The College Faculty committee passed an Educational Plans and Policies Committee proposal on Wednesday to establish a journalism concentration at Oberlin. The motion passed with 49 out of 51 committee members’ approval and is currently set to begin in fall 2020. Although Oberlin has a long history of producing successful journalists, this is the institution’s first formal academic program in journalism.
Proposed by John C. Reid Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition and English Jan Cooper, Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Laurie McMillin, and Professor of Hispanic Studies Sebastiaan Faber, the integrative concentration will combine academic coursework with co-curricular experiences.
“I am very happy that the proposal passed with so much support from our colleagues,” Faber said.
The concentration has been a long time coming and will require students to take five journalism-focused courses, engage in one semester of on-campus co-curricular work, complete a professional experience such as a summer internship, submit of an electronic portfolio of journalistic work, and write a post-concentration reflection. Faculty in the Rhetoric and Composition program are set to oversee the concentration, coordinating courses with Creative Writing, Cinema Studies, and other departments and programs.
Classes that will fulfill the course requirements include Journalism Basics, Writing in the Sciences, and Literary Journalism, as well as classes throughout other departments feature a journalism component.
According to McMillin, the integrative approach adds a practical, hands-on component for students interested in pursuing journalism at Oberlin and beyond.
“We have the Rhetoric [and Composition] minor, but this has that experiential part,” McMillin said. “In addition to writing for a student publication, interested students will engage in at least one internship in their field of choice, providing them with real-world experience.”
The first step towards implementation for fall 2020 for will be compiling a list of qualifying courses across academic departments and programs.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Faber said. “Most of the courses we already teach here.”
Some professors have reached out with additional course ideas that would fulfill requirements for the concentration, such as Research Methods I, Introduction to Music Journalism, and Sociology of Popular Culture.
“I think that it’s important that it isn’t a major,” McMillin said, referencing her hope to instill strong writing skills in future journalists, regardless of their area of focus. “I think that it should be allied with another field.”
Associate Dean of Students and Executive Director of the Career Development Center Dana Hamdan feels that the Career Communities program can add another layer of support for the new concentration — including funded internships — that will ensure students are prepared to pursue careers in journalism.
“The integration between the two can and should be seamless, allowing students to put their liberal arts education into practice,” Hamdan wrote in an email to the Review.
The concentration could also increase student interest in coming to Oberlin. In a 2018 survey, 44 percent of returning students and 38 percent of prospective students had a high curricular interest in a journalism program.
“I tried to carve a journalism path for myself here, and I think that if I would have had institutional support, I definitely would have taken advantage of it,” said Molly Bryson, College fourth-year and editor-in-chief of The Grape.
Oberlin has a long history of graduating successful journalists. In a survey of Oberlin alumni who graduated from 1970 to 2009, 5.8 percent reported a career in writing, while 1.7 percent reported working in TV or radio. Journalist alumni include NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich, OC ’69, Fox Sports 1 commentator Chris Broussard, OC ’90, and chief White House correspondent for The New York Times Peter Baker, OC ’88, among others.
The skills that journalism teaches, Faber argued, are beneficial no matter what students ultimately pursue as a career. According to Faber, these abilities include writing a good lede, negotiating with editors, and communicating effectively.
McMillin shared that she hopes the concentration will add an extra layer to all students’ education.
“[Students] get a wonderful education and wonderful experience,” she said. “And I want them to be able to share that with the world.”