Dear Berkeley Journalism Community,
I am thrilled to be the first woman of color—indeed, the first woman—to serve as dean of Berkeley Journalism.
After working for nearly 30 years as an investigative reporter, a foreign correspondent and a political reporter—in beats dominated by white men, I know how hard it is to have your work recognized, to be offered equal opportunities for advancement when perceived as other. I know how hard it is to rise within a system that makes it harder for you and your talents to be truly seen.
I have succeeded beyond my wildest imagination because so many people reached down to lift me up. When I was frustrated, beaten down and made to feel less than for being born a woman, for being Indian, for possessing an accent, there were reporters and editors who took it upon themselves to fight for my story to run on Page One, push for me to get promoted on the grounds of merit, insist I be hired at UC Berkeley as a full professor with tenure—and most recently, encourage me to raise my hand for consideration as dean. Indeed, at times they recognized the potential in me before I saw it in myself.
Many of my champions were women and people of color—Adrian Walker at the Boston Globe, Elyse Tanouye and Rebecca Blumenstein at the Wall Street Journal, Lydia Chavez here at Berkeley. Many others were white men—Mike Siconolfi, Paul Steiger, Caleb Solomon at the Wall Street Journal, David Barstow at The New York Times, and here at Berkeley. I know I wouldn’t be here today as dean of Berkeley Journalism if these women and men, and many others, hadn’t used the privilege of their position and experiences to open doors historically closed on the basis of sex and race so that I could rise.
And yet the pain of not being seen has afforded me a kind of costly wisdom, proving incredibly valuable to me both as a human being and as a leader. It is my entire lived experience that I bring to this position, my success and humiliating discrimination that fuel my determination to transform not just our school but also our industry so that women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community are seen, supported, and unencumbered in their pursuit of success.
For Berkeley Journalism, that doesn’t mean just admitting a diverse student body. We already do that. Half of our students are people of color—and more than 60% are women. What we mean by supporting our first-generation students, our students of color, women and our LGBTQ+ students, is making sure they have the financial, emotional and academic support to succeed here and beyond.
My immediate predecessors, from Ed Wasserman to Neil Henry, to Orville Schell and Tom Goldstein, made big strides in building this school and supporting our students. And yet so much work remains to be done.
The tragedy of George Floyd’s death was met with the global call to end systemic racism, not only within the rank and file of law enforcement but across all institutions. For their part, our students told us in angry, painful letters how the pangs of structural racism are felt here on our campus. They told us how they have struggled to get the education that Berkeley Journalism promises while also working almost full time to pay for basic living expenses. Some have even fought eviction or just plain hunger while attending classes here. This is hard for them to say. This is hard for us to hear. But we heard them.
We have been working as a community since June to develop a plan to transform our school to address systemic racism. We are now engaged with a steering committee of our faculty, staff, students and alumni to strengthen that plan and implement it. That plan would have us raise money to provide substantially more financial aid to our students—and emergency assistance to meet urgent expenses that arise in their day-to-day lives.
But the faculty and I want to do much, much more. The fact that so many Americans were shocked that a Black man could be killed in broad daylight, as was the case with George Floyd, illustrates how journalism has failed to tell all stories. Certainly, prior to the video of his death being broadcast across the world, people of color had known the pervasiveness of the brutality he suffered at the hands of law enforcement sworn to protect and serve. The fact that journalism missed the deep support Donald Trump had in 2016 also reflects that failure of journalism to truly see, understand and empathize with the suffering of alienated white Americans. The fact that it is mostly a privileged class of white men directing our news coverage means that journalism has missed critically important stories—or failed to recognize their significance, their pervasiveness, their consequence on the whole. Diversifying the race and gender and class of journalists is essential to making sure all stories get told to give this country a chance to see the many grave injustices that remain—and address them.
Berkeley Journalism intends to be a leader in diversifying journalism by raising a $100 million endowment to make the school tuition free. Journalism is an essential public service, vital for a democracy to thrive. We must reduce the barriers of entry in our profession to ensure first generation students, BIPOC students, the children of immigrants, and gay and nonbinary students can become journalists. If our financial model is to graduate students with $70,000 in debt into a profession that is low paying, we will deter the very people whose voices need to be heard from even considering joining our school and our industry. Understanding this problem deeply, our faculty voted two years ago to work toward making our school tuition free. Today I am committing our school to this mission, the first I know of in journalism graduate education.
At Berkeley Journalism, we are expanding on the pivot to publishing that began this past spring with our partnership with The New York Times to cover the pandemic. More than 50 of our students, comprising half of our student body, were published in this unprecedented partnership. We are continuing that partnership in covering the elections with The Times, CalMatters, KQED and others. In the months ahead, we will continue to strengthen the publishing infrastructure at our school to give even more of our students the experience and credentials to get hired into great journalism jobs.
Journalism has never been more attacked than during the past four years of the Trump presidency when even the most deeply reported stories are denounced as fake news. The idea of a society based on facts hangs in the balance. The truth needs reinforcements. Berkeley Journalism stands ready to shore up our profession and defend our democracy by sending the most diverse, best trained and most passionate revealers of truth and injustice into our troubled world.
I am humbled, honored and excited to serve as your next dean of Berkeley Journalism. To team up with you to build the support systems in our school that I know from my own experience are essential to succeed and to lead. Together, we will ensure that the stories being told reflect all of the American experience.
Dean and Professor
Robert A. Peck Chair
Graduate School of Journalism