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Visiting Media Professionals Help to Increase
Understanding of Diverse Cultures
MAILED: Nov. 19, 2001
EAU CLAIRE — In a country of immense diversity it is crucial that the media continually strive to represent minority groups in an unbiased and accurate fashion. This is a message the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is emphasizing through a journalist-in-residence program it launched this fall.
With the help of a $420,000 grant it received last year from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, UW-Eau Claire brought in two news media professionals, Lynette Nyman and Barbara Blackdeer-Mackenzie, to help communication and journalism students learn more about Hmong American and American Indian affairs during the 2001-02 school year.
Nyman covered Hmong affairs in the Twin Cities for Minnesota Public Radio during the past four years. Prior to that, she worked at Alabama Public Radio for a year.
Blackdeer-Mackenzie, an American Indian herself, worked with the presidential staff at Ho-Chunk Nation from September 1995 to November 1998 and from May 2000 to August 2001. During the interim period, she was the human resources director at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee.
American Indians and Hmong Americans are two of the largest minority groups in Wisconsin. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2000 population of American Indians and Alaska natives in Wisconsin was 47,228. There were 33,791 Hmong in Wisconsin in 2000, giving it the third highest Hmong population in the country behind California and Minnesota.
South Dakota State University also is participating in the program, which will run through the 2004-05 school year. Media representatives will return to UW-Eau Claire for the third year (2003-04) and stay at SDSU the second and fourth years (2002-03 and 2004-05).
A. David Gordon, communication and journalism department chair, and his longtime friend, SDSU journalism and mass communication department chair Richard Lee, began discussing the program in December 1999 at a convention in Memphis and wrote the grant soon after. UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Donald Mash endorsed it in April 2000.
During her time with the Ho-Chunk Nation, Blackdeer-Mackenzie said she discovered a general misunderstanding within the media in regard to tribal issues.
"A lot of coverage (of American Indian affairs) is negative or biased due to our involvement with gambling," Blackdeer-Mackenzie said. "Editors of major newspapers in Wisconsin would say, 'we have nothing against Indians, we just don't believe gambling is good for Wisconsin.'"
Blackdeer-Mackenzie said the media often overlook the improvements in the quality of life in American Indian communities as a result of profits generated from casinos. "Casinos have transformed many third-world nations into second- or first-class societies," she said.
According to Nyman, who won the Lincoln University (Mo.) Unity Award in 1998 for a series on the Hmong people in Minnesota titled "This is Home," two specific viewpoints hurt the media's coverage of minority groups.
"Diversity within minority groups is often overlooked," Nyman said. "When we (the media) work with the mainstream, we naturally get different points of view. But when we look at the Hmong, Hispanic or Latino communities we say, 'they're all the same.'"
Nyman said the second damaging stereotype is the idea that minority societies are completely different from the majority. "There may be differences, but we're all human first," she said.
For the fall semester, Blackdeer-Mackenzie is teaching four courses - "Public Relations," "Public Relations Campaigns," "Communication in the Information Age" and "Introduction to American Indian History and Cultures." She has been splicing American Indian topics into her courses and has found that many of her students are surprised with the complexity of the issues.
In the spring, Blackdeer-Mackenzie will teach a special topics course in communication and journalism, cross-listed with American Indian studies, titled "Communication in Diverse Communities."
Nyman hasn't discussed Hmong affairs in detail with students in the course she is teaching this semester, "Women and the Mass Media," but is looking forward to delving into Hmong issues next semester with students in her "Public Affairs Reporting" class.
UW-Eau Claire and SDSU will be holding a two-day workshop in the spring in the Twin Cities with local media, students and faculty from the two schools.
"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," he said, adding that students in areas other than journalism also will have an opportunity to learn more about these two communities and apply what they learn to areas such as public relations and organizational communications.
The ultimate goal of the program, according to Nyman, is challenging journalism students who are in the majority groups to think of American Indians and Hmong as part of their own society.
"My question is, when will 'the Hmong' become 'the American' in stories?" Nyman said. "When will 'the Hmong author' become just 'the author'? When will we make that leap?"
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Nov. 19, 2001