Dr. Cornel West, the living legend Black intellectual, visited USF on Feb. 23. I was one of a few students lucky enough to enjoy an hourlong mixer event with West prior to his lecture about reparations for the Black descendents of enslaved Africans later that night.
During the pre-lecture event, the question of whether we currently have too much of a fixation on Black excellence came up. West’s response to this line of inquiry inspired me to write this story.
“Black success is not a surprise to me,” he said.
West explained he believes, for instance, that when someone becomes the first Black person to do something, our energy shouldn’t solely go to celebrating their achievement (though this reaction is understandable and necessary). We should also interrogate why there aren’t more Black folks in these spaces to begin with.
Give Black folks more access to opportunities and resources, West opined, and we’re bound to achieve great things.
I am a “first” myself. In December 2020, I became the first Black male editor in chief in this publication’s 119 year history. (Quick USF Black history lesson: Benice Atufunwa ‘07 paved the way for me back in 2005 when she became the first Black EIC). Applying the wisdom Dr. West dropped on me, it’s only right that I ask why it took this university’s school newspaper 102 years to have a Black person at the helm and 15 more years for it to happen again?
The answer is clear: The Foghorn has never had – and still doesn’t have – enough Black writers in the pipeline to become editors.
This is not to say the paper doesn’t cover important stories, that the staff isn’t diverse and sensitive to topics outside of their lived experience, or that there aren’t other groups on campus who are underrepresented in these pages, but we all have our blind spots, myself included.
Teresa Moore, media studies professor and Foghorn faculty advisor of 19 years who has seen many iterations of this paper come and go, often warned us during our pre-semester staff training sessions that people of marginalized groups tend to disappear from the pages of the Foghorn when there aren’t any people from those groups represented among our editors. But when those folks are represented, our coverage reflects that as well.
And it’s true. Since I left the Foghorn one and a half semesters ago in May 2021, there has only been one Black-centered news story, one Black-centered op-Ed, and two Black-centered Scene stories run in this paper. The News and Opinion stories I referenced were both written by Black writers and, as far as I can tell, only two other Black writers have been published in the Foghorn in that time span.
This dynamic isn’t new. We had even fewer Black writers engaged with the Foghorn when I was EIC, but we still managed to run eight Black-focused News stories, eight Black-focused Scene stories, and seven Black-focused Opinion pieces over the course of my semester in charge.
I want to be clear that I don’t raise these figures to insinuate that my peers at the paper have an anti-Black agenda – I know many of those still on staff personally and I am certain they would not intentionally leave Black stories out of the pages – but this does prove Professor Moore’s point and illustrates just how important representation at the editorial level is.
There’s a cliche saying in journalism that reporters write the first draft of history. Well, given Black History Month just passed, it’s especially concerning that at a time when USF has its largest African American student population in recent memory at 7%, the number of Black bylines and stories in our school paper doesn’t reflect that.
This is not to say non-Black writers cannot or should not cover Black issues at USF – in fact, stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to grow as a reporter – but, the Black perspective is a powerful one in our University community and I know my people have much to offer.
I recognize that it’s hard to carve out opportunities for others when you’re existing in a largely unprecedented space yourself. However, my biggest regret during my time in charge of the Foghorn remains failing to make space for more writers who look like me in this publication.
I encourage my former colleagues at the Foghorn to continue my work and launch some of the initiatives I aimed – but ultimately failed – to start during my semester as EIC. For instance, Professor Moore and I had plans to consult a focus group of Black students about how the Foghorn could better cover Black issues on campus and attract more Black writers. As EIC, I actively worked to regain the trust of our Black Student Union and convince them that we had responsible journalistic intentions when covering instances of Black trauma at USF. I encourage the current and future Foghorn staff to keep that dialogue open because the best way to know what’s going on in any community is to talk to the people who make it up.
I have written an op-ed for the Foghorn related to Black History Month (this one technically just missed the cut, but I’m still counting it in the spirit of Carter G. Woodson) all four of my years at USF. This year, I initially turned down the opportunity when I was asked to write, but then I thought: “If not me, then who?”
Soon, I will move on from USF. Before I go, I’d like to know, who will be the next Black journalist at USF to make sure our community is present in our paper of record? Whoever you are (and I know you’re out there), the Foghorn would be happy to have you, I would love to mentor (hopefully multiple of) you, and your University community needs you.
Black success in journalism at USF should not be a surprise.