Story by Aaron Weintraub
Photos by Emma Oravecz
When UO School of Journalism and Communication media studies Ph.D. student Bethany Grace Howe found out she had been nominated for the UO’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Diversity and Inclusion, she was at the airport and in the middle of a tumultuous week.
“I learned that I had been nominated the day after the [presidential] election,” she said. “I remember feeling just awful and actually being sick in the terminal. So seeing that my name was listed for a diversity award the day after Donald Trump became president-elect was such a special feeling, I burst into tears around all of these people when I saw it.”
Although the election had not gone the way Howe was expecting, she cites it as a source of motivation that was further stoked when she claimed her award plaque at the Martin Luther King Jr. Award Luncheon, hosted by the UO Division of Equity and Inclusion two days before Trump’s inauguration.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Award is a symbol of recognition for students, faculty and staff members across the university who embody the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideals of justice, tolerance and diversity.
Since Howe came out of the closet to the SOJC community as a transgender woman in December 2015, she’s served as a graduate teaching fellow and a mentor for students looking for help and support, both in class and in their personal lives. She said that when students interrupt her work to talk, it’s not a distraction, but rather an opportunity to do what she sees as her real job.
SOJC Edwin L. Artzt Dean Juan-Carlos Molleda, who attended the luncheon to recognize Howe and her fellow award winners’ efforts, explained that the MLK Award recognizes professors and faculty who have gone above and beyond in ensuring a safe learning environment for students of all backgrounds and values.
“Bethany is embracing her position as a unique person who faces challenges because of her transition,” Molleda said. “But at the same time, she recognizes that she has a voice and that she has access to the structure of this school, to myself as well as the rest of the faculty and staff. And she wants to be that bridge between students and the SOJC as a larger community.”
Howe was one of nine individuals who won a 2017 MLK Award. She said she’s humbled by her selection and cites past award winners from the SOJC as some of the faculty who have inspired her the most. She has modeled her own role in the SOJC community in part on the example set by SOJC Professor Gabriela Martínez, who earned an MLK Award for her documentary work last year.
“When I think about the days when it’s been hardest,” she said, “I’ve come to realize that those days happened on the days when I’m not here [in Allen Hall]. I suppose that’s a function of staying busy, but it’s also a function of the people here.”
Howe also recently published an academic paper on the most effective communication strategies employers can provide for LGBTQ employees to establish an inclusive workplace environment. In the paper, she used her positive experiences in Allen Hall over the past year as an example of what to do.
“Allen Hall is a safe space for me,” she said. “If it’s not that for you, it should be. It is your right to feel that it is, and for me, that’s where the discussion actually starts.”
Howe has also started collaborating with the SOJC on a series of discussion sessions centered entirely on the topic of inclusion.
“I’m creating a diversity student group that Bethany is helping me with,” said Dean Molleda. “She’s expressing a very interesting message: ‘Most of the time I’m out of my office on the third floor, you will see me ceaselessly… because of who I am, so come and talk to me.’ She is not just a Ph.D. student…. She is willing to be this voice and a conduit, a medium for people to reach out to.”
While the MLK Jr. Award recognized Howe for the multitude of contributions she’s made to the SOJC over the past year, she credits the inclusive environment in Allen Hall for enabling her to work on these issues. “I feel valued for who I am,” she said, “and I don’t ever have to worry about where I go and what people are thinking.”
Aaron Weintraub is a senior in the SOJC studying journalism and Arabic, which he hopes to use as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. This is his first year working as a digital media intern for the SOJC’s Communications Office. In the past, he studied Arabic and Islamic studies in Keble College at Oxford University and at the Qasid Institute in Amman, Jordan, where he worked as an independent feature writer during the summer of 2016. He has also served as a writer and photographer for the UO’s environmental publication, Envision Magazine. You can find Weintraub’s collection of photography, much of which he took while traveling, at aaronweintraubphotos.wordpress.com. When he’s not writing or shooting photos, he enjoys climbing, biking and other activities that occasionally injure him.
Emma Oravecz is an applied folklorist working as the SOJC’s events manager. She is also a documentary filmmaker and the owner of the photography company Hixie & Co.