—By Bethany Grace Howe, Ph.D. ’19, School of Journalism and Communication
The SOJC Diverse Alumni Mentoring Network is a volunteer collective of recent alumni from the School of Journalism and Communication who help students of diverse cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds navigate fields where they may feel isolated.
The program facilitates one-on-one connections between students and alumni of color, as well as women, LGBTQ, and first-generation college attendees. In addition to supporting students from diverse backgrounds as they prepare for careers in media and communication, mentors help students adjust to the university system and the School of Journalism and Communication.
The program was co-founded in 2019 by School of Journalism and Communication alumni Caitlyn May, B.A. ’16, and Bethany Grace Howe, Ph.D. ’19, as well as journalism instructors Lisa Heyamoto and Lori Shontz.
“I hope it will open up a breadth of discussion topics with faculty and students,” said alum Brett Klein ’84, who provided the initial donation that launched the program.
May said being a person of color placed her in a different position than other students at the school. “Broadly, there was a sense that white students were given a platform to succeed, while students of color had to succeed, and then were given a platform,” she said.
After graduation, she felt those stressors increase. Her career began at Cottage Grove Sentinel as editor-and-chief during the fallout of the 2016 presidential election. She discovered she was still limited in her ability to effect change, even in a newsroom she led.
“I received pushback from our publisher every time I ventured to disrupt the way we traditionally covered communities of color, low-income families [or] the LBGTQ community, or wanted to take a hard look at inequity,” said May, now an education reporter for the Albany Democrat-Herald. She saw an opportunity to go back to the School of Journalism and Communication to begin fixing these issues.
Journalism alum Kaylee Tornay ’17 said her desire to mentor has been motivated by her experiences as an education reporter for the Medford Mail Tribune.
“It's important students have access to mentors who can understand the dynamics of operating in a minority identity, or at the intersection of more than one,” Tornay said. “As a young professional navigating those waters in the newsroom, I know how much my relationships with other professionals of color and other women matter to me.”
“Too many diverse students struggle to feel like they belong in journalism,” Heyamoto said. “This network is an opportunity to give them the tools and support that enable them to thrive.”
Shontz said she sees the benefits and purpose of the program extending far beyond the individual students who participate. “It’s not the responsibility of students and young alumni from underrepresented groups to do the heavy lifting of making our newsrooms and our classrooms more diverse and inclusive,” she said. “That’s on us, as journalists and educators, and we need to do a better job.”