By André Voshart
Saron Ghebressellassie felt “a culture shock” when she entered Radio and Television Arts this year fresh from a high school in Eglinton West.
“There are a handful of students of colour (in RTA) but it is not representing the community as a whole,” she said. “There isn’t even one aboriginal student in the program.”
Ghebressellassie’s high school was predominantly black. Since the diversity of the school was not reflected in RTA, she created Students of Colour, a group that promotes diversity.
The Students of Colour initiative aims to expose high school students from marginalized communities to RTA and to develop outreach programs such as touring at high schools and talking to prospective students. About 20 students met last week to form a collective to increase the racial diversity of their program.
However, a big obstacle has been overcoming the race taboo. “I think people have trouble seeing this as an issue,” Ghebressellassie said. “They say, ‘What does it matter what the colour of your skin is?'” She said these comments neglect issues of race that should be discussed instead of ignored.
Representation of aboriginals and visible minorities in RTA is important to her because graduates go on to media positions, so if there are no minorities diversity is not reflected in the media.
She has found it difficult to approach faculty about her concerns, but professor Jon Keeble, who has been teaching in RTA for 25 years, said her initiative is an excellent idea. “If you can get more students to get their applications in, it is better for the program,” he said. “The industry needs a diverse workforce.”
Keeble said the broadcast industry overall is being pressured by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to increase diversity.
Omni Television started cultural diversity scholarships and many of CityTV’s diverse personalities are RTA graduates. “It is a little bit of a challenge to talk about these issues,” Ghebressellassie said, but she hopes her initiative will help the situation.