From earning her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University, to working as a reporter, to her current role championing equity and diversity at New Jersey City University, Venida Rodman Jenkins brings a lifetime of experience to her new role as professor of Newhouse NYC’s Race, Gender and the Media course.
In addition to her depth of understanding on topics such as diversity and inclusion, Rodman Jenkins has a master’s degree in divinity, which propelled her career as an advocate for others. She hopes to instill how important it is for students to think critically about hearing and seeing all voices.
“Sometimes because our trauma is so great, because the racism is so great, not everyone can pick up the mantle, not everyone can work on undoing these issues,” Rodman Jenkins says. “So I feel grateful I have the passion and the drive to be able to, as difficult as it is, address these concerns.”
Rodman Jenkins will teach during the Fall 2020 semester, during which students will intern and take courses remotely.
“Venida is extremely passionate about the course, and I know the Newhouse NYC students will learn so much from her,” says Cheryl Brody Franklin, director of Newhouse NYC. “She is patient and kind, so even though we are remote this fall, I know she will create a safe and welcoming virtual environment for them all.”
Creating a space of EASE
As director for the Speicher-Rubin Women’s Center for Equity and Diversity at New Jersey City University, Rodman Jenkins has been doing the work of diversity and inclusion for eight years. Her goal is to cultivate and create a space of ease.
“EASE stands for Educate, Advocate, Support, and Empower. It’s so exciting because I get to center the voices of people who have been rendered invisible, inhumane, and traditionally marginalized,” she says.
Alongside her position within the Speicher-Rubin Women’s Center for Equity and Diversity, Rodman Jenkins hosts one-on-one crisis intervention for students at New Jersey City University who have experienced any form of gender-based violence. Through this role she provides resources and support, on and off campus, to victim-survivors.
From journalism to advocacy
What ignites someone to tackle issues and problems too complex for a lifetime? For Rodman Jenkins, it all starts with a memory of Girl Scout camp, when she came upon a girl who was crying because some of the other kids had hidden her bandana.
“I felt so bad that I told her where her bandana was,” says Rodman Jenkins. “I was advocating for her at ten or eleven years old, and I think about moments like this where I can remember taking a stand for what was right.”
After graduating from Syracuse University with a B.A. in psychology, Rodman Jenkins discovered she enjoyed writing. She started working for a town newspaper and then Travel Weekly, a business-to-business travel industry publication. As a journalist, she began to understand the power that the media has on others—and then she lost her job.
In this transitional phase, Rodman Jenkins continued to pursue a master’s degree in divinity at the New York Theological Seminary. After she graduated, she worked as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, and then was hired at Seton Hall University to be the project director for the Consortium Violence Prevention Project.
Later, Rodman Jenkins continued to tackle societal subjects at the University of Connecticut Women’s Center as Program Coordinator of the Violence Against Women Prevention Program, focusing on gender-based violence prevention initiatives and addressing social justice and diversity issues.
She has been director of the Speicher-Rubin Women’s Center for Equity and Diversity for the past eight years.
Why Race, Gender, and the Media is crucial now
In regards to current events and societal polarization, Rodman Jenkins acknowledges that a class such as Race, Gender, and the Media is crucial.
When asked how she plans to help students of all majors and backgrounds speak professionally and empathetically on events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, Rodman Jenkins points towards listening and the power of insight.
“I would encourage students to listen, and to hear, and to process, and to know whatever it is people are sharing should be valued and heard. It’s important to recognize our own points of privilege and points of oppression; before we can look out we need to look inward,” she says.
She says it’s imperative for Newhouse students to grasp these skills to be able to successfully tell stories that are truthful.
“It goes back to how influential the media is. Students can make or break people depending on how they write, how they present information, how they edit videos,” she says. “This is a season of reckoning. We need to own up to our history of violence, exclusion, and own it for what it is. So given the history and all that needs to be undone, it starts with classes like Race, Gender, and the Media. It starts with us being bold and unafraid about these topics.”
When asked what she’s looking forward to the most, Rodman Jenkins says it’s the students’ potential to grow.
“There’s so many seeds that have been planted in the lives of these students,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing more growth in this area and watching students understand and listen to one another.”