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Office of the Daily Pennsylvanian in 1955 (DP File Photo).

“I told all my Black friends about [how] ‘I'm gonna go write for the DP’ and they all say, ‘Oh man, they're not gonna let you do that. That’s a white boys' town,” 1974 College graduate Gerald Early said. 

During his time at Penn, Early was the only Black person and the only student of color writing for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He was also the only Black columnist in the DP’s opinion department. 

Nearly 50 years later, so am I. 

When I was asked to declare my brand as a columnist at the beginning of this semester, I struggled. On the one hand, I enjoyed writing about race. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be defined or limited by it. But if I didn’t write about race, who would? 

I felt a clashing sense of responsibility and pressure.

When I wrote my first column about Penn’s racialized party scene, the outpour of support from other Black students was incredibly rewarding. By sharing my voice, they had also been heard. I was proud to represent the collective experiences of Black students. But that shouldn’t be my job. Besides, Black students at Penn aren’t all the same. 

Two years ago, Emilia Onuonga was a College first-year and an opinion columnist at the DP. That summer, George Floyd was murdered and protests ensued. Onuonga said she immediately felt an internal pressure to write about race, thinking to herself, “Oh my gosh. No one is writing about this. I’m the only voice on this staff to write about it.”

When that pressure came from others, she left the DP.

“At times, it’s a sort of emotional labor to be a Black writer,” Onuonga said about her struggle to process what was happening in the country while feeling pressure to simultaneously write about it.

Nearly 50 years prior, Early also felt that white staffers and editors wanted him to write about race. “After a while, I felt a little bit of a burden being the only Black person who was doing this,” he said.

According to an internal staff demographics survey conducted in March 2022, which received 223 responses out of 435 total staff members, there are 12 Black staffers — 5.4% of respondents — at The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc.'s three publications: The Daily Pennsylvanian, 34th Street Magazine, and Under the Button. As of 2020, about 7.7% of Penn students are Black.

Lack of diversity is an issue facing the broader journalism industry — not just the DP. A study done by Pew Research Center found that newsroom employees are less diverse than United States workers overall. Given this, major newspapers are making efforts to increase diversity, like changing hiring procedures and creating training programs. The broader issue is often a question of whose stories we find valuable, however, and who deserves to tell those stories.

In the 1970s, “[Diversity] wasn't something that people were consciously thinking about back then. I think they were glad to have a Black person doing what I was doing,” Early explained. “But, I also think that they weren't particularly concerned about not having one.”

The DP now has two co-diversity and inclusion coordinators, an official board position created in spring 2022, as well as a diversity committee and a fellows program for underrepresented students created two years ago. But the numbers don’t lie: The DP has actually gotten less diverse since 2018 with 1.2% fewer Black staffers and 4.9% fewer Latinx staffers.

As a member of the diversity committee, we each pick a project to be involved with throughout the semester. Some of the initiatives include maintaining a newly created community guide, updating the diversity copy style guide, creating an institutional memory project, and news source tracking. Attendance at committee meetings is often low, so most of the projects only have one to two editors and staffers consistently working on them. This leaves most of the burden on the diversity chairs. 

Hadriana Lowenkron, College senior and former editor-in-chief of the DP, was involved in the early days of the diversity committee, working on the first diversity style guide. “It's important that we don't just say we have a diversity committee, diversity chair, just to save face, it has to be deeper than that,” she said.

Lowenkron also described the extra pressure she felt from herself to make sure articles the DP published were accurate, respectful, and objectively reported. “So that I don't have people in my community saying, ‘Well, what's up with this article? Why aren't you doing better? I thought the whole purpose of you being the Black editor-in-chief is to do XYZ.’” 

Even at the DP, the 12 Black staffers don’t necessarily interact with one another. We’re scattered across different departments and publications, which contributes to a DP culture where Black students don’t always feel welcome. “[The DP] seemed like a clique, and I wasn’t really in that clique,” echoed Early. “I just happened to be somebody who was doing something they found useful.”

Our experiences aren’t the same, but Early, Lowenkron, Onuonga, and I all faced similar challenges and were ultimately united by one thing — a hope that, one day, the DP would be better. “I think that I see progress. I think there could always be more. I think equity is the word we're looking for, not equality. And that's always something that I think could be better, it could be a stronger fight,” Lowenkron told me. 

We all agreed the DP can do a better job of trying to recruit Black students. Onuonga pointed to Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, Robeson Cooper Scholars, and Du Bois College House as places to reach out. “Say, ‘We want to hear your voice, your opinion.’”

The DP can also make its coverage more inclusive of Black students and make a better working environment for the students already there. These are just a few ideas, but it isn’t the burden of Black staffers to improve the DP. We all have to. 

YOMI ABDI is a Wharton first year studying finance from Chicago. Her email is