Reflections on DiverseU

I am a white, middle class woman from Salt Lake City, Utah, so I got a few doubtful looks when I told people I was coordinating a diversity event. After months of being immersed in diversity related issues, though, I’ve come to realize that diversity is more than a buzzword. Yes, I am a white middle class woman. However, not being Mormon in a state where Mormonism is the defining trait, I learned what being a minority feels like. I had friends whose parents didn’t like me because I wasn’t Mormon when I was only 8 years old. So my point to people who’ve asked me about why I coordinated DiverseU is that no matter who you are, you can be in the majority in one situation, and a minority in another. My overall goal for DiverseU was to help people understand their roles as both majorities and minorities.

It’s hard to tell if DiverseU accomplished this goal, though. We certainly had large crowds at some of our presentations, but this was often because teachers required their classes to go. Did students attend the presentations and then leave as quickly as possible, without actually hearing what the presenters said? Or, were they there originally for the grade, but left with a new perspective on diversity? Day of Dialogue, now DiverseU, is gearing up for its tenth year, so I know that it’s had enough of an impact to stick around. These conversations are important to have, but they are not as important as the action they should prompt.

Though I spoke of being both a majority and minority, I haven’t received racist comments like Native Americans have on our own campus. I certainly haven’t been bullied for being straight. I haven’t had to deal with accessibility issues in the snow. And I haven’t had to deal with PTSD while I take classes, like our veterans do.

In my opinion, the University of Montana has two issues: one, we don’t have a lot of diversity.    According to Forbes, 85% of the campus is white.  With a lack of diversity comes a lack of different perspectives, which worsens everyone’s learning experience. That said, our other issue is we don’t have the proper resources for those who do make our campus more diverse. The University of Montana has veterans, Native Americans, LGBTQI, and disabled students who contribute to our campus. I think that if we want to make the campus more diverse, we need to focus on improving the condition for those diverse groups who are already on campus.

Each of these groups need individual initiatives to improve their conditions and frankly, I’m not in the position to suggest what those initiatives should be. What campus needs to do is listen to these groups and their requests, and then do something about it. I may be biased, but I think DiverseU has the potential to be a venue for this; DiverseU is already a place for anyone to present his or her perspective on his or her own diversity related issue. The problem is that the administration, which has the power to make campus more inviting to all sorts of diverse groups, doesn’t attend these sessions. If we can start getting administration to listen to these perspectives, it would be better prepared to make changes on campus that would lead us to a truly diverse, welcoming community.

– Kathleen Stone, J-School student and one of the organizers of DiverseU

View from Wenatchee

Wilfred Woods and his son and Rufus run a family-owned newspaper.  The banner of The Wenatchee World proudly proclaims that it is “Published in the Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest.”  Since 1907, the Woods family has owned and operated the paper out of a brick building on North Mission Street in Wenatchee, WA.   Like lots of newspapers in this country, the World hovers between opportunity and a sea of trouble.

Circulation is holding steady at 17,000 readers.  That’s a significant drop from the 30,000 souls who once bought the paper.  Online readership is growing, Rufus says, and he’s trying to make that trend pay.  He has put in place a hard pay wall: if you want to read more than a couple of paragraphs of any article, you have to subscribe.  Many print analysts would say, that strategy won’t fly, because it will cut off The Wenatchee World from new readers who are not ready to pay.   

Father Wilfred jokes that he made a shrewd deal when he handed over control of the paper to his son Rufus in 1997, just before the Internet buzzsaw started to chew up the profits of traditional media.   Rufus Woods is convinced that the paper can survive.  But he’s not looking solely to a pay wall or a digital product for salvation.  He says, journalists need to be part of the communities they used to cover from the outside.   He’s starting to sponsor local events, not for the money, but as part of an effort to bolster the paper’s role in the community.   He says it’s not enough any more to stand apart and write stories about the divisions in this town.  The paper has to be part of the effort to heal those rifts.

I’m not sure how that strategy can work without compromising the objectivity good journalism rests upon.  But one thing I like about this family’s approach is that they are not complaining about the challenges they face, and they’re not whining about the end of journalism.”  They are experimenting, ducking punches and taking a few as they try to keep this family paper in the fight.

J Dean Larry Abramson

Election Day

Some of our UMJ students just finished covering the first election of their young careers.  Many may have also voted for the first time.  That means that they will be viewing the democratic process from two perspectives: from the inside, as a participant, and from the outside, as journalists.  It is not always easy to balance those roles.
I myself got to vote for members of Congress for the first time in 30 years.  No, I have not been shirking my civic duty. But I spent three decades living in the nation’s capital, and DC has no voting representation in Congress.  That is something folks outside the beltway may have forgotten.  So my votes on Tuesday for a US Senator and for a member of Congress from Montana mark a big change for me.  But those votes also make me a bit uncomfortable.
The truth is that as a journalist, I was never sure I wanted to vote.  Washington Post editor Len Downie set the standard by refusing to cast a ballot, saying that was the only way to remain an impartial arbiter of truth for such an important paper.  I did not quite go that far.  I voted for local offices in DC, and for DC’s demi-rep Eleanor Holmes Norton.  But I maintained an aura of objectivity and fairness by making sure no one could accuse me of taking any kind of public stand.  And I did enjoy the one superpower I had as a journalist: I could slam the door when fundraisers and petition-gatherers came knocking, muttering that as a reporter I could not get involved in that stuff.  Get off my lawn–I’m a journalist!
It was a handy way to remain above the fray, and out of the beltway shouting matches.  But I am not a reporter any more, so I guess it is time for me to get myself some opinions.  I am an academic, so perhaps it’s time to jump on some bandwagon. I am open to suggestions and have been searching Craigslist for options. ISO one strongly held opinion, along with a dog, a Subaru and some sort of hunting or fishing gadget so I can be a real Montanan.
J Dean Larry Abramson