McGruder award winner discusses diversity issues facing American students

Matthew White

Leonard Pitts Jr. calls diversity “social broccoli.”

“Broccoli is icky stuff,” said Pitts, the 2006 recipient of the Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture Award. “You eat it not because you like it, but because it is good for you. It is good – not simply because it is moral and right – but because it is practical and sound.”

Emphasizing the morality of diversity, Pitts spoke about those who had trouble fitting into white Anglo-Saxon culture.

“Slaves of the American South were once told that if they lived Christian lives, they would get their reward in the afterlife. They would become white,” he said. “Years later, a similar reward was held out to the immigrants if they shaved their beards.”

Pitts called this the melting pot, saying it was once thought to be ideal, but there is more to America.

“The United States of America is distinct among nations in that it was founded not upon a shared ancestry or history, but that it was founded upon an ideal: That all men are created equal,” he said. “Embracing that creed is what being an American is all about.”

Pitts said people should accept diversity because the nation is changing.

“This is the kind of nation we are — many small nations within a larger one,” he said. “I choose to be invigorated by this, but then I like broccoli, too.”

Gene Shelton, journalism and mass communication instructor and academic diversity adviser, said there isn’t one American viewpoint.

“Diversity speaks to the fact that we are a country, not defined or represented by any one group of people, and not acknowledging that is wrong,” he said. “We cannot assume that those who are in the decision-making process can make decisions without respect for the different races.”

Pitts said he was honored by the award, named after Robert G. McGruder, former executive editor of the Detroit Free Press and first black editor of the Daily Kent Stater.

“Kent State has such a legacy in the battle for freedom of expression, and McGruder was such a distinguished icon in the battle to bring diversity to his nation’s newsrooms,” Pitts said.

Steve Michael, vice provost for diversity and academic initiatives, said the award serves two purposes: To recognize media people from Northeast Ohio who contributed to diversity within the area and to celebrate the legacy of McGruder by bringing a speaker to teach journalism students about diversity in the media.

Pitts was the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Columnist of the Year in 2002 and was given the Outstanding Newspaper Columnist award by GLAAD Media. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for commentary and is a five-time recipient of the National Headliners Award.

At the end of his speech, Pitts described how diversity can help students.

“Social broccoli, like actual broccoli, might be difficult to swallow,” he said. “You might not like the taste of this stuff, but it will help you grow.”

Contact student affairs reporter Matthew White at [email protected].