Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, Ken Trevarthan, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, Ill. — Lauren Thomas had a personal question after she transferred to Eastern Illinois University from Harold Washington Community College in Chicago.
Being an African-American woman, she wondered why other students of her race come to Eastern in downstate Illinois. Weren't there other colleges where they might share their educational experiences with more people of color?
She had a unique way of answering that question after she got a cordial welcome at the recruiting desk for a student publication on campus. She ended up doing a news story for Fresh!, the student newspaper formerly known as Minority Today at Eastern. Now she is a staff writer for Fresh!.
"That was my first story for Fresh!. Historically, black colleges and universities have drawn more students. But I found out most students today don't want to be stuck in that box of where they have to go for college," Thomas explained.
Fresh! gets outside the box as a publication staffed mostly by students of color. It is offering a different perspective on university and community life, said Dana Jackson, editor in chief of Fresh!.
"I want to influence the lifestyles of people who come in contact with Fresh!. A lot of people don't understand how important it is to have a paper like Fresh! at Eastern," Jackson said.
Just the recent name change to "Fresh!" shows how the publication staffed mostly by black students is evolving. For nearly 30 years, Minority Today served as a jumping off point for black students interested in journalism or professional writing careers. It was created by the late Jim Saunders, the first black journalism instructor at Eastern, to give African-American students a chance to work outside a mostly white college newsroom until they honed their skills and confidence.
"That was Jim's brainchild. He said having a publication on campus for students of color would help them learn the news business and help the journalism industry by bringing in more black journalists into newsrooms," said Dave Reed, who taught in and headed the Eastern journalism department for 30 years before retiring in 2004.
"He said it was intimidating for some students to go into a newsroom filled only with white kids," Reed said. "The journalism department also wanted to help the newspaper industry find more black journalists trained in colleges. Papers couldn't see America as it looked back then. You couldn't get the perspective of people of color with only white reporters."
Fresh! is already demonstrating a fresh start on how the publication is perceived by the Eastern community.
"Anyone can write for us. And that is why some of the students wanted a change in the name because 'minority' is not a term people of color appreciate. They felt there was nothing 'minor' about them," said Janice Collins, current faculty adviser for Fresh! and an assistant journalism professor.
"When we were talking about a change of the name I suggested we try a 'fresh start' with new ideas and perspectives. That's how it came about. To me the new name opens it up for everyone to enjoy."
A typical issue of Fresh!, periodically inserted into the Daily Eastern News, might have stories on women's issues, different cultures, lifestyles and events or issues pertaining to the campus community. Collins said similar subjects were prevalent in black publications during the last century.
"Black publications historically had sections on society, culture including food, style and pieces on injustices. Those subjects are prevalent and paramount in all publications of African-American descent," Collins said. "People have to understand that ball caps and baggy pants have nothing to do with the history of black culture. There has been a tradition of representing the best in culture and style for African-Americans."
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