School of Journalism Dean David Kurpius spoke to several classes of journalism students this week about the recent events on campus and how the school will act moving forward to cultivate a more diverse environment.
In a talk with a Principles of American Journalism class on Tuesday afternoon, Kurpius discussed First Amendment rights and steps the School of Journalism is taking to diversify the school’s faculty and staff. Kurpius also took questions from students.
“I’m deeply saddened and quite honestly a little bit shocked at the racist events and the anti-Semitic events just in the four months since I came here,” Kurpius said. “And I think we have a lot of work to do.”
The dean talked about the School of Journalism’s plans for the future. Kurpius highlighted the plan to hire new staff members from different backgrounds and invite guest speakers to talk about diversity.
“We’re trying to diversify our faculty,” Kurpius said. “One of your peers reminded me today, and I’m very appreciative of this, that we need to do that not just for African-Americans, but also for Hispanic faculty and we need to think more broadly of that.”
Kurpius also spoke to the Cross-Cultural Journalism class earlier in the day and the Career Explorations in Journalism class on Monday.
“What I’m trying to do is get around to as many journalism students as possible because I think you should hear from your dean about what the j-school is doing,” Kurpius said.
Kurpius discussed the First Amendment as a core value of the School of Journalism, particularly in the context of recent events. He said that rights of protesters are just as important when confronting injustice and in democratic engagement as journalists.
“What is missing is that there’s freedom of speech, there’s freedom of assembly, there’s freedom of religion and there’s freedom to address grievances against the government, the one that nobody ever seems to remember,” Kurpius said. “Three of those are what the protesters were doing: speech, assembly and grievances.”
Kurpius responded to the highly-publicized incident on Nov. 9 when ESPN photographer and MU senior Tim Tai clashed with protesters over the declared media-free zone at the campsite on Carnahan Quad. He commended Tai for his level of professionalism while standing up for respect, journalism and the first amendment. He also recognized the complexity of the incident and the difficulty in jumping to conclusions since he did not see what occurred behind-the-scenes.
“I know that because of the lack of trust in general between communities of color and journalists in the way that things have been covered that there is a tension point there,” Kurpius said. “I understand why the protesters wanted a safe space. I can’t see what was off-camera, so I don’t know what was happening there, but I respect the need to create some level of safety there.”
When asked about Melissa Click, a communications professor in the College of Arts and Sciences who attempted to keep Tai away from the campsite, Kurpius once again emphasized the complexity of the issue.
“I do not condone the acts of the faculty member that was out there,” Kurpius said. “But I also understand that she’s been out there for more than a week supporting students in the protest and helping them and that’s a great thing to do. It’s not as simple as ‘Oh, she’s horrible, we should get rid of her because she didn’t stand up for journalism.’ It’s more complex than that.”
Kurpius outlined actions the School of Journalism has taken in the past and will continue to work on to make it more inclusive. He discussed the required Cross-Cultural Journalism class, a class that demands difficult conversations and teaches about people of various backgrounds, and talked about the Diversity Summit that made bathrooms more open to transgender students.
“This sounds like a really big step,” Kurpius said. “Truly, it was so easy. These are single-stall bathrooms. We changed the sign. Who wouldn’t change the sign and make it so that anybody could use the bathroom that they felt was the appropriate one given the gender they identify with? It doesn’t threaten anybody else because if it’s a single-stall bathroom; you should be in there alone.”
Kurpius advised students to take advantage of the lessons from influential journalists recognized at the Missouri Honor Medal ceremony last month who worked toward the cause of diversity.
“We have diverse people coming in,” Kurpius said. “The key is you have to take advantage of it.”
Kurpius asked that students work to hold each other up and not tear each other down, as he said he’s seen many times on social network sites such as Yik Yak.
“Let’s be the people holding it up and bat down the viciousness,” Kurpius said. “One of the values that I have and you should have as well is that when you see acts of discrimination, acts of racism, of hatred, that you don’t let it stand, that you stand up against it. If each one of us just did that once, it would be a huge change in what’s happening in this country.”
Kurpius expressed his concern about student recruitment to MU moving forward.
“I’m a little worried about what it means for recruiting students of color and diverse people to the campus for the next couple of years,” Kurpius said. “I had a student ask me a couple weeks ago--fair question, she’s a student of color. Why she should convince some of her peers who are still in high school to come here? The answer is very simple: best journalism school, and you can’t change something if you don’t come be part of it.”