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Dru Riley Evarts, an Ohio University {OU} legend who has mentored  thousands of students recently became the OU Editor.

 

 

A couple of month ago Omolola Anne Famuyiwa (EWM) spoke to the OU Legend Drusilla Riley Evarts (DRE) at her Athens office. Dr. Evarts who has a national reputation as an editor has been on the faculty of Ohio University since 1973. We trust that the interview will inspire you.

 

 

EWM: Could you tell me about the growing up days and family life of Drusilla Riley Evarts?

 

DRE: Well, I was a seventh of ten children and we lived between Akron and Kent, very rural. We didn’t have many opportunities such as have museum or anything like that like many children do today but we had a great time. We didn’t have a large farm but we lived in the middle of large farms. So, we did participate in large farm activities such as threshing, abrading and all other things. We were very happy. It was during the depression when I was a child. Work benefits were measured by the combination of a person’s service and the size of the family. So my father worked all the time because he had been there for adequate years and had a large family. He also was a cabinet maker and anytime that they didn’t have work at the rubber plant he was hired by some of the most distinguished families in Akron to make beautiful cabinets and carried out that cabinet making more or less as a sideline till he died at eighty five, born in eighteen eighty five. My mother went on to Dayton College in West Virginia but she never worked so she always just reared children, just! (Laughs) Big job!.

 

EWM: What about your family now?

 

DRE: Well I have four children. The oldest is the chairman of a philosophy department in Baltimore. The second is my only son. He is more like a biologist in a school in Montana. His main interest is fisheries and there’s a huge lake in that area for which he is responsible to keep everything in order. He is the director of a large wildlife organization that takes care of the significant fishing opportunity in the area. He does a lot of interesting experiment such as getting fish and implanting radio transmitters in them and then they can trace where the fish go, what time they come back down and if they came right down to the lake then they realize there’s probably some silk collection that the fish can’t probably jump across so they arrange that the river be dredged. The third one lives in Athens. She’s the president and founder of Career Connections, which is an employment service. The youngest is a civil engineer. She resides in Alaska. Right now she’s executive director of the home building association because it’s a job she could do while she has small children. That’s my youngest grandchildren (showing EWM a framed picture), they are in the third and fourth grade. I have one great grand child from the oldest grandson. 

 

EWM: You must be a proud mother, grandmother and great grand mother.

 

DRE: Not all are exceptional but all are above average. The women are strong, all the men are handsome and the children are above average.

 

EWM: You have seen students especially international students come and go in yourthree-and-a -half decade as a professor in the School of Journalism. How would you describe your experience?

 

DRE: Well very good. I usually get the gifted ones. I’ve had international students that have had their papers accepted at national competitions and conventions. They always invite me to come and visit. I got some tour in two of the international places - Malaysia and Germany. Students from Malaysia were particularly friendly and they seem to like me. I would say it’s been very positive. I did have a couple of students in Malaysia who had to drop out. It was a graduate program and their lives were complex; they all seemed very capable.

 

EWM: No doubt there were fewer female professors when you joined the faculty in 1973, how has the role of females in academia changed over the years?

 

DRE: Well, of course I was the only one when I started but now more than half of our faculty are females. About sixty-five percent of students in Journalism across the country are females so now we have more women professors. But, I have to give our faculty credit, they never in discussing new faculty members or student awards or anything like that, say well shouldn’t we get some more guys in here or whatever especially student awards because every spring when we make our award the vast majority go to the female students because they are the more capable, we just have to face it. And you would think some men on the faculty might say shouldn’t we have at least a few men in here but nobody has ever done that. And in hiring, we never hire anybody because she is a woman. We have hired some people because they were black because the University had a program where if you found a qualified black person and you could get them to come then you would have a free faculty line, who wouldn’t go for that. I think that program is ended now but for a few years we got several very gifted people by doing that. But we wouldn’t have hired them just for that I mean they were also very competitive in whatever they were applying for.

 

EWM: During my visit to some elementary schools in Athens, I realized that children have little or wrong information about other continents especially Africa and Africans. In your opinion, how can children be taught about other cultures beyond their environment?

 

DRE: How bad that sounds. What they need to do is put geography back, in grade schools geography is no longer a subject. When I was in school we had a geography book every year the size of that book (showing EWM a very big book); and every child has her own book that you were using for the year and you can own it permanently. We knew all the continents, all the capitals, all the countries, all the rivers, all the products, all the mountains; everybody knew everything. We had geography every single year, all eight years of grade school. And then for some reason I don’t know what year this happenedit was struck off. I once heard of a survey, I can’t believe this really happened but it said something like seventy-five percent of the freshmen in a College in Miami Florida could not find Florida on the map.

