Diversity coverage essential and ethical

Two statements from a recent letter to the editor stunned me. One: “Homosexuals should not be portrayed as a different set of people.” And two: “I think this issue should be left alone,” in reference to The Northerner’s coverage of a gay hate crime on campus.

In response to this first statement, sexual orientation is an essential aspect of self-image. Treating sexual orientation, gender, race, religion and other culturally defined characteristics as inconsequential would be a disservice to our readers, and would insult those who identify themselves with such groups. Gays ARE a minority; therefore, to treat them as equivalent to, rather than divergent from, the majority, is a gross simplification of modern social structures. The paper has a duty to cover controversy in an egalitarian fashion, while remaining sensitive to the culture from which the issues arise.

Considering homosexuals to be the same as heterosexuals circumvents the issue of discrimination, which is inherent with minority status in mainstream culture. Ignoring unsavory, divergent aspects of popular culture hardly yields progressive change or open discourse. Pushing people aside if they cause dissonance only alienates factions. Within the majority, it is a common practice to exclaim, “Can’t we just be equal, and ignore this race/gender/gay issue?” Members of the majority, who occupy positions of privilege, can ignore such issues with little repercussion. Members of the minority have little choice in the matter, and failure to address discriminatory practices will only garner fewer opportunities and reduced rights.

In response to the second statement, the story covered a hate crime. The editorial decision to continue coverage is a journalist practice that allows readers to follow a story to its conclusion. The controversy over how the university handled the complaint was an investigation into the treatment of minority groups on campus.

Diversity coverage does not push a “homosexual agenda.” (See www.thenortherner.com.) Failing to cover minorities results in only majority opinion being espoused. While the majority represents a larger percentage of the population, reporting based on weighted demographics hardly yields balanced coverage. Rather, this practice would produce a skewed perspective that all students are white, heterosexual Christians.

In essence, an unbiased newspaper attempts to function using what philosopher John Rawls calls a veil of ignorance, covering society’s marginalized populations in the same fashion they treat everyone, and in the way the reporter would like to be treated. The optimal environment for social progress is to maintain this veil of ignorance, according to Rawls’ “Theory of Justice.” The veil of ignorance approach states that if people ignore their own social identity, such as race, then they naturally select social institutions that benefit the disadvantaged. For example, if mainstream culture denies homosexuals economic benefits based on “marital” status, then people functioning under a veil of ignorance would champion equal economic/marital status for homosexuals, because they are blind to sexual orientation or marital status in considering who gets economic benefits. Decisions made under the veil of ignorance are made based on role reversal.

While this philosophy looks good on paper, it rarely translates into practice. Members of the majority still tend to be insensitive to those who think or act differently. The media have a responsibilty to represent the voice of the destitute; not to regurgitate the mantra of the social norm.