Lehman and UNITY: Leveling the Playing Field
More than 100 New York journalists and media professionals joined Lehman College students, alumni and faculty March 28, for a reception at the university’s Multimedia Center, in anticipation of the UNITY 2012 Convention at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on August 1-4.
The event, hosted by both UNITY and Lehman, introduced the $16 million Multimedia Center to many wide-eyed communicators.
“I am so impressed by this state-of-the-art facility and the things you are giving back to the community that allows us to tell our stories … stories that are often neglected,” Unity President Joanna Hernandez told the crowd.
UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc. is a coalition of the four media organizations — the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Although the National Association of Black Journalists is having its own separate convention this year, many NABJ members also attended the Lehman reception.
“We care about diversity and inclusion in the news media,” said Hernandez, a multiplatform editor at The Washington Post. “Together, we advocate for fair and accurate coverage of people in our communities, and we also push for news companies to hire us at every level within their companies.”
Lehman administrators said “leveling the playing field” also is the university’s mission.
“Too often, higher education in this country is about the rich getting richer,” said Timothy Alborn, Lehman’s Dean of Arts and Humanities. “Access to the best facilities and the best faculty frequently comes with a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars. And this has never been the case at CUNY (City University of New York), which has always lived up to the ideal of leveling the playing field for hard-working and talented students regardless of class or color, by providing them with an excellent education at a relatively low cost.”
Alborn said the “tax-payer supported” Media Center and Lehman’s talented and experienced faculty provide “the best education in journalism and media studies that money can buy.”
In the past two years, Lehman opened the state-of-the-art multimedia facility and introduced two new majors – Multimedia Journalism and Multimedia Studies “designed to prepare our students to meet the challenges faced by 21st century media professionals.”
“By training this new generation of journalists here in the Bronx, we’re broadening the spectrum of stories that will be reported and voices that will be heard,” Alborn added.
Alborn credited Prof. Miguel Pérez, who chairs the Department of Journalism, Communication and Theatre, for providing “the vision for a lot of what you see down here … a lot of this would not be happening here today if it weren’t for him.”
Perez, a veteran journalist who joined the Lehman faculty in 2006, said it was the Multimedia Center that finally lured him to academia. “They put a hard hat on me and they walked me through this place when it was still under construction, and there were still wires dangling all over the place, and I was terribly afraid of getting electrocuted,” Perez recalled. “But it really was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I said YES! This is going to be my new playground.”
“But it was also because it was in the Bronx and I always felt the need to give back to my community,” Pérez added. “When I went into teaching, I wanted to do it in a place where we could really level the playing field for a disadvantaged and underserved community. And here we have the tools … to make that happen.”
Pérez said he felt confident that once the New York news media saw the Multimedia Center and met the “amazing faculty” teaching there, Lehman College’s undergraduate journalism program soon would be recognized as one of the best in the country.
“In the future, when our faculty sends you interns and new hires and they tell you, ‘I come from Lehman,’ you’ll have a different vision of journalism in the Bronx,” Pérez told the crowd.
“Journalism schools are all about reputation – you know that,” Perez added. “And tonight you are here because I need you to help me build a new reputation for Lehman College. I want you … to go out there and tell people what you saw here tonight and what we are teaching our students in this wonderful facility.”
Lehman College President Ricardo Fernandez, who spent most of the two-hour reception mingling with the crowd and viewing more than a dozen multimedia exhibits, spoke of the “fertilization that happens when you have academics and students in various disciplines and various departments collaborating with one another.”
He said the Multimedia Center is “a very unique place” because it creates such fertilization. “You have people here who are working as journalists,” Fernandez said. “You have others who are working in areas of music, scoring film, others who are working on animation, and they talk to one another and they interact with one another — this is the world we’re living in now.”
Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told Lehman students that the multilingual offerings in Lehman’s journalism program are, “What gives you folks an edge.”
Salcedo, an editor with Associated Press in Washington, noted that “English-language print and English-language broadcast is not doing so hot these days. But Spanish-language [media] is growing and the fact that you are being trained bilingually in all platforms is going to give you a huge, huge advantage.”
Two blogs covered the reception, Malavé on the Media and Queens Latino: