The GSP exam is a barrier for Latinx students pursuing a journalism major

by Charlie Vargas, Staff Writer

The Daily Aztec has published various stories on the barriers upheld by the Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation test. Each evaluation brings a valid point to a conversation worth having, but one that is lacking is the obstacle it produces for Latinx students seeking to become journalists. 

For those unfamiliar with the GSP, it is a test that used to require a score of 80% for admission into the School of Journalism and Media Studies. Grammar and punctuation rules in the Spanish language are very different from that in the English language. It makes the test more difficult for students whose primary or first language is not English. That passing score was reduced  to 77% on Sept. 23, according to notifications sent to students by the journalism department.

Why did the department decrease the score needed to pass the test? Because only 12% of students who took the exam in the 2018-19 school year passed it. The highest pass rate seen in recent years was during the 2014-15 school year, when 19% of students passed.

Prospective journalism students get three chances to take the exam, but many end up ultimately having to petition to get into the major. Of the students who have to petition, it is not uncommon to end up having to change major programs completely.

The GSP requirement fails to assess the complexity of Latinx students looking to get into the JMS programs. Some students are first-generation, others are DACA recipients and for many, English is their second language. English being a student’s second language can be a major barrier when it comes to test-taking. 

In an academic journal by George C. Bunch titled, “Latinos, Language Minority Students, and the Construction of ESL: Language Testing and Placement From High School to Community College,” Bunch seeks to explain the different obstacles Latinx students face within test-taking.  

Bunch writes, “Although a wide variety of factors influence students’ progression from high school into 2- and 4-year institutions, English proficiency is often considered to be one of the primary challenges for immigrant students and the children of immigrants. Because of unequal educational opportunities in K-12 schools, as well as the length of time it takes to develop the English language proficiency necessary to succeed in mainstream academic settings, the language demands of college-level work often present daunting challenges for language minority students.”

NewsCenter, a campus news source operated by the university, recently wrote about San Diego State’s recognition for their commitment to diversity. Although SDSU reached this achievement on paper, there is plenty more room for improvement, and the JMS department is in dire need of diversity— and not just in Latinx representation. 

If there were more more Latinx faculty in theJMS department, the GSP might have been a more obvious concern. Diversity matters within institutions because it affects students who lack a voice of representation at the decision-making table. 

The GSP requirement by the school of JMS is complicit in providing a tremendous disservice to its Latinx JMS students and the newsrooms of San Diego and beyond. In 2018, the American Society of News Editors annual survey found that 17% of journalists for Voice of San Diego were Latinx as opposed to the 75 percent being white. The census data showed that whites only make up 43 percent of San Diego while Latinx people only make up 30 percent of the reported census. Voice of San Diego is a smaller newsroom but unfortunately for the survey, no other San Diego media outlet participated in the study.

San Diego is a border city, and the JMS department should have more than a couple of classes and faculty that invest in assembling students who are equipped to report on the communities that are familiar to them.  

If Latinx JMS students are also bilingual, they could be part of a news culture that cross-produces in two different languages. They could interview sources who may only speak one language, and the journalists would have the capabilities to translate into another. Latinx JMS students upon acceptance into the major would have the capacity of integrating into both American and Latinx media and would vastly offer an increase in Latinx representation. The GSP may not even be relevant to students from Spanish-speaking countries if their intent is to solely report in Spanish. Yet, this isn’t taken into account when admitting the next generation of journalists into the school of JMS.

Newsroom diversity should be addressed, but the systemic role of educational institutions should also be a focus. As newsrooms across the country aim to diversify their newsrooms with limited results, it begs the question of where SDSU’s School of JMS stands. Will SDSU’s JMS program produce more diverse journalism students who might make it into other newsrooms facing a shortage of diversity around the country? Or will that door remain shut for its Latinx students?

There may be other Latinx journalists filling these roles, perhaps through alternative routes, but in retrospect, SDSU’s JMS department is on a path that is ineffective in assuring that its education provides a pipeline of opportunity for Latinx students to achieve success. 

Charlie Vargas is a senior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieVargas19.