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PUBLIC EDITOR: The Cavalier Daily should more actively recruit graduate student staff members

Graduate students compose roughly 30 percent of the University's student body yet only about one percent of The Cavalier Daily’s staff

The Cavalier Daily is doing itself a great injustice by not promoting its membership to more students pursuing higher degrees.
The Cavalier Daily is doing itself a great injustice by not promoting its membership to more students pursuing higher degrees.

The University has a population of 23,800 students. This includes 16,000 undergraduate students across seven schools and 7,800 graduate and professional students across 12 graduate and professional schools. Graduate and professional students account for roughly one-third of the University's entire student population on Grounds.

Yet, where are those voices within the pages of the University’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily? 

The Cavalier Daily has a staff of approximately 400 students. According to the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, third-year College student Nik Popli, there was one known graduate student on The Cavalier Daily’s staff in the fall 2019 semester according to an optional staff census. While the census data is incomplete and The Cavalier Daily’s staff is not representative of the University student population in more ways than one, graduate students certainly are an underrepresented group.

The graduate and professional student population at the University offers a wealth of knowledge, expertise and unique perspectives that are currently lacking on the paper. Studying at schools ranging from law, business, medicine, architecture and data science to name a few, The Cavalier Daily is doing itself a great injustice by not promoting its membership to more students pursuing higher degrees. The Cavalier Daily is similarly doing its audience a disservice by not having graduate and professional voices represented among its writers.

There is no clause in The Cavalier Daily’s constitution which prohibits graduate students and professional students from being on the staff. The text does not even explicitly define membership requirements. The closest statement on requirements for holding an elected position — article six, clause Q — merely states, “Only full- or part-time University of Virginia students may hold an elected position.” The word “students” is critically unspecific — extending to any student at the University.

The Cavalier Daily’s constitution also states the mission of the organization. Specifically, the first part of the mission is to “publish print and digital content for the University of Virginia and the Charlottesville community” that is focused on “news, editorial and general University and Charlottesville events of particular interest to the University and the Charlottesville community.” 

How can the paper accurately accomplish this mission of producing content of “particular interest” to the University community without representing the perspectives of one third of the overall student body? Consequently, the current undergraduate-centric content of the paper likely overlooks a fair share of events which are of interest to graduate students and, relatedly, graduate faculty and staff — despite occasionally covering graduate school events or student perspectives

When asked about the role of graduate students on The Cavalier Daily, Popli recognized how they are underrepresented on the paper. He attributed this, in part, to the understanding that most people associate The Cavalier Daily with being an undergraduate newspaper as well as the fact that some of the graduate schools have their own publications, such as the Law School’s Virginia Law Weekly. He also noted that The Cavalier Daily has tended to prioritize recruiting first-year undergraduate students because they have the ability to be on the paper for all four years.

Recognizing where the paper falls short, Popli emphasized that The Cavalier Daily still encourages graduate students to apply to join the staff. He specifically noted it would be particularly helpful to have graduate students work with the finance and advertising staff of The Cavalier Daily and be able to add their expertise.

However, the nature of the work presents a challenge to recruiting graduate staff members — it’s unpaid. The Cavalier Daily is a volunteer-based organization and the unpaid staffing positions can be quite time consuming. Graduate students are generally far more financially independent than undergraduate students and the lack of pay alone may be enough to disincentivize many graduate students from joining The Cavalier Daily, in addition to the time requirement.

Yet, at the same time, The Cavalier Daily welcomes graduate student members to join. Ironically for a newspaper, the barrier for recruiting graduate staff members is in communication. The paper’s recruiting efforts need to be extended beyond its primarily undergraduate pool to more intentionally seek graduate student members.

Second-year College students Carolyn Lane and Abby Sacks serve as Assistant Managing Editors of the paper and are charged with overseeing recruitment efforts. They said they tend to advertise recruitment within undergraduate programs and within CIOs that have a majority of undergraduate students. This year, however, they said they did advertise in the “UVA Connections” newsletter which is distributed to all students by Student Affairs. They also noted the Health & Sciences section of the paper sent recruitment information for the section to CIOs catered toward graduate students in STEM. Yet, this tactic proved ineffective at securing graduate staffers, suggesting more engaging tactics are in order.

Like Popli, Lane and Sacks both agreed graduate students would provide valuable perspectives and expertise to the paper’s content and production. To increase graduate student involvement, therefore, The Cavalier Daily needs to more actively recruit from these populations and send a clear message that they are not strictly an undergraduate paper.

There is evidently an information gap if The Cavalier Daily is completely open to graduate student members, yet it is largely perceived as an undergraduate paper. The paper should consider attending activities fairs at graduate schools if they occur, sending advertisements to graduate-specific newsletters or engaging with graduate student councils.

Altering the current, long-held perception of The Cavalier Daily as a largely undergraduate paper will require extensive communication and recruitment efforts. However, there is tremendous value in increasing the paper’s staff to include more graduate students, thus expanding the scope of its expertise and content and enhancing its ability to achieve the mission of informing the entire University community.

Maggie Servais is the Public Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.servais@cavalierdaily.com.

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