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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at SOC

The School of Communication strives to maintain a sustainable environment that welcomes and nurtures diversity in all aspects, including diversity within the School, student body, staff, faculty, curriculum and teaching, creative, scholarly and professional activity, and service. For a snapshot of recent SOC diversity, equity and inclusion work, click here.

DEI Initiatives

SOC offers a variety of courses that aim to broaden understanding about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in communications. A sample of those classes include:

  • Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting
  • Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Media
  • Identity, Power, and Misrepresentation
  • Grassroots Digital Advocacy
  • Comedy for Social Change
  • Communication for Social Change
  • Documentary for Social Change
  • Community Documentary
  • Survey of International Cinema
  • Backpack Journalism in Espanol
  • Cross Cultural Cinema
  • Foreign Policy and the Press
  • Multicultural Strategic Communication Campaigns
  • International Strategic Communication
  • Censorship and Media
  • Reporting on Immigration
  • Advanced Data-Driven Journalism: The Data of Divides 
  • Musical Cultures and Industries
  • Politics and the Media 

National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists: SOC has a student chapter of both the NABJ and NAHJ which are mentored by senior journalism faculty. In 2020 for the organizations’ joint virtual convention, SOC will fund five students to attend the conference. SOC Professor John Watson is the faculty advisor for NABJ and SOC Professor Bill Gentile is the faculty advisor for NAHJ.

The Blackprint is a student-run online and print publication that serves as a platform for raising minority issues and an amplifier of marginalized voices. SOC Professor John Watson is the faculty advisor

Visible is a new publication that seeks to amplify queer voices by providing a platform as unique and dynamic as the community itself. SOC Prof. Jeremiah Patterson is the faculty advisor.

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). SOC Prof. Gemma Puglisi is the faculty advisor

SOC Ambassadors are a group of undergraduate students who create programming to support and promote the excellence of the school for both current and prospective students.

Politico Journalism Institute is an SOC partnership with the Maynard Institute and Politico to focus on “training the next generation of journalists and supporting diversity in Washington newsrooms.” Professor Lynne Perri is a co-creator of the PJI partnership, and the driving force and vision for the school. About 70 students have attended the program over the first seven years, coming to DC for a two-week immersion program in the summer. 

SOC Dean's Internships offer exceptional School of Communication students significant opportunities to earn bylines, production credits, and professional recognition for their work. World-class partners such as The Washington Post, USA TODAY, Voice of America, the Newseum, NBC4-Washington, and National Public Radio reserve exclusive opportunities for our best and brightest students, connecting you with meaningful real-world assignments that provide recognition and future pathways to jobs.

Discover the World of Communication: American University's School of Communication offers high school students the opportunity to explore the field of communication through professional online classes — open to students entering grades 9 through 12 — are taught by American University School of Communication faculty and communication professionals. DWC Summer 2019: In summer 2020 Discover the World of Communication in association with the Office of the State Superintendent in Washington, D.C. provided 25 scholarships for homeless students to take two non-credit DWC experiential courses and live on campus for two weeks.A generous donor through our association with the Avalon Theatre Cinema Program provided full scholarships, (program + room and board + after hours) to 8 students to take film and visual media courses in the DWC program.  These scholarships were available to students in DCPS and DC Charter Schools.

In summer 2020 the donor also provided 10 scholarship opportunities for DCPS and Charter School students to participate in the DWC online program

The Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), directed by SOC Professor Caty Borum Chattoo, is a multi-disciplinary innovation lab and research center grounded in the substantive role of media, mediated storytelling, narratives, and culture in shaping a just future that centers social equity. CMSI bridges boundaries between scholars, producers, and practitioners across media production, public policy, social activism, civil society, and audiences. 

  • Yes and Laughter Lab: Launched in 2019 as a partnership between CMSI, Moore + Associates (a national cultural strategy group) and Comedy Central, the Yes And…Laughter Lab is a competitive incubation lab, training program, and series of pitch events that lift up diverse comedy writers and performers creating new comedy about topics that matter, with a particular focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) comedians. 
  • Story Movements is a catalytic two-day convening that examines platforms and genres of civic media storytelling – and the role of narrative and media for social change – through the lens of social justice and social inequality. 
  • Comedy ThinkTanks: In 2019, CMSI launched the Comedy ThinkTanks initiative to create a process of cross-sector collaboration between comedians and social justice organizations, building a path to more frequent interactions and engagements. 

Center for Environmental Filmmaking creates award-winning films and
innovative media that raise awareness, represent diverse voices, promote solutions, and inspire action. It has the following projects and initiatives under way to 1) address issues of environmental justice and racism and 2) to ensure there is greater representation “in front of and behind the camera”.

