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UofGH hosts panel discussion on diversity in media

Maya Marcus Photo courtesy of Maya Marcus/©Polina Razumovskaya.

It was amazing to see how engaged the audience was with the panelists, and how much insight they were able to provide on their experiences."

The University of Guelph-Humber’s Media & Communication Studies program recently hosted More Seats at the Table: A Panel on Being Black in the Media Industry, a virtual panel discussion featuring four guest speakers who shared stories and insights on their experiences being Black media professionals.

The speakers represented a wide cross-section of media sectors – with backgrounds spanning multimedia journalism, public relations, communications, film and TV animation and visual FX – and shared their stories, offered advice and provided frank answers to questions from students and other members of the UofGH community.

Organized by Media & Communication Studies Program Head Kathy Ullyott and graduating student Maya Marcus, the event, held during Black Heritage Month, grew from a conversation the two had about the importance of booking guest speakers who reflect the diversity of the UofGH community.

“We don’t always see a lot of guest speakers of colour. Being a Black student myself and not seeing that represented, it’s hard to see myself in the shoes of someone who could succeed and thrive within the PR world or any sector of media,” Marcus said.

“While watching the event, I felt exceptionally proud that all of the hard work Kathy and I put into this project was truly paying off. It was amazing to see how engaged the audience was with the panelists, and how much insight they were able to provide on their experiences.”

Perspectives from every corner of the media industry

One priority for Marcus and Ullyott in selecting and recruiting guest speakers was to find professionals who represented the breadth of different areas of interest and career options that Media & Communication Studies students might choose to pursue.

Ultimately, they were thrilled to welcome the following speakers:

  • Sharlyn Carrington, Director and Founder, Content Strong Communications
  • Charmain Emerson, Senior Marketing Communications Executive; Co-Founding Director, Black Opportunity Fund
  • Danielle Murray, Compositor, WildBrain Studios.
  • Takara Small, Journalist, Host, Producer and Columnist, CBC Radio, Metro Morning, MaRS Magazine

Each of the panelists covered quite different territory in their presentations. Small detailed how she built her strong reputation as a multi-disciplinary journalist, Carrington discussed the lack of representation of Black women in public relations – backing up her personal experience with her own thesis research – while Murray highlighted both the considerable employment opportunities that exist in Canada’s film and animation industry, while also discussing the inherent hurdles to success in a male-dominated field.

Emerson, meanwhile, took attendees on a journey through her considerable career as a communications executive and community advocate before providing a message that echoed the other addresses.

“Regardless of your skin colour, be your authentic self,” she said. “It’s true, we all want to change because we think that society wants us to be a certain way, to think a certain way, and to perform a certain way. I think if you maintain who you are – who you really, really are – but at the same time, combine it with professionalism, I think you can step forward into the light.”

An active audience

The speakers’ addresses were followed by a spirited and candid Q-&-A session. For the event’s organizers, it was gratifying to see how much the conversation had seemingly resonated with students and attendees.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of the viewers were actively engaged and had so much to contribute during the event,” Marcus said. “I was also pleased to see that a lot of my professors attended the event and were extremely invested!

“Seeing that I received so much positive feedback after the event was over, I definitely think the audience was able to take something away from it.”

“I was very gratified by the really great questions we got and by the energy of the exchanges,” Ullyott agreed. “I really loved the frankness with which our panellists spoke. They really addressed questions head-on.

“I was thrilled by the response we got. Some people wrote me individually and said this was inspiring, insightful, and that they really got a lot out of it, which is really gratifying – because that’s why we did it.”

In fact, Ullyott is open to ideas from students who might be inspired to follow in Marcus’s footsteps to create events at UofGH that initiate similarly meaningful discussions.

“I’d love to see more events like this that address issues of diversity and accessibility, and I’d really like to hear ideas for how we could do that better,” she said.

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