Explaining President Obama’s Diversity References To This Diversity Teacher

President Obama’s second inaugural address sent many like me looking for a better understanding of why he made mention of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. I have my answer and expect more from two journalism leaders Wednesday at University of Alabama.

We’ve just held a national celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and watched the inauguration of the nation’s first biracial president to a second term.

Could there be any bigger diversity stories to top these?

Well, yes,  President Obama’s references to Stonewall and Seneca Falls in his inaugural address sent me looking for answers.

” We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” Obama said.

So, what was he talking about?     I had heard of Stonewall and it’s connection to the gay rights movement.  But, that’s about all I knew until now.

Seneca Falls, New York was the site of  what’s considered the first women’s rights convention in 1848.

At least one Michigan Ph.D. candidate provided some context for Obama’s references.  Austin McCoy suggested the references were a clear sign of what some have called “identify politics,” often associated with those who lean liberal or left of center.

“Obama’s remarks represent a significant moment for people of color, women, and gays and lesbians” McCoy wrote in a post today.  “They are a reflection of these left-oriented movements’ enduring legacy and power.”

Thanks to National Public Radio’s Liz Halloran, I now have a better understanding of the story behind these places, especially Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City.

Stonewall Inn

Mission for More– Wednesday with NLGJA Executive Director

How appropriate that as I am learning more about the president’s speech, I will have the executive director of National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association along with the Asian American Journalists Association in my Communication and Diversity class on Wednesday.

I look forward to hearing what they have to say about the speech.

No Better Lesson
But this whole experience perfectly illustrates the power of journalists and the media to expand our scope of understanding about issues of diversity and difference.

Monday here in Tuscaloosa, I was learning about the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa involving mostly African Americans.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be hearing about a movement for human rights for those who are in the lesbian and gay community.

So my own horizons have been expanded so that I can pass it along to the students in my class.    It’s what makes teaching this subject such a joy!

Dale Long, Ron Mott Reflect Media Change Worth Watching

The February 23, 2011 story of Dale Long as reported by NBC News’ Ron Mott as part of the second year of THE GRIO 100, represented progress in the effort to diversity both media images and the conveyors/producers of those images.

As a regular viewer of NBC Nightly News’ podcast on iTunes, I wasn’t expecting to see the story of Dale Long,  a Dallas, Texas man who has been mentoring young men for as long as I have been living.

Grio.com Photo of Dale Long, featured as one THE GRIO 100

Tonight, NBC Correspondent Ron Mott told his story in the latest installment of NBC’s multi-platform commitment to telling stories of African American making history NOW, a collaborative effort with the African-American targeted Web site,  The GRIO

You have to see the story of Dale Long and his fraternity brothers in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. who have embarked on an ambitious effort to recruit Big Brothers for 7,000 young men.

As we saw in tonight’s story, A-Phi-A’s Barbershop Mentoring Initiative reaches beyond the men of the black and gold.  In the story, you saw those from other historically black fraternities also stepping up to be mentors.

The idea of mentoring is not unique.  But, the national commitment made by A-Phi-A  along with Big Brothers Big Sisters and other groups such 100 Black Men of America, an organization to which I belong, is rarely depicted in such a positive way on network television news.

The Power of the Storyteller

But, this particular news story was about more than just the initiative that Dale Long was doing.  It was also about the storyteller.

NBC Correspondent Ron Mott Joined NBC News in May of 2005, a few months before he was cast into a major role reporting on Hurricane Katrina

You see, the reporter, Ron Mott, an African American himself, was serving as a role model for other African American men who are watching the news and may believe they too can tell stories like Dale Long’s.

As has been reported elsewhere online, Mott made a name for himself in much of his Post-Hurricane Katrina reporting for the nation’s top news network.

Covering NBC’s Southeast bureau, he followed in the footsteps of Fredericka Whitfield (a fellow Howard alumnus I might, add) who moved over to CNN a decade ago.

Tale of Two Rons

While I’ve never met Ron, his reporting reminds me a lot of another African American male reporter at NBC,  Ron Allen.    Their voices even sound alike.

Lately, you see Ron Allen filing stories from overseas.  Most recently, he was behind the nightly (and morning) coverage of  the unrest in Egypt.  This freeze frame from MSNBC shows one of his updates earlier this month.

My point in mentioning NBC’s two Rons is to highlight the network has shown the role models about which many have been talking for years– as representative of ALL Of America when it comes to those in the audience for many of these news programs.

At NBC, Lester Holt, another African American man would be another example.

But, tonight’s story about the work of one African American man and his historically black fraternity told by another African American man shows the power of both story and storyteller to reflect CHANGE that has been a long time coming at the top levels of  broadcast news industry.

We won’t even mention who might be happen behind the scenes in the effort to diversify our media presentation of reality.

GRIO- NBC effort: Round 2

The fact is– there are a number of African American journalists and my fellow media workers among the 2011 installment of GRIO 100, a cross-platform effort by NBC News, and other on-air networks along with his sister niche Web site, The GRIO (all soon-to-be Comcast subsidiaries).

Mark Luckie, the author The Digital Journalist’s Handbook (a textbook we use in our multimedia classes here at Alabama) is also among them. Luckie (seen at the right) is now on staff at The Washington Post as their innovations editor.

Bill Burton,  the first African-American to hold a senior-level position in the White House’s press office is also featured in GRIO 100.

Like President Obama, Burton is the son of a black father and white mother.

This is the second year that NBC and THEGRIO have done this project.

