When I became Multimedia Editor of The Statesman at the end of the Spring 2018 semester, I was already thinking about what I wanted to do for the Sex & Relationships Issue that was to be published the following February.
The Sex & Relationships photoshoot has become a cheeky tradition at The Statesman that is usually one of the biggest multimedia contributions of the year. When brainstorming ideas, I thought about the Sex Issue from my first year at Stony Brook and the controversy that followed its publication.
The editor-in-chief at the time acknowledged that The Statesman had “failed to highlight the diversity of our campus” in that year’s issue. I wanted us to do better.
I pitched the idea of dedicating the whole Sex & Relationships issue to POC sexuality. (For those of you unaware, POC means “People of Color.”) The managing team was instantly enthusiastic about the topic and we got to work. I felt it was necessary to focus on the sexuality of our non-white students not only to correct mistakes made in past years, but because I know first hand how complex sex and learning about one’s own sexuality can be for POC.
As a brown girl in a Muslim household, (albeit an extremely westernized household) sex was an enigma growing up that I felt could only be solved through Google searches a child at that age probably should not have been doing. As I got older I realized this was true for many of my POC peers, and most of them had it worse. Some of their parents never even gave them “the talk” and sex was clouded with stigmas created by the communities they grew up in. Forget discussions about safe-sex practices or how to feel comfortable with your sexuality. For some POC, sex was total taboo in their home.
In the “Letter from the Editor” published the year The Statesman was criticized for its all-white Sex Issue photoshoot, the editor blames the paper’s shortcomings on the fact that “only white students actively pursued this opportunity.” I kept this in mind when seeking models, preparing myself for what I imagined was going to be a lot of leg work to get a diverse cast. I emailed 13 cultural clubs and organizations on campus, and made Instagram stories and posts on The Statesman account as well as my personal profile announcing we were casting POC models for this year’s Sex & Relationships photoshoot. Within the first 12 hours, we received 22 responses from people interested. I could not believe the overwhelming number of POC students who wanted to participate.
Then I realized, previous editors had gotten it wrong. The lack of diversity in past Sex & Relationships photoshoots was not because non-white students did not actively pursue the opportunity — it was because those editors did not actively pursue non-white students. The responsibility is on the creator to ensure their content is inclusive. We cannot sit back and wait for a diverse cast of people to come knocking on our door and simply shrug our shoulders when they don’t. And by “we” I am referring to student journalists, writers, photographers and any creators of content. And I can tell you first hand, it really is not that difficult to be inclusive.
If I was able to get over 20 diverse people to sign up to strip semi-nude for multiple cameras under bright studio lights in a room full of strangers, you have no excuse.