Story by Paris Payne, Integrated Marketing Communications Graduate Student
On March 22, more than 400 high school students from across the state of Mississippi will descend on Oxford and the Ole Miss campus for the annual Mississippi Scholastic Press Association (MSPA) conference.
Thanks to the work of MSPA Director Dr. R.J. Morgan, the students attending and the conference programming have grown increasingly diverse in the 10 years he has been leading the organization.
“I try to make sure that we’re gathering people from a lot of different backgrounds,” said Morgan. “And then when they’re here, we’re exposing them to diversity of thought, culture and ideas.”
The Mississippi Scholastic Press Association (MSPA) is an organization that supports and promotes excellence in scholastic journalism throughout the state. Founded in 1949, the MSPA is based at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media and provides a variety of services and resources to help student journalists and their advisors improve their skills and enhance the quality of their publications.
Over the years, Morgan has made a conscious effort to reach out to minority-serving schools in the state, such as Murrah High School in Jackson, where the student population is 98% minority.
“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,” student media advisor Sarah Ballard said.
Morgan hopes MSPA can help students broaden their understanding of others in an environment where they feel comfortable being themselves and forging connections with those who may not share their background or experiences.
“Diversity is important because America is diverse,” Morgan said. “I don’t think America can live up to its ideals if diversity isn’t something we view as a strength [rather] than a weakness.
To promote inclusivity and encourage wider participation, the organization has kept the registration fee for the convention as low as possible. MSPA also offers a summer program for advisors at no cost, providing an opportunity for professional development and preparation to better guide students in the classroom.
“If you can win a teacher, then you can make the difference in not just those 10 kids’ lives, but 10 kids’ lives for the next 15 years,” Morgan said.
MSPA will hold its next convention Wednesday, March 22 with keynote speakers Charles and Andrea Overby, founders of The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi.
The upcoming event is set to draw 400 to 500 students, representing 30 to 40 schools from across the state.