The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication has selected a University of Mississippi journalism professor as the winner of the 2023 Robert P. Knight Multicultural Recruitment Award.
R.J. Morgan, instructional associate professor in the School of Journalism and New Media, will be honored with the award at the annual AEJMC conference in Washington, D.C. on August 8.
Along with teaching journalism and integrated marketing communications students at Ole Miss, Morgan has served as the director of the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association for the past 10 years.
“I am so very thankful for the leadership of Dr. Morgan through MSPA, and I believe he is one of the main reasons why Murrah has become so involved with journalism education, especially in the past ten years,” said Sarah Ballard, student media advisor for Murrah High School in Jackson.
“He has made it a point to reach out to us and pull us into the conversation by encouraging us to enter our literary magazine and yearbook into the MSPA’s yearly competitions. He has also encouraged my students to submit to Journalist of the Year among other categories and asked me to serve on the board for MSPA to make sure Murrah has a voice at the table.”
The Mississippi Scholastic Press Association supports and promotes journalism in a high school setting through workshops, competitions, conventions and online aids and advice. Membership is open to any Mississippi school that has a newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine, online publication, broadcast and/or journalism class. More than 400 students attend the two annual conferences. The University of Mississippi hosts their spring conference and the University of Southern Mississippi hosts the fall conference.
Under Morgan’s leadership, MSPA conference keynote speakers have included the award-winning Black southern writer Kiese Laymon, FedEx Global Citizenship Manager Rose Flenorl Jackson and award-winning journalist and author of the first novel featuring The Black Panther superhero, Jesse Holland. Ballard said Morgan’s efforts to diversify the speaker line-up has a profound impact on students.
“I especially recall when Kiese Laymon was the speaker for the spring convention in Oxford and what an unbelievable impact that made on my students of color to hear from someone who spoke and dressed and looked like them,” said Ballard. “As we know, representation matters, so for Dr. Morgan to continually strive to bring out diverse perspectives in the leadership, the speakers, and the awards that are presented means that he is dedicated to the goal of creating a welcoming and diverse community for Mississippi journalism education.”
Donna Ladd, editor and CEO of the Mississippi Free Press and Mississippi Journalism and Education Group has seen firsthand how MSPA has changed the landscape of scholastic journalism in the state.
“Last fall, R.J. asked me to facilitate solution circles for MSPA students at the University of Southern Mississippi MSPA convention where, frankly, I expected to see mostly white journalism students like in the old days,” said Ladd. “I was so wrong. Due to R.J.’s leadership, the gathering and our circles were extremely diverse leading to rich and unexpected conversations from teenagers from across the state—all related in one way or another to diversity, equity and inclusion in journalism and or in the communities the young journalists live in. It was outstanding and inspiring.”
To further promote diversity in scholastic media programs, Morgan makes regular classroom visits to schools in underserved communities, and he has raised funds to offer every journalism teacher in Mississippi a free Journalism Education Association (JEA) membership, something especially important for schools with few resources as JEA boasts an extensive curriculum supplement for teachers.
Morgan was nominated by Associate Dean Debora Wenger.
“When hundreds of Mississippi high school students descend on the University of Mississippi campus, the audience will more closely reflect the reality that is the state and the country,” said Wenger. “Dr. Morgan deserves credit for his tireless dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion in the MSPA.”