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SOC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives at a Glance

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. We want to show you a few of the amazing programs and opportunities we have to offer that strive for inclusive excellence in all parts of the SOC community.

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:

  • Identity, Power, and Misrepresentation
  • Digital Media and Culture 
  • Communication and Social Change
  • Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Media
  • Multicultural Strategic Communication Campaigns
  • Backpack Journalism in Español
  • Cross-Cultural Cinema
  • Foreign Policy and the Press
  • Global Journalism in the 21st Century
  • International Strategic Communication
  • Censorship and Media
  • Gay and Lesbian Documentary
  • Reporting on Immigration
  • Advanced Data-Driven Journalism: The Data of Divides 
  • Musical Cultures and Industries
  • The Sixties in America

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)is dedicated to bringing public relations, advertising, marketing and communication students together professionally and socially, to enhance members' education, broaden their professional network, and launch their careers after graduation. SOC Professor 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. For more information, click here

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.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is a leader in the movement to support, promote and protect journalists, particularly freelance journalists, covering systemic, underreported issues around the world. With fellowships, grants and educational programs in universities across the country, the Pulitzer Center fills the void left by mainstream media outlets retreating from news coverage abroad. By definition, the Center is the embodiment of diversity, equity, inclusion and empowerment. Since the SOC joined the Center's Campus Consortium in 2014, we have helped send AU students to report in Mexico, Thailand, Borneo, Laos, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru. To meet the winners of the AU-Pulitzer Center International Reporting Fellowships, see more here.

Discover the World of Communication The School of Communication offers high school students, (grades 9-12) the opportunity to explore the field of communication through professional hands-on experiential workshops online or-in person through our association with the National Student Leadership Conference, (NSLC). The classes are taught by SOC faculty and communication professionals. Scholarships for the online program are provided by a generous donor through DWC's association with the Avalon Theatre Cinema Program. Scholarships for the in-person DWC/NSLC program are provided by NSLC.

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 provides degree programs that focus on the theory and practice of wildlife, nature, conservation, environmental justice, climate, and science filmmaking. Our faculty, alum and students create award-winning films and innovative media that raise awareness about key issues, represent diverse voices, promote solutions, and inspire action. The Center partners with a range of organizations to produce films, with an emphasis on equity, diversity, inclusion, and expanding storytelling capacity for all communities. Our projects and initiatives are dedicated to increasing representation “in front of and behind the camera”. Examples include:

  • “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: Our recruitment, student fellowships and internships, experiential learning, and career path partnerships seek to expand opportunities for diverse representation. Many of our projects address issues of environmental and climate justice, as well as inequity in the outdoor arena. Partners include 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, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Eco-America, and many others. We offer a core environmental broadcast television course in partnership with Maryland Public TV. We also partner with the DC-Environmental Film Festival, Jackson Wild Summit, American Conservation Film Festival and others, participating in showcases, panels and mentoring that emphasizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and expanding opportunities for building capacity.
  • Research: Our CEF impact media research, funded by HHMI/Tangled Bank Studios, examines ways to create and assess impact through environmental, nature, and science films. We published a comprehensive report in Fall 2020, which can be found on our research website. Integral to the research is an examination of systemic change from extractive and colonial models of nature and conservation filmmaking to approaches that amplify voice, emphasize collaboration, and showcase participatory modes. A range of case studies examine evolving and new models of creating impact through powerful storytelling that represents authenticity and equity. 
  • Diversity Statement: CEF joined over 300 other conservation organizations in its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our statement is posted on our website in “About the Center.”

Investigative Reporting Workshop IRW has published hundreds of stories, won a dozen national awards, and trained more than 180 students. The work focuses on government and corporate accountability, with topics ranging widely from the environment and health to national security and the economy. IRW also has reported numerous stories on immigration, police shootings, and sexual assault. IRW pairs graduate students as researchers and reporters with professional staff at The Washington Post and PBS FRONTLINE. Two of our most recent 2020 projects, investigations into water quality — and racial, economic and political factors contributing to lack of clean water — have been co-reported by The Weather Channel and co-published by The Fresno Bee and the Tampa Bay Times.

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.

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

Benjamin Stokes’ proposal “Engaging Beyond Our Walls: Libraries as Hubs for Making Neighborhood Games and Storytelling” has been selected to advance to the second phase of the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The proposal was based on preliminary testing of the tool over the summer, paid for by the SOC grant. The grant is for $250K and the abstract is below.

"American University will train libraries in 30 cities to serve as hubs for making neighborhood games and facilitating storytelling for community engagement. Applications include mural hunts, local history audio tours, and interactive public art experiences like “texting with a sculpture.” Over two years, residents will make hundreds of free games -- no coding skills needed (and social-distancing supported). The games are made with Hive Mechanic, a game engine for cities. Equity is a priority: the games can be played with ordinary cell phones; data plans are not required to text photos. With this project, libraries will leverage their expertise in media literacy and local information to help democratize civic play, amplify hidden voices, and engage new audiences in public space."

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. 

In 2021, students in Sherri Williams' COMM 588 Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting class produced stories about how the 2020 racial justice uprising affected people on the beats they chose to cover. Teen Vogue Senior Politics Editor Allegra Kirkland was a guest speaker in the class early in the semester and students pitched stories to her. The best pitches were chosen and will be published this week by Teen Vogue during the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's killing. Racial Reckoning: A Year After a Movement Rocked the Nation is a five stories series produced by SOC students that prioritizes racial and social justice reporting. This project is amplified by Teen Vogue and is intended to have journalists document history through the lens of their generation.  

