Associate Professor Trevy McDonald named Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

“Without diversity there is no excellence.”

That truth, the motto of the Carolina Association of Black Journalists (CABJ), is something that UNC Hussman Associate Professor Trevy McDonald sees as a guiding principle for her work at the school. She will now bring that outlook to her role as UNC Hussman’s inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

McDonald’s academic work focuses on diversity and media. She has seen the school and its students go through a summer of self-examination on race and inequality spurred by the nationwide protests following the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others.

“I teach from a perspective of challenging stereotypes and dispelling myths about under-represented and minoritorized communities,” McDonald said. Now she feels that, in both the UNC community and the country, “more people are understanding the importance of these issues.”

McDonald has worked on these issues with the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and as a faculty advisor to the CABJ. Moving forward in the Director position, she will bring that perspective both to the Dean’s Cabinet and the University as a whole.

“I see it as an opportunity to promote equity, increase diversity, strengthen the culture of inclusion and most importantly really foster a strong sense of belonging for staff, students and faculty in the school,” she said. “I want everyone to feel welcomed and respected regardless of their position in the school.”

“This new position is an important step forward for our school, and there is no one better to serve alongside our UNC other Hussman leaders than Trevy,” said Susan King, dean of the school. “Trevy will continue to be active with the important Diversity and Inclusion Committee in the school, and have the opportunity to  drive policy to match the school’s diversity aspirations on recruitment, retention and curriculum.”

McDonald will be a part of the University-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, which she says will be an advisory board to the Chief Diversity Officer, as well as the senior leadership of UNC-Chapel Hill. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz outlined some of the steps the University will take on the issue in a letter to the community on June 11.

The dual role within the school and advising the University’s leaders as particularly significant for UNC Hussman.

“The really beautiful thing about the DEI Council for the University is the multiple perspectives that are going to be present because you have people from different fields,” she noted.

Within UNC Hussman, students have long seen McDonald as a leader. “Trevy has been a guiding light in my life from the very beginning of our mentee, mentor relationship,” said alum and former Roy H. Park Fellow Jordan Fieulleteau, ’16, ’18 (M.A.). Fieulleteau, who received his master’s degree in mass communications in May of 2018, is now a research fellow at Stanford University (Dean King spoke to him about his impressive career for the Start Here / Never Stop podcast in 2019).  Fieulleteau first got to know McDonald when, as a wide receiver for Carolina's football team, he was required to invite a faculty member to football practice and chose her. At dinner afterwards, McDonald convinced Fieulleteau to apply to graduate school.

 “She has continually encouraged me to follow the path that I believe is best for myself, and has always lent a helping hand whenever necessary," he reflected. "She believed in me during a time when I did not believe in myself.”

In her new role, McDonald remains focused on tangible goals for students. She highlighted the importance of creating school chapters of national groups to foster professional development for young journalists and communicators of color. “I want to really begin to build networks among the students, and also to let them have opportunities for networking in their fields.”

She appreciates that other faculty at the school are discussing best practices on how to guide students through this time: “Some of my colleagues have shared that they have included readings in some of their classes and some of the graduate seminars that cover issues around race and social justice.” She also highlighted the important work of the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and its subcommittees that look at curriculum, culture and climate, information exchange and retention and hiring.

McDonald’s paramount goal is to “talk to students, staff and faculty to learn what their concerns are, and what their issues are and how I along with the members of the school’s committee can help address some of these things.”

All this work goes back to what McDonald identifies as her earliest life lesson: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That was the first phrase she ever learned to read as a child. The ‘golden rule’ was printed on a ruler her parents kept in their home, and McDonald would study it as she learned to draw and read.

That phrase and the importance of belonging stuck with her as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where she felt the isolation that comes from lack of diversity. That’s where she grew interested in the “importance of the images that we saw in media and how they went into shaping how groups are perceived by people who might not have much experience or exposure to them.”

She went on to build an academic career, as an Assistant Professor teaching Intercultural Communication as a Freshman Honors Seminar at NC Central University, and then at UNC-Chapel Hill. She always focuses on highlighting cultural communication and the importance of cultural competence, understanding and respect.

“I think it’s important to try to understand people where they are,” she concluded. “That’s the most important thing that we can do as an institution for learning and inquiry.”

McDonald believes that understanding is particularly important at UNC Hussman, because of journalism’s role in covering both the protests and the events that triggered them.

“I think that the coverage of some of these issues and things that have transpired have really brought awareness in a similar way that the Birmingham Campaign in 1963 brought the Civil Rights Movement to the attention of people across the country when they saw the images on the news.”

She sees the work of all the school’s faculty and staff as vital “because we are training future journalists, teachers and communicators.” For her, it all comes back to that “no excellence without diversity” motto.

“It's really important to have cultural competence as well as a diverse body of people telling stories and making decisions in the newsroom about what gets covered,” McDonald said.

Fieulleteau's experience highlighted that importance. “Growing up, I did not have many African American teachers, and whenever I did I leaned into those classes and relationships.”

“I am truly grateful for the relationship Trevy and I have built, and I encourage students in the J-school to seek her out,” he added. “I would not be where I am today without her. I know Trevy will push the school and the wider conversation about diversity within the media landscape that is so desperately needed.”

Despite the challenges that the upcoming semesters may present, McDonald said she feels very hopeful for the future of the UNC Hussman community.

“When you really foster a sense of belonging and everyone feels that they are involved, respected and appreciated, they will be more likely to contribute and feel that their contributions are valued.”