Kuwarjeet Arora: We Need More Sikhs In J-Schools & Canadian Newsrooms
Having been the only Sikh in my first day of journalism school, I began to have mixed feelings about whether I was in the right program
Kuwarjeet Singh Arora
January 25, 2022 | 3 min. read | Opinion
I was thrilled to start my post-secondary studies as a journalism student at Ryerson University. However, during our orientation week, I discovered that there are not that many people who look like me in this industry. I was the only visible Sikh in the class.
I began to have some doubts.
When entering the program I was ambitious and hopeful, thinking that newsrooms would be a cool place where everyone could work together. While some of that is true, what I discovered is that they seriously lack diversity and the perspectives that come with it, resulting in at times bigoted and problematic storytelling.
Having been the only Sikh in my first day of journalism school, I began to have mixed feelings about whether I was in the right program. It was out of my comfort zone since no one in my family has ever pursued a career as a journalist. It did not help that some relatives discouraged me from pursuing this path to begin with. However, I reassured myself that if we want to see more Sikhs in journalism, it starts here.
Shortly after starting j-school, I had the opportunity to shadow Pooja Handa at CP24 Breakfast thanks to Gurdeep Ahuliwala and Manjot Singh, lead volunteer at Experience Sikhi which is a charity dedicated to the growth and prosperity of Sikhs across Canada.
When I saw the staff and the backend programming of broadcast media, I witnessed firsthand that newsrooms do not reflect the diverse communities they report on.
In November 2021, The Canadian Association of Journalists published the results of its first annual survey of diversity, which included 3,873 journalists working in 209 newsrooms nationally. I was not surprised that white journalists are significantly more likely than their visible minority and Indigenous counterparts to hold supervisory positions in newsrooms.
Among supervisor roles, more than eight out of ten positions are held by white journalists, while only 1.4 percent of all supervisors are Black and 1.2 percent are Middle Eastern or Latino. Of the respondents, 75 percent were white. Sikhs barely register in any of this.
I have lived in India for most of my childhood, where we are also a minority. I am now, again, a minority in Canada. Being a visible Sikh, I was oftentimes subjected to racist jokes and name-calling. Throughout my life, and even at university, I have been attacked due to my identity. This includes everything from directly targeted verbal abuse to sometimes physical and hate-related incidents.
For example, on the way to cover my first story at Bell Media, during the 2019 federal elections, I was physically assaulted and was told that I am "Osama Bin Laden." Yet, that was not my first encounter with this type of hatred; it had happened to me many times when people called me a terrorist and I was told I did not belong here.
All of this shows the importance of telling stories that matter to Sikhs in Canada. Having our lived experience understood and expressed from the newsroom to the public. My goal is to educate those who do not know anything about Sikhs or current issues that impact my community. My hope is that Sikhs will someday get proper coverage and representation in the mainstream media, considering there are over half a million of us that call Canada home.
Following my experiences at CP24 Breakfast, I created a blog called Sikh Journalist. In addition to raising awareness of the lack of Sikhs in the field of journalism, this site also serves as my personal portfolio.
We need more equity, diversity, and inclusion in the field of journalism. We need to have more BIPOC journalists who are there to report upon current events that matter to their communities as well. It is my dream to live in a country where I will be safe, feel like I belong, and have a sense of dignity. Newsrooms and the media should play a role in accomplishing that. It starts, however, with reflecting the people they serve.
Kuwarjeet Singh Arora is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Brampton. He is currently also a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University. Besides covering topics about his community, he also covers issues that affect society as a whole. You can follow him on Instagram @kuwarx123 or Twitter @kuwarx123x
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