MAILED: Sept. 28, 2000
With $420,000 in funding from a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant, journalism students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and South Dakota State University will have the opportunity to learn more about Native American and Hmong communities.
The four-year grant, written by A. David Gordon, communication and journalism department chair at UW-Eau Claire, and Richard Lee, journalism and mass communication department chair at SDSU, will allow visiting news media professionals to alternate annually between the campuses. The visiting professional need not be American Indian or Hmong, but must possess a strong understanding of their traditions and cultures, Gordon said.
"This newsroom professional will work with the current faculty through courses and cocurricular activities that will teach our students how to cover American Indian and Hmong issues sensitively and knowledgeably," Gordon said. He noted that representation of these two communities to mainstream America has been inconsistent, at best.
The program, which is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2001 and run through the 2004-05 academic year, is the first effort to bring together two similar universities to prepare their graduates to deal with an increasingly diverse society.
In a letter of support, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association said, "This program will equip (UW-Eau Claire and SDSU's) graduates to move into positions in state and regional publications with greater knowledge of, and sensitivity to, diversity concerns that will certainly grow in importance during the coming decade."
At both universities, the visiting professional will spearhead efforts to attract American Indian and Hmong students into the journalism programs and will work with the newspaper associations in both states to help newsrooms do a better job of covering American Indian and Hmong issues.
This person also may be involved in outreach to high schools and tribal colleges, working with the staff at the student newspapers, or serving as a guest expert for workshops and conventions, Gordon said. "The possibilities are endless we'll tailor our program to the strengths of whomever visits us."
The two universities also plan to organize an annual workshop in the Twin Cities, involving local media, the visiting faculty member, and students and faculty from both campuses. "The workshop will allow students and faculty from both campuses to learn from each other," Gordon said. "They'll have an opportunity to exchange perspectives and discuss techniques for improving the coverage of the American Indian and Hmong communities."
Gordon says the benefits of the program are twofold. "It will greatly enhance the skills of our graduates, and it also will bring more attention and sensitivity to diversity concerns in the journalism profession."
Lee and Gordon, who have known each other for more than 30 years, first discussed the proposal idea last December at a convention in Memphis.
"We were delighted to have been selected it makes a statement about how an outside constituency views the quality of our journalism program," Gordon said, noting that most of the faculty endowments from the Knight Foundation have gone to major research universities in the past.
"It will be a great experience for journalism students and faculty from our universities to work together and learn from each other," Lee said. "Both programs realize the importance of training journalists who are sensitive to reporting the whole community, not just parts of it. This grant give us another push in making sure that happens."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 28, 2000