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Survey shows harassment of students

Harassment based on gender and colour a threat to diversity in media

A journalist’s gender and race influence the type of harassment they face, researchers at Northeastern University School of Journalism write at Poynter Institute website after having made a survey comprising journalism students. “This raises questions about how harassment may be deterring future women journalists and journalists of colour from entering a field that is sorely in need of more diversity.

“If journalism educators (and the institutions that employ them) don’t do more to help students anticipate and cope with on-the-job harassment, the impact on the field could be enormous.” 

The full paper is still undergoing peer review. During the summer and early fall of 2021, the researchers conducted a national, anonymous online survey of 218 current U.S. journalism students and recent graduates followed by a series of lengthy interviews with eight survey participants. The researchers point out that the survey is limited but still relevant. 

Read Also:  Actions to stop online harassment of women journalists

“In perhaps one of our most disheartening findings, university officials were the most common source of harassment, with 18.6% of study participants saying they faced harassment from faculty, staff or administrators affiliated with their own universities and an additional 12.3% pointing to faculty, staff or administrators from other universities. The second most common source of harassment (19.2%) was community members.”

  • Roughly one-third reported receiving non-sexual insults, name-calling, or abusive comments either online or in person. 
  • The second most common form of harassment, reported by roughly 22% of participants, was sexual insults, name-calling, or abusive comments. 
  • Roughly 19% of students surveyed received threats of physical violence. An additional 10% described threats of sexual violence. 
  • About 15% of study participants, meanwhile, were threatened with professional or academic retaliation.

“We also found that a student’s race and gender influence the type of harassment they experience. For instance, Black students who participated in our study were most likely to have been targets of sexual violence. Asian respondents, meanwhile, were most likely to have received threats of academic or professional retaliation.” 

Read Also:  40% of women in media facing sexual harassment

“Women recounted incidents of sexual harassment and described how those experiences sometimes made them question pursuing careers in journalism.”

“Most of the students surveyed reported the harassment to a newsroom supervisor, a professor or other university employee, but the response was often lacking. Roughly half of students surveyed said their university either took no action or briefly investigated the situation and never followed up. About 40% of survey participants stopped the harassment themselves by quitting their reporting job or dropping their journalism class. Others were motivated to look for work outside of journalism.”

“Perhaps the most common theme that emerged in our research, however, was students’ desire for journalism educators to do more to prepare them for on-the-job harassment. By not advocating against harassment or teaching students how to deal with it, journalism educators risk normalizing it.” 

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The researchers urge teachers to talk about harassment the same way they address other on-the-job challenges: “Most of us are well-versed in helping students navigate public records laws, reticent sources and even inclement weather. Add harassment to your list of topics to discuss as you prepare students for work in the field, and tell them their grade won’t suffer if they have to end an interview because a source is acting inappropriately.”

“If you’re not sure where to start, check out anti-harassment resources from TrollBusters, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma.” 

The students interviewed also desired more training in how to handle online threats and harassment when they do occur.

“Institutions — universities and news organizations alike — must start taking anti-press harassment more seriously, especially when it’s aimed at young practitioners. Journalism schools also need to examine the culture they’re creating for their students. The traditional notion that reporters need to have a thick skin can discourage students from disclosing when they are being harassed or struggling in other ways.”

Failing to address these challenges will have lasting consequences for our students, the field of journalism and democracy itself.

The researchers: Meg Heckman, assistant professor in Northeastern University’s School of Journalism. Myojung Chung, assistant professor of journalism and media advocacy at Northeastern University. Jody Santos, human rights filmmaker and the founding executive director of the Disability Justice Project, a digital storytelling training program in the Global South and associate teaching professor at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

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