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Diversity and Race Feature Prominently at AEJMC Convention

Nearly 1,800 journalism educators gathered in Washington D.C., last week for the 90th annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference, an event packed with programming examining numerous facets of journalism teaching and practice.

The AEJMC conference featured a strong diversity track, with forum titles like “Minority Media Ownership and Advocacy: A Status Report” and “Silences and Omissions: What the Black Press Did Not Cover.”

Another forum, titled “Teaching Diversity Excellence: Best Practices and Challenges,” brought together a number of communications scholars who discussed addressing race in the classroom. Dr. Dwight E. Brooks, chairman of the Department of Mass Communications at Jackson State University and an African-American, spoke about his scholarship in the area of White identity. He argued that White is a race and has been overlooked as such. He notes, for example, that the term “people of color” implies that White is not a color.

“Do I teach Whiteness? Of course I do,” Brooks said. “It’s a part of understanding race. What is wrong with ‘people of color’? It reinforces the invisibility of Whiteness.”

Dr. Scott Fosdick, a White professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San José State University, also touched on the subject of race during the conference. He related a story about a chronically late Black student in an otherwise all-White class he taught at the University of Missouri. Fosdick said other than affecting her classroom performance, he was concerned that her frequent tardiness reinforced for the White students the negative stereotype of “Colored people’s time.”

Though Fosdick said he braced for a backlash when he sat down and talked with his habitually tardy student, she was never late again and they developed a good relationship. He stressed to AEJMC attendees the importance of “saying things the right way.”

“If you feel uncomfortable about race, get over it. If you still feel uncomfortable, so what,” he said. “Keep talking about it — you’ll be better off. I think a White teacher can be a good mentor to people of all races. Just be honest.”

A number of notable journalists were on hand to inspire participants, including longtime PBS investigative reporter Bill Moyers and veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who was presented with the AEJMC First Amendment Award recognizing dedication to freedom of the press and courageous journalism.

Thomas’s six-decade career has spanned six presidential administrations, and her watchdog-journalism approach has caused many presidents to wince at her questions during press conferences. In her acceptance speech at the conference, she noted that she thoroughly excoriated current President George W. Bush for his handling of the current conflict in Iraq.

Thomas also reminded journalists in the crowd that they are “not in this profession to be loved” and “the people can handle the truth, and they deserve no less.”

–David Pluviose

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