The 2010 list is still online.   They are fascinating stories worth further study and stand as a shining example of diversity in media portrayals.

Doing the Right Thing When Race Is An Issue On Your Campus

The University of Alabama is making headlines after a racial slur was used by one UA student to another student. Beyond acknowledging the incident and disciplining the offending student, the University must intensify its efforts to provide racial and cultural sensitivity training.

Less than three months since it dedicated the Malone Hood Plaza, a monument to those who broke the racial barrier in obtaining admission to the University of Alabama, the state’s flagship public institution is making headlines again for a not-so-positive incident involving race.

Word came Saturday in an e-mail sent to the University community from President Robert Witt of a racial slur that was used by one student to another student.

Reports late Sunday evening on The Tuscaloosa News‘ Web site  indicated the incident happened Friday afternoon as a graduate student was walking near the Delta Tau Delta social fraternity house.  Some apparently called out, “Hey, n____r.”


In this latest news report, the student, whose name has not officially been released by the University due to privacy laws, said

“The University of Alabama has a long history of racism, past racism and current racism, and for me to let it go would be condoning it…Silence equals consent… You can’t fix something no one knows about.”

But, the University has been anything but silent  The quick response is perhaps the best indication that administrators here get it when it comes to not being silent.

“I want to emphasize in the strongest possible terms that the University of Alabama finds this behavior totally unacceptable and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken,” Witt said in his e-mail the UA community on Saturday.

Still, even with the swift response, this is negative publicity we at the University of Alabama don’t need, especially when an effort has been made to show that  UA is an inclusive environment with one of the most diverse student bodies in the Southeastern Conference, 47 years after the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.

The student’s experience was first reported Sunday afternoon in a Birmingham News blog update on al.com

Inclusiveness Can’t Erase Ignorance

Even though the University is inclusive when it comes to admissions, hiring and all aspects of its operation, that does not mean that every one of our more than 30,000 students has been properly educated when it comes to racial and cultural sensitivity.

That’s where we as faculty have to come in.   It’s sad that in 2011, we still have people who don’t know the “n-word” is not something you use when referring to anyone.

But, this type of work goes beyond the University of Alabama grounds.

Ironically, this Monday, I will be one of the moderators for a six-week series of cross-cultural exchanges.   These action groups are part of the Tuscaloosa Race Relations Initiative.

My action group to be held at the McDonald-Hughes Center in West Tuscaloosa will involve white, African American and Tuscaloosa residents whose first language is Spanish.

Here at UA, the response to this weekend’s incident has to go beyond just punishment or discipline of the individual student.    It is a cry for more formalized sensitivity training and diversity education.

The action groups we’re conducting for the Tuscaloosa Race Relations Initiative represent one strategy that can be employed.

Doing the Right Thing in the Classroom

As a faculty member, I will take the first step in this effort to EDUCATE our students on Monday when I meet my Communication and Diversity class, a junior-senior level class of students majoring in public relations, broadcast news, advertising and media production.

We’ll look at the crisis that confronts our University and how the media have responded in covering the incident this weekend.

We’ll also take a moment to talk about how any organization should respond when this type of thing happens.

Just like the November opening of Malone-Hood Plaza, incidents like these where race is a central issue require us as faculty to find the teachable moment and combat ignorance with information.

That’s the RIGHT THING To DO.

Elon School of Communications Says What It Means and Means What It Says

The fact that Elon University’s School of Communications showcases its core principles and values on an iPad is just one indication of how this journalism and mass communication program has positioned itself for the future.

ELON, N.C.– If you’ve spent any time visiting parts of the Elon University School of Communications, one of the things you notice is the bright colors and the “cutting edge” look of the building.

But, the explicit list of what the dozens of faculty and staff who work here believe is especially striking.

Nowadays with brand new buildings like those of the Cronkite School at Arizona State or the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of Oklahoma,  it’s not that uncommon to have a new facility.

Taking nothing away from ASU or OU,  but having visited both,  I see the facilities here Elon are reflective of a “way of life” in this School that clearly is remarkable.  

My colleague, Rich Landesberg, was kind enough to give Dr. Sunny Smith of Jackson State University and I a personal tour of  McEwen Hall so we could see the facilities.

One of the common elements in the classrooms is a posting of “The Elon Eleven,” a catchy statement of principles.  But, it’s not just that statement– but the fact that it’s presented on an iPad that is impressive.     How cutting edge can you be?

Can you think of another School of Communications in the nation where they present their core values and competencies on an iPad?

Does it mean that Elon is in Apple’s back pocket?  Or, is it a recognition of the significance of the tablet PC as a technological tool for communications in the future?

“The tools of Technology” is one core competencies that Elon emphasizes.

Many of the other ten areas: writing, truth, diversity, ethics, theory, history, freedom, creativity, data and research were evident in many of the things I heard this weekend at the Broadcast Education Association District II Conference held here in McEwen Hall.

From a rich discussion about Elon’s award-winning effort to achieve all types of diversity within its school to is offering technical training to its students on such updated software as Adobe’s Digital Creative Suite 5 to a Schoolwide iPad Initiative,  the folks here are clearly practicing what they preach.

We can sometimes put on a good show when there are visitors around (and in fact, the BEA Conference was not the only special event happening in the Comm Building this weekend), but it’s another when you can see this is an everyday thing.

From what I could see this weekend, I think this is an EVERYDAY thing here at Elon.

There are definitely some things for all of us in journalism/mass communication education to learn.