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CONNOLLY: Life on the brink

The Cavalier Daily’s Life section should promote a diversity of writers

I tend to be more skeptical than most about quotas and other measures to artificially induce diversity, but there is one corner of this University that possesses a homogeneity that really makes my blood boil. I am talking, of course, about the columnists for The Cavalier Daily Life section.

“The Life section?!” you might yelp. “Not the Life section!” Believe me, it pains me to write this as much as it pains you to hear it.

As I glance at the Cavalier Daily Life section page, I notice that it features 12 discrete columns (there are several articles that are not columns, including the “Love Connection” pieces) by 12 authors. Of these 12 columnists, a full nine are white females. Many appear to be in sororities. Many also appear to be friends with one another. And so I read through these columns to try and fully grasp the life section’s purpose and function.

Twenty-odd minutes later, I sat trying to reconcile what I had just read. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the intricacies and subtle nuances of the standard University Life column, here’s a crash course: Most of the columns read like blog posts. That’s not to say they aren’t well written: a lot of them are very well crafted, in my humble opinion. They simply come across as diary entries. Here’s a column about a time said Life columnist listened to music and thought about it. Here’s a different column from a different columnist, this one about a time said columnist used her phone in an odd situation. Here’s yet another column from a different writer about riding a bus (and, of course, reflections on that experience, because no Life column is complete without personal reflections).

Up to this point, this column has been a brief and lighthearted examination of what I perceive to be the Life section’s lack of diversity and its blog-like columns. But now, a serious question must be asked: Is there anything wrong with these characteristics? And if so, what should change?

I would argue that the lack of diversity on The Cavalier Daily Life section staff impedes its efforts to present a full range of student life experiences to its readership. I’ve read a lot of Life columns written by members of the same demographic groups. As good as the writing can be, the similar perspectives grow old quickly. I would love to see a Life column written by an athlete, or maybe a member of the marching band, or maybe a graduate student or two. I can already hear objectors saying, “Well, if these people want to write for the Life section, they should apply to do so.” But I suspect that it is possible — even likely — that many potential candidates do not know that the opportunity to write life columns exists in the first place. I would love to see the Life section actively recruit from widely different areas of the University, in an effort to broaden the section’s perspectives on student life.

As for the gripe that the columns read like blogs, I did a bit of rudimentary research (I looked at other colleges’ newspapers) to discern life section norms. My findings: Harvard’s main paper, The Harvard Crimson, does not have a Life section at all, but rather runs an editorially independent blog. Princeton does the same thing. So does Duke. Notre Dame has a section called “Viewpoint” that appears to be analogous to a combination of the Cavalier Daily’s Life and Opinion sections, only the Life-like columns appear to be less “Reflection On Interesting Personal Experiences” and more “Here’s What Is Going On Around Campus, Here’s Why It’s Important.” My extraordinarily non-scientific study demonstrated to me that our Life section is relatively unconventional in the elevated platform that it gives to blog-like posts. Perhaps spinning Life columnists off into a Cavalier Daily-run blog titled something along the lines of “Reflections” (or perhaps something more scintillating) could be a remedy.

Again, this column is not meant to disparage the Life section, but simply to point out two issues that I have noticed in my reading of this part of the paper. Are my recommendations perfect? Probably not, but in a statement that would make any of the Cavalier Daily’s Life columnists proud, I hope they make good food for thought.

John Connolly is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.connolly@cavalierdaily.com.

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