homogeneity is also perpetuated by its existing lack of diversity, mainstream journalistic tone, inaccessibility and reputation as non-inclusive.

Current Editor-in-Chief of In Solidarity and College junior Joelle Lingat said that she decided to redirect her journalistic pursuits to other publications after contributing regularly to the Review during her first year on campus.

“For me, there’s this quote that I really like: ‘You find your friends where you find yourself,’ ” she said. “And so I found my voice where I found people who appreciated my voice, so for me that’s kind of what pushed me to move towards other publications.”

Cooper said that in her experience advising student publications, the issue is not a lack of student interest in journalism.

“There are people interested in journalism from all across the spectrum at Oberlin, from every group of people,” she said. “So, they’re there. And the staff seems to know how to reach people, at least initially, and I think [the students] are there waiting to hear. Maybe they get distracted often to other activities, but I think just going to Afrikan Heritage House and saying, ‘We need some AfricanAmerican reporters,’ isn’t gonna cut it.”

The problems, according to Cooper, aren’t new.

“To say the Review has never covered these things would be really wrong and a disservice to the memory of many students who have been dedicated to these issues over the years,” she said. “But, I am sorry that it seems to be a perennially occurring problem that the Review staff is primarily white, primarily middle- to upper-class, and each generation of students seems to have to find that out for themselves and address it.”

Lingat said that although the conversation is a long time coming, solutions will not be simple or easily executed.

“It’s really great and refreshing to see people trying to do this, but this is going to be a struggle that stagnates unless it becomes a wider conversation — not only on publications but on this campus and in society in general,” she said.