Professor and Washington Post Investigative Reporter-in-Residence John Sullivan teaches a Post Practicum class for graduate students that provides opportunities for them to work with Washington Post on an investigative story. In 2021, six graduate journalism students built a database to track each federal case related to the Capitol riot suspects.   

Past Partnerships 

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.

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.

Past Projects

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. 


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.

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

  • Saif Shahin's new article in Social Movement Studies, co-authored with Margaret Ng (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), examines the emotive, cognitive, and networked aspects of online social mobilization. It draws attention to the influence wielded by the state, political parties, technology companies, and "legacy" media organizations over seemingly bottom-up discourses of resistance online. The article is available at 

  • Benjamin Stokes published a new article on "digital placemaking" with urban furniture, including a game with a storytelling payphone, the transformation of a pedestrian plaza in LA's Leimert Park, and an art exhibition on race & ethnicity. Published in the journal Convergence. Co-authored with Francois Bar, Karl Baumann, Ben Caldwell, and Andrew Schrock. Full access:

  • Caty Borum Chattoo, Lori Young, David Conrad & Aras Coskuntuncel (2021). “The rent is too damn high”: news portrayals of housing security and homelessness in the United States. Mass Communication and Society. Borum Chattoo, C. (in press, publication September 2020). Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change.: Oxford University Press.

  • Filippo Trevisan published a new journal article in Qualitative Research. If you're planning a focus group study, teach research methods, or just want to know more about inclusive research, check it out: Trevisan, F. (2020) Making focus groups accessible and inclusive for people with communication disabilities: A research note. Qualitative Research, published online before print, 1-9. 

  • Williams, S. (2020). The Black Digital Syllabus Movement: The Fusion of Academia, Activism and Arts. Howard Journal of Communications, DOI: 10.1080/10646175.2020.1743393

For more of our DEI scholarship work, click here.

  • SOC BA and MA alum and former SOC staff member Don Mike Mendoza has joined the AU Alumni Board! He plans to focus energy on elevating the attention paid to issues affecting API members of the AU community.
  • IRW takes a deep look at the Capitol rioters through the creation of a  rioters database. The database was created and maintained by AU students in the Post practicum led by John Sullivan. Students include: Ana Alavarez, Tobi Raji, Sarah Salem, Aaron Schaffer, Maya Smith and Sarah Welch.
  • Sherri Williams helped organize the Washington Association of Black Journalists panel discussion Navigating Your Internship or First Job Amid COVID (4-10-21). AU grad Cordilia James (a real estate reporter at The Real Deal) discussed interning virtually at the Wall Street Journal last summer. Williams is the new chair of WABJ's student engagement and early career development committee
  • Caty Borum Chattoo shared the results of CMSI's biennial The State of the Documentary Field study, in association with the International Documentary Association (IDA) during a virtual panel event on Monday, April 26, 2021. She was joined by fellow panelists, Sahar Driver, Sonya Childress and Lisa Valencia-Svensson for a discussion on Research as Activism: Studying the Documentary Ecosystem which was moderated by Chi-Hui Yang of Ford Foundation’s JustFilms.

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

Maggie Stogner’s film "Unbreathable - the Fight For Healthy Air” is now a New Day Film! New Day was co-founded by Julia Reichart who won this year’s documentary Oscar Award for “American Factory”. We have many events coming up. Please check our website. Unbreathable screened: August. 19: 3:30-5pm ET, virtual screening of the film with a Youth Climate Activism/Environmental Justice panel featuring Shashawnda Campbell, Ruhan Nagra, Lana Weidgenant and moderated by Diana Van Vleet.

Maggie Stogner and Rick Stack’s film In the Executioner’s Shadow was selected for the 23rd UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival). The 30-member Jury committee reviewed almost 600 submissions for the 60-hour festival program and found the film well suited for this year's festival theme, THE POWER OF EMPATHY. 

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

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

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

Gemma Puglisi
Assistant Professor, School of Communication 

Priya Doshi
Inclusion Officer and Senior Professorial Lecturer, School of Communication

Jane Hall
Associate Professor, School of Communication 

Adrienne Massanari
Associate Professor, School of Communication 

Student Representatives: 

Josh Alem, Graduate

Meeta Malhi, Graduate 

Tambra Stevenson, PhD

AUSOC Horizontal Logo

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.

Learn more

Leena Jayaswal and Caty Borum Chattoo

New Film Examines Growing Up in a Mixed-Race Family

Two mothers – one brown, one white – set off on a journey together to explore what it means to be a bi-racial child living in a mixed-race family in so-called “post-racial America.” 

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williams-shahin 2021

Communications ·

SOC Announces 2020-21 Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

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Common ground. Greater purpose.

I want the Baby Boomers and Millennials to recognize we need each other.

From short films to web series, Shayla builds her stories around everyday life events. She explores what makes us different, but more important, what brings us together. Sometimes that's life milestones, while other times it's a common cause or fight. Inspired by a conversation with her grandmother, her current project is a dialogue between two generations of African Americans and their unique approaches to activism.
MFA in Film and Electronic Media