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Journalism center director named 'local hero'

November 7, 2005

Photo of Cristina AzocarCristina Azocar's passion and pride for her Native American culture has shaped her career as an activist, scholar and mentor. The director of SFSU's Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism (CIIJ) not only inspires students and colleagues, but also influences the way in which journalists of today and the future cover communities of color.

Azocar was one of four "local heros" honored at a Nov. 1 reception as part of KQED Public Broadcasting's celebration of American Indian Heritage Month.

"Cristina's perspective on Native American issues … has increased my own understanding tremendously," said Erna Smith, journalism professor and CIIJ senior director.

Smith, whose research focuses on coverage of race and social justice issues, remembers Azocar from the early 1990s as a bright, self-motivated SFSU journalism student who stood out among her peers. Azocar developed a diversity guide for journalism teachers that is widely used today.

"She knew who she was, what she wanted to do with her life, and was always very grounded in her culture," Smith said.

CIIJ, founded in 1990 and based in the Journalism Department, strives to diversify U.S. newsrooms and ensure fair, accurate coverage of minority communities. The only institution of its kind in the West and most extensive in the country, CIIJ develops programs and conducts research to recruit, retain and revitalize journalism and journalism educators. The center has garnered more than $2 million in external support since Azocar became director in 2002.

Journalism students come to Azocar every day for advice on seeking jobs and internships, reporting and editing -- particularly on complex, sensitive topics.

"She resonates the belief that we should cover these communities," said Poh Si Teng, a journalism junior, "because media ultimately should reflect the community."

Azocar, also an adjunct assistant professor of journalism, considers her mentorship role most crucial, having benefited from CIIJ herself as a student. Without the center, Azocar said she would have felt "directionless" and likely changed her major.

"I think that we should all try to replace ourselves" to continue the cycle of developing future generations of top-flight journalists, Azocar said.

Azocar completed her bachelor's degree at SFSU in 1993. She earned a master's degree in ethnic studies from SFSU in 1996, taking part in and helping organize the University's first-ever Native American graduation ceremony. In 2002 she earned a doctorate in communication studies from University of Michigan.

A member of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe of the Powhatan Nation of Virginia, Azocar is active in journalism and Native American organizations nationwide. She has done more than 100 workshops, lectures, presentations and panels on journalism education and has published in academic and professional journals.

Her research and teaching focus on portrayals of people of color in the news. She is interested in further exploring portrayals of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe in Virginia's mainstream media since the colonial era, a topic she first addressed in her SFSU master’s thesis.

Azocar's interest in diversity in the news media is inspired by her longtime concern about representations of Native Americans. Most coverage these days centers on casinos, while such key issues as sovereignty and cultural revitalization are overlooked, she said.

"Indians should try to have an impact on their own profession," she said. "The role of Native American journalists is to explore issues in Indian country that are often ignored."

-- Matt Itelson


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Last modified November 7, 2005 by University Communications