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Editorial: Recent misidentification of ASU alumnae reflects deeper issue

The assumption that three ASU students were international highlights the importance of confronting biases and handling the topic of diversity with care

111 Project

"Physical descriptions should not be considered an appropriate indicator of citizenship." Illustration published Sunday, March 12, 2017.

As a student media publication, the responsibility to produce representative, fair content weighs heavily on us, especially in today’s political climate.

The recent controversy surrounding ASU’s misidentification of alumnae as international students based on their appearance highlights our shared responsibility to remain diligent in fact-checking the material we publish.

In February, President Crow published an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor about the diverse perspectives international students bring to the American universities.

The op-ed originally featured a photo of three ASU students taking a selfie at graduation, two of whom were wearing headscarves. The photo implied that these graduates were international students.

In reality, the three alumnae featured were Nshwah Ahmad, Anna Salibi and Diala Manfoukh, all of whom were born in the United States. Ahmad told The State Press that the error was an example of racial profiling that was offensive and disappointing.

The University was quick to correct its mistake, issuing an apology and replacing the photo. In a statement, the University said its error was the result of a tight deadline, but nevertheless characterized the error as inexcusable.

As a publication, we realize that these sort of mistakes can occur out of carelessness but are not always indicative of racism or bigotry. Still, we do believe that this mistake was reflective of a deeper issue, mirrored in many media outlets and day-to-day instances.

In a time where the media is put under immense scrutiny on the basis of honesty, it is pertinent that The State Press and other publications practice attention to detail and dedication to honesty. 

Journalists, like everyone else, are susceptible to implicit biases that result in careless assumptions. We urge readers and ourselves to work through those biases and confirm facts over resorting to assumptions.

Mistakenly identifying international students shows us — specifically as journalists of The State Press — that our work is more important than ever. People rely on media to be truthful, and this incident shows us how important our role as a student publication really is.

Oftentimes we don’t consider certain individuals as part of the American fabric because of how they look or what faith they follow. Too often, carelessly categorizing someone as foreign indicates that they are the "other" — when it’s actually their differences that make them American.

It is possible to "other" an entire group of people in the process of attempting to be culturally aware, progressive and inclusive. We need to be careful of our discourse when confronting these topics and realize that everyone is capable of making assumptions. 

This country was built upon difference: difference in culture, difference in ideas and difference in background. It is vital that these differences are embraced.

We believe strongly in the principle of inclusivity outlined in ASU’s charter: Our university is “measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed.” Today’s political atmosphere challenges our university to follow through on its commitments to inclusivity and accessibility. 

The University and its students must confront implicit biases in this country, and we must work together to maintain an environment where people of all backgrounds are respected and represented. This can be seen as an opportunity for students to confront those biases.

Understanding each other can be inconvenient, it can be frustrating and it can involve disagreements, but the act of understanding is not something that should be lost upon us.

This incident reminds us of our duty to our student audience — every member of it. We will continue to fact-check, seek out diverse perspectives and strive to produce fair, representative and accurate content. In return, we hope that you will continue reading.

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