Panel of black journalists discusses discrimination

Thursday, September 11, 2008 | 6:31 p.m. CDT; updated 5:59 p.m. CST, Friday, December 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — As the 75-minute panel wore on, a hard truth began to emerge: Black students at the MU School of Journalism faced discrimination 30 years ago, and they still face challenges today.

Five black graduates of the School of Journalism met Thursday morning as part of the school's centennial celebration to discuss those challenges and to offer advice to current students struggling with their own challenges.


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Several of the panelists said the first challenge was adjusting to a predominately white campus.

"Was it a bite in the butt?" asked Corrice Collins, former stations operations manager for WBBM-TV in Chicago. "Of course it was."

Collins said people at MU often told him that he wasn't right for the journalism school.

"One professor here told me I didn't belong," Collins said. "It still hurts."

But within a year, Collins said, he had a "posse" that supported him not only during school but throughout life.

Kia Breaux, acting bureau chief for The Associated Press in Missouri and Kansas, said the major challenges she faced during her education at MU were racial but that it was a learning experience that ultimately prepared her for the real world.

Like Collins, she credited others, most notably the black faculty and Missourian editors, for helping her overcome the obstacles.

"If I'd not had that, I don't know if I would have made it, to be honest," Breaux said.

Mark Russell, managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel, shared one piece of advice that helped him survive MU: "Several people told me that when you get to campus, when you get to the journalism school, you have to take the attitude that other people have the equal opportunity to be as good as you."

Students today should be able to use what they learn at the journalism school to thrive in their professions, said Gail Baker, dean of the College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

"What I learned I have been able to transfer to every environment," Baker said. "You learn how not just to cope but to really flourish in (a predominately white) environment."

A few of the panelists, and some of the audience members, questioned why racial challenges were still a problem in universities and in society.

"Why are we talking about this in 2008?" Collins asked the room. "(Racism) shouldn't exist anymore."

Art Holliday, co-anchor and executive producer of KSDK-TV in St. Louis, said the reality is that racial challenges will exist for years to come.

"Everybody's got to develop their own toolbox for dealing with these challenges," he said.

The panelists' stories of struggles and successes inspired many current journalism students who attended.

"I learned that I should be (confident) from here on out," said freshman Kam Phillips. "And I will be."

Freshman Laura Janvier shared similar sentiments.

"Just getting accepted to MU should show us that we're qualified," Janvier said. "Hearing (the panelists') stories makes me aware that I can do this."



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