  • “Unbreathable: The Fight For Healthy Air”: a 30-minute documentary about the milestones of the Clean Air Act interweaving current stories of environmental injustice and community action.
  • Partnerships: CEF continues to expand its recruitment, student fellowship and internship, experiential education, and career path partnerships to expand opportunities to address environmental justice initiatives, as well as the inequity that currently exists in the outdoor arena. Among its partners are the Smithsonian Anacostia Center and their Women’s Environmental Leadership and Justice workshops; four branches of the National Park Service (national and regional); NOAA, NASA, National Geographic Society, Conservation International, Eco-America, PBS with whom they offer a core course on producing for TV with Maryland Public TV, and others.
  • Research: With funding from HHMI/Tangled Bank Studios, the center has embarked on a multi-year research project to examine engagement and impact specifically of environmental, nature, and science films and emerging media. An integral part of this research are case studies that examine evolving and new models of impact that address issues of justice and racism.

Investigative Reporting Workshop publishes in-depth stories about government and corporate accountability, ranging widely from the environment and health to national security and the economy. It has three initiatives that currently explore systemic racial disparities.

  • Tracking Police shootings: The Washington Post continues to track fatal shootings by police, and reported this week that since 2015, police shot and killed 5,400 people. Co-author John Sullivan, a senior editor at IRW and SOC professor, in addition to his reporting position at The Post, talked to experts who said it was hard to explain why the yearly average of 1,000 fatal shootings remains consistent — despite nationwide calls for the reform of police departments and training in de-escalation tactics.
  • Water Crises: Water quality remains a problem in California towns and in urban and rural areas in South Florida. IRW spent 18 months looking at issues nationwide and launched our first in a series of stories with a look at inequity in California and toxic runoff in South Florida. Editor Susan White explains how the project started, and reporter Austin Ramsey talks about the economic and racial disparity in California's Central Valley.
  • “Toxic Zones” is a long-term, data-driven reporting project in which IRW has been collaborating with Energy & Environment News (E&E News) and NBC News. It features national statistics, trends and field reporting focused on targeted states to analyze the health impacts of U.S. oil processing refineries on the predominantly low-income and minority communities that border them, which disproportionately face some of the nation’s greatest burdens in living with polluting toxins and lung-damaging particulates, the result of weak regulation and corporate misbehavior.

Current is the trade publication that public broadcasting professionals rely on for information, ideas, and inspiration. Public radio and TV station employees, staff at NPR, PBS, CPB and other national organizations, independent producers and nonprofit news executives subscribe and turn to Current for independent, incisive coverage of developments in public media. Current’s career portal is the leading site that connects jobseekers to opportunities in this mission-driven field. Diversity, equity and inclusion in public broadcasting organizations, programming and audiences has been a special focus of Current’s coverage for many years.
Current is supported by subscriptions, advertising, donations and funding from the Wyncote Foundation. Current has been publishing since 1980 and became part of SOC in 2010. Since then, Dean’s interns working at Current have gained valuable reporting experience as well as a better understanding of public media. All members of the American University community can access Current without a subscription while on campus.
For archival coverage of Diversity in public media, click here

Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum partnership and grant with SOC Professor Benjamin Stokes has created the DC Storytelling System and installed it in public libraries with the DC Public Library system. As part of this project, the Humanities Truck, a collaboration across AU departments, seeks to engage more directly with DC communities by having communities tell their own stories, with a focus on diversity and inclusion of those facing gentrification and displacement. In response to COVID and #BlackLivesMatter protests, the Smithsonian is currently using the hotline to gather stories on moments of resilience

Black on Campus, a national student journalism project, was launched by Dr. Sherri Williams in partnership with The Nation to use Black student journalists to document Black college students' experiences during a resurgence of racism on campuses. The project tapped into Black students’  lived experience and utilized and developed their journalism skills. The project produced 13 stories/essays in 2018. The story on how Black women are erased in the rape crisis on college campuses won the National Association of Black Journalist award in online feature reporting. The project garnered 449,000 views online. Williams’ research on the project Lived Experience and Living History: A Case Study of the Black on Campus Student Journalism Project is in press and accepted by the scholarly  journal Journalism & Mass Communication Editor. The September 2017 placement of cotton stalks and rebel flag flyers on AU’s campus was the genesis of this project.

Vision 2020: Election Stories from the Next Generation is a student journalism project and partnership Dr. Sherri Williams is leading with The Nation magazine that aims to amplify the concerns of young voters across identities. Every presidential election older journalists produce stories about the youth vote which is essentialized as young, white, heterosexual, suburban voters. In this project young journalists in COMM 588 Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting students and fellows from other universities wrote intersectional enterprise news stories about young voters presidential election concerns. Stories include young queer voters of color as a voting bloc, young voters as targets of voter suppression, young Muslim voters interests, young voters calls for criminal justice reform and young Black women voters. The Nation will publish the project this summer ahead of the presidential election. Students will be paid as freelancers.

