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Storytelling through an EDI lens
As communicators, an important part of our job is telling the stories of the people who learn, teach and work at SFU.
While members of equity-deserving groups have always been present in our university community, they have often been overlooked in storytelling efforts. When we tell these stories, we share a more accurate representation of the SFU community, shine a spotlight on incredible work that might not have been recognized and help members of equity-deserving groups to feel like they belong here.
Creating change means more than just telling these stories. It means telling them well, in a way that respects the time, knowledge, experience and comfort level of equity-seeking groups. Telling stories with thought and care ultimately makes for better stories—and over time, creates a more inclusive university environment.
- Finding new voices and perspectives to feature doesn’t just happen on its own. Approach your storytelling efforts with intention and a commitment to departing from the status quo.
- Make an effort to tell stories about people who have been historically excluded from your area of study and/or underrepresented in the storytelling efforts of your faculty, department or unit.
Consider the emotional labour of your request
Before asking people to speak to experiences of exclusion or events that may bring up strong emotions, think carefully about the emotional labour involved in your request and whether or not it is necessary at this point in time.
Equity-deserving members of the SFU community—and particularly Black and Indigenous community members—often have EDI-related requests made of them on a regular basis and may not have the capacity to participate in storytelling efforts.
If community members do agree to participate, do your best to keep their mental health and well-being front and centre by:
- Ensuring that you are not pressuring individuals to contribute to a story if they would prefer not to
- Reaching out well ahead of time and being flexible to accommodate busy schedules
- Providing as much information as you can about the story production process and the time commitment involved
- Providing interview questions beforehand and asking your subject if there are any questions/topics they would prefer not to discuss
In addition, if there are people or groups of people who have experienced exclusion within your faculty, department or area, they may—understandably—have low trust in the institution and be reluctant to participate in storytelling efforts. When exploring story ideas, we encourage you to engage with as much empathy as possible for others’ experiences.
Represent multiple dimensions of diversity
Consider telling stories involving multiple aspects of diversity, including those that are less obvious than gender, age and race.
For example, think about how you could tell stories that feature:
- Members of the LGBTQ2+ community
- Members of the community with invisible disabilities
- Members of religious minorities
- International students
- English as an Additional Language (EAL) students
A note on intersectionality: A concept created by Black scholar and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw, “intersectionality” is the idea that our different identities—including race, class, gender, ability and more—overlap and intersect in ways that drastically affect our experience of the world around us. Understanding intersectionality is key to telling inclusive stories that honour the experiences of our story subjects. Learn more.
The best way to know where the stories are is to build relationships with the people around you.
Some guiding principles for relationship-building:
- Be genuine about getting to know people. For example, don’t approach a Black student or faculty member out of the blue with the sole purpose of getting a contact for a story—this could be seen as tokenism. Instead, have genuine conversations about someone’s teaching, research or studies and let the ideas unfold naturally.
- Expand your network. Attend department events, make small talk in the elevator and invite new faculty members for coffee. When people know and trust you, they’re more likely to come to you with story ideas or agree to be included in a storytelling piece.
- Identify key contacts. Does your department have an EDI committee? Is there a student group doing social justice work in your faculty? If you can identify and stay in touch with key contacts, you’ll be the first to hear about exciting new projects or initiatives.
Prioritize inclusive language
Do research and use appropriate language in order to honour story subjects and their experiences.
Harmful ideas can be spread unintentionally through the use of non-inclusive language. While it’s important for all of our writing to feature inclusive language, this becomes even more critical when telling stories that are intended to highlight diverse aspects of the SFU community.
Quick tip: When working with story subjects, ensure that language is an ongoing and open conversation. Observe how they refer to themselves and mirror that language—and if you’re ever unsure, ask how they would like to be referred to when it comes to pronouns, name(s) or any groups they may identify with.
For more information about inclusive language, check out our inclusive and antiracist language guide.
Avoid stereotypes and tokenism
A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. In all of your storytelling efforts, whether through text, photos or video, strive to avoid perpetuating stereotypes that paint an entire culture, group of people or community with one broad stroke.
Tokenism can occur in stories: for example, adding a Black, Indigenous or Person of Colour to a story at the last minute as a gesture to symbolize “diversity” when the person has not been fully included or considered in the creation process.
Tokenism can also happen using images: for example, if a department only has one Indigenous faculty member but that faculty member’s story is used in all the marketing and imagery for the department to give the appearance of diversity, that is tokenism.
If a single Indigenous faculty member is constantly expected to speak on behalf of all Indigenous people when it comes to the topic of EDI or reconciliation, that is also tokenism.
Don’t make identity your default focus
While various intersections of identity—such as race, sex, gender or sexuality—play important roles in a person’s life, be wary of reducing a person down to a single aspect of their identity at the expense of other, more relevant aspects of their story.
Here are some questions to consider when thinking about how much emphasis to put on identity:
- Does the story subject want their identity to be a major component of the story? Did this topic come up naturally during the interview process?
- Is a specific aspect of someone’s identity directly related to the story you’re telling?
- E.g. If your story is about a disabled faculty member working in disability studies, their disability is likely relevant to the story. If your story is about a disabled faculty member studying bees, their disability is likely less relevant to the story and should not be a major point of focus.
- Is your story purely interested in portraying someone as “inspirational” for overcoming challenges due to one aspect of their identity? Are there other aspects of their work, studies, research or personhood that you can write about?
- Avoid “inspiration porn”—a term used to describe storytelling about disabled people in which the disabled person is silent, the tone is infantilizing, and one person’s achievements are used to paper over the need for more accessible and inclusive spaces and practices. Learn more.
- Is your story tokenistic—are you mentioning an aspect of someone’s identity solely to perform “diversity” within your brand?
Include content warnings
If your story contains material that may cause a reader to recall/relive traumatic experiences, or that members of the community may find difficult or disturbing, include a content warning.
Content warnings let readers know the content of your material ahead of time so that they are not caught off guard by subject matter that could have real and serious effects on their mental health and well-being.
One example of a content warning could look like: “Content warning: this story includes content related to gun violence and violence against women.”
More information about content warnings can be found here.
Resources for a deeper dive
- 11 Foundational Principles to Make Stories More Inclusive - Long—Dash
- Diversity in storytelling (p. 21) - Pacific University
- Changing the Narrative of Disability in Documentary Film: A Toolkit for Inclusion & Accessibility - FWD-Doc
- Disability Language Style Guide - National Center on Disability and Journalism, Arizona State University