Films Across Borders: This film series showcases critically acclaimed films, documentaries, shorts and virtual reality experiences from around the world in partnership with embassy cultural organizations, arts institutions and environmental groups, the series focuses on a distinctive timely and compelling theme each year. 

Institute on Disability and Public Policy: SOC professor Filippo Trevisan is the Deputy Director of this multidisciplinary, cross-campus research center that creates and disseminates knowledge that enables all persons to participate effectively in local, national, and global governance through the use of accessible information and communication technologies.

Black Voter Project: SOC Professor Lenny Steinhorn is working with the scholars at SPA, the Center for American Progress, and African American Research Collaborative on a survey of African American voters, weighted toward millennials and Generation Z, that explores not merely their perspective on contemporary politics but, more importantly, their confidence in institutions, their feelings toward the political process, their sense of empowerment or lack thereof, their views about opportunity in America and whether our political leaders must do more to address our collective history. 

The Community Voice Project led by Professor Laura Waters Hinson produces documentary films that capture the voices of community storytellers too often unseen and unheard. The creative ethos of Community Voice is that of collaboration, rather than extraction, in which our filmmakers and local storytellers work together to tell stories of hope, resilience and determination for the common good.

Peer-reviewed Scholarship with a diversity, equity and inclusion focus:

Borum Chattoo, C., & Feldman, L. (2020). A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into A Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice [Foreword by Norman Lear]. University of California Press. Launch volume: “Communication for Social Justice Activism” series.

Borum Chattoo, C. (in press, publication September 2020). Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change.: Oxford University Press.

Borum Chattoo, C., Feldman, L., & Henderson Riley, A. (2020). The role of different TV storytelling approaches in engaging U.S. Hispanic parents and caregivers around early childhood development. International Journal of Communication, 14.

Aufderheide, P. (2019). Julia Reichert and the Work of Telling Working-Class Stories. Film Quarterly, 73(2), 9-22.

Henderson Riley, A., & Borum Chattoo, C. (2019). Developing multimedia social impact entertainment programming on healthy aging for Hispanics in the United States. Journal of Development Communications, 30(1).

Feldman, L., & Borum Chattoo, C. (2019). Comedy as a route to social change: The effects of satire and news on persuasion about Syrian refugees. Mass Communication and Society, 22(3), 277-300.

Shahin, S. (2020). User-generated nationalism: Interactions with religion, race, and partisanship in everyday talk online. Information, Communication & Society.

Shahin, S. &, Ng, Y.M.M. (2020). White Twitter: Tracing the evolution of ‘alt-right’ in retweets, 2009-2016. Proceedings of the 53rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 53, 2418-2427.

Brøvig-Hanssen, R., Sinnreich, A. (2019). Do you wanna build a wall? Remix tactics in the age of Trump. Popular Music & Society, 43(5). DOI: 10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990

For more of our DEI scholarship work, click here.

Aufderheide, P. (December 5, 2019). "IDFA 2019: The Power of Public Memory in Documentary Film" in Center for Media & Social Impact American University,

Conrad, D., Borum Chattoo, C., & Aufderheide, P. (July 2020, in production). Breaking the Silence: How Documentaries Can Shape the Conversation on Racial Violence in America and Create New Communities: A Participatory Research Study on the Film '”Always in Season.” Center for Media & Social Impact, American University School of Communication. Funded by Independent Television Service.

Borum Chattoo, C., Ramani, V., & Norwood, D. (2020). Milwaukee 53206 Impact Report: Documentary & Social Justice in U.S. Faith Communities. Center for Media & Social Impact, American University School of Communication. Funded by Odyssey Impact. 

Gentile, W. (Director, Producer), Film - Documentary (December 2019). Screening and panel discussion of "FREELANCERS with Bill Gentile: Mexico," The Newseum, Washington, DC, Scope: International. Competition
Panel discussion included Associate Producer and SOC graduate Matt Cipollone; Los Angeles Times correspondent and long-time friend Tracy Wilkinson, and Univision correspondent Fernando Pizarro.

Hinson, L. W. (Director), Bello, B. (Producer), Kirby, K. (Cinematographer), Tyson, A. (Sound Recordist), Alghamdi, E. (Second Camera Operator), Eggleston, G. (Production Assistant), Sadowsky, D. (Editor), Film - Documentary. "Street Reporter," HumanitiesDC and SOC Faculty Grant, Washington, DC, USA, Scope: Local. (In Post-Production) Street Reporter (working title) delves into one of America’s most unique newsrooms - that of the Washington, DC street paper known as Street Sense. The film follows a team of formerly homeless journalists as they report on the issue of DC's homeless encampments known as “tent city.”

Jayaswal, L. (Cinematographer, Editor), Multimedia Installation. "Deux Degres," Sustenance: duo exhitibition by Monica Bose and Anju Chaudhuri, Carroll Square Gallery, Washington DC, Scope: Regional. (September 2019) Invitation (Curated)

Steinhorn, L. K. (October (4th Quarter/Autumn) 30, 2019). "Why race has bedeviled Republicans for more than half a century" Engagement, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.

Stokes, B. G. (Designer), Multimedia Installation. "Right to the City Storytelling System," Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Washington, DC

For more of our DEI public engagement work, click here.

MIXED (2020) A documentary film about what it means to be mixed race in American shortly after the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia. Directed and Produced by Caty Borum Chattoo and Leena Jayaswal. Funding through Center for Asian American Media, Milton and Dorothy Sarnoff Raymond Foundation, Shirley Brownrigg Charitable Trust, Norman Lear Foundation, American University

Jayaswal, Leena Director of Photography, “Rubi: A DACA Dreamer in Trump’s America” distributed to public television by National Educational Telecommunications Association

Gentile, W. F. (December 2019). "Freelancers: Valuable and Vulnerable" in NPPA: The Voice of Visual Journalists. (vol. November/December 2019, no. November/December 2019). Washington: National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).

Engel, L. (Cinematographer, Editor, Producer), Kuba, M. (Editor), Sherafat, a. (Editor), Filmmaker in Residence. "Voices from the Border," Investigative Reporting Workshop, SOC, CLALS. (March 2016 - Present) (In Post-Production)

Amy Eisman is an advisory board member of the Power Shift Project at the Freedom Forum Institute, an effort to promote workplace integrity on behalf of women in the news industry.

For more of our DEI media production work, click here.

SOC Inclusion Team

SOC’s Inclusion Team works in coordination with the Dean and the SOC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to create and sustain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment within SOC through supporting staff and faculty development, student groups, and programming.

Priya Doshi
Inclusion Officer

Danari White
Inclusion Coordinator

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee

The School of Communication (SOC) is committed to creating an environment that nurtures diversity, equity, and inclusion within all aspects of the School: student body; faculty; curriculum and teaching; creative, scholarly, and professional activity; programming; and service. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee is charged with ensuring that American University’s statement on diversity and inclusion is effective and relevant for students, faculty, and staff. The committee, which includes voting members from the faculty, staff and student body, works to provide meaningful discussions about issues related to race/ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, and more, both in the classroom and in the workplace. The committee may advocate on behalf of the SOC community by offering suggestions to faculty and SOC leadership on how to incorporate principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into workplace operations, curricula, and classroom practices. The committee may also hold workshops and panel discussions, at which speakers can address relevant issues. If you are interested in getting involved with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, contact

Jeremiah Patterson
Co-chair and Instructor, School of Communication

Danari White
Co-chair, Inclusion Coordinator and Assistant to the Dean 

Kristi Plahn-Gjersvold
Assistant Dean of Administration & Strategic Initiatives, School of Communication

Saif Shahin
Assistant Professor, School of Communication 

Sumaira Akber
Director of Undergraduate Student & Academic Affairs, School of Communication

Brianna Williams
Online Content Manager, School of Communication 

Sherri Williams
Assistant Professor, School of Communication

Russell Williams
Distinguished Artist in Residence, School of Communication

Bill Gentile
Journalist in Residence, School of Communication

Gemma Puglisi
Assistant Professor, School of Communication 

Priya Doshi
Inclusion Officer and Professorial Lecturer, School of Communication

Jane Hall
Associate Professor, School of Communication 

NAHJ members and panelists

Inclusive Success

An inclusive environment supports and celebrates the success of all our students, faculty and alumni.

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RACE Matters Initiative

Race And Communication Exploration Matters is a new initiative at SOC aimed at confronting racism through scholarship, teaching, and public engagement in the field of communication and prioritizing equitable and inclusive teaching and processes within the school.

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Combating Hate with a Young Adult Novel

Those books shaped my life…This really has been a passion project for me.

Killian MacDonald's forthcoming novel uses young adult literature as a platform for social change. While her narrative follows the same arcs of heroism, romance, and adventure that appear throughout the genre, her accompanying strategic plan-written for her interdisciplinary honors capstone-uses her communication skills to teach teens about Islamophobia and inspires them to stand up for each other and be activists in their own right.

BA in Public Relations and Strategic Communication.