 

EWM: They couldn’t find Florida on the map? Then I shouldn’t be talking about Africa.

 

DRE: Well, I could understand if it’s Nevada or Kansas or some place that’s inside but if you can’t find something that sticks out like Florida (laughs). We have to get geography back into the elementary curriculum that’s the solution. You would think that kids will know the United States map because kids watch television all the time and the weather is on and they see the map constantly, we never saw that you know. It was in a book and you have to go look in the book but I don’t see how a child today can avoid seeing the map on the TV once in a while if the parents listen to any news. It’s a distressing problem.

 

EWM: How would that take care of tlearning about he people and their culture?

 

DRE: The way geography was taught then it definitely will teach about culture and the people. We were so rural and so uninformed that when we saw pictures of say people in Japanese costume or Uygurs in China gathering rice or something I actually thought they are just poses, pictures. Geography is not just about the physical layout its about the people and what they do, the products they produce, what they import, what they export, what their religion were and such things.

 

EWM: I expect that as part of projects in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism undergraduate/graduate students may be expected to publish a magazine. What are the modalities for collaborating with students on a pre-existing Nigerian magazine for the international market?

 

DRE: I imagine it could be worked out because of the internet. Those involved could collect information by email and for the final product you don’t have to go through expensive shipping you would have it printed there as the Nigerian version. I think it would be a very interesting contract and it’s quite workable because we have alumni in almost every African country and if somebody could cooperate on that even though it might be quite a modest project to start out but I think it would be very good. And you would have to do some travel back and forth but it will take some money upstart.

 

EWM: What has been your most challenging and most embarrassing role as a faculty? Let’s begin with challenging

 

DRE: Challenging, well having the papers graded on the time that students really need them because the courses that I teach usually are the nature that people need their papers back before they can go on to the next step. And the most embarrassing one, I was teaching in Germany and I was trying to tell the students the difference between public and private figures as far as libel suits are concerned so that they would get some ideas of what First Amendment means in the United States. It was the first day of this class and I was writing on the board as I talked and a student raised his hand and I felt oh boy I’m pretty good, there’s a question right away. He said “You just put ‘pubic’ on the board”.

 

EWM: O no! Instead of public?

 

DRE: Yes, it was kind of embarrassing and in a new society. Such things are embarrassing and still do happen even though I’m supposed to be a grammarian I sometimes over look some things.

 

EWM: What advice do you have for young people whose goal is to become a name, a face and a voice as they chart a course in the line of journalism or media?

 

DRE: Well, naturally good writing and accuracy, accuracy, accuracy, don’t ever guess, don’t ever embellish. Sometimes people don’t ask all the questions for fear the juicy nugget they have come across as so good is not the whole story. We have stupendous law cases on that, one of which is one of our own graduates who was sued when he worked in Cleveland. He went to investigate a bridge that had fallen into Ohio River and 43 people were lost, the bridge plunged into the river, December 16 I think it was and several were never found. And this young man claimed he came down six month later to see how some of the families were doing and he wrote a very interesting story much of which turned out to be fiction (chuckle). He  even quoted the woman he had not interviewed because it made the story stronger. You just should never do that. And of course there’s nothing to take the place of good writing but it has to have accuracy and completeness, you should check from all sides and definitely don’t make anything up! .

 

EWM:What is your advice for students who are yearning to come to the United States to study journalism or communication as well as those who are already here?

 

DRE: They need to get the best grades possible and they need to get the required test scores and of course work on your English. I don’t know how the TOEFL is really conducted but some of the people that pass it are just not understandable and it isn’t just students but even young faculty members. My own grandchildren have had people on the math department here that they simply could not understand and I just think TOEFL should be a little bit stronger; its fine for this person to be a great mathematician and want to come to either study at the graduate school or start teaching but they have to conquer the language. I did a lot of work in Japan and I did not learn the language but our things were done in English but if you were going to a country supposedly teaching in their language or learning in their language of course first you start learning it and that would go for students and faculty and of course graduate students do often have an opportunity to teach. Let’s say graduate students, if you don’t learn the language well then your opportunities will be greatly limited because they won’t be able to have you teach in the classrooms unless it’s a math department (chuckle). My own daughter; the philosopher, she had to be fluent in French and German in other to do what she wanted to do and she did conquer that very nicely and she made her husband speak German to her because he was taking German as a foreign language like we have English as a foreign language over here. So, one of the Korean students who had joined the foreign language class told the teacher “That guy is so fortunate to have a German wife”. He thought she was German and she isn’t. Well, she just adapted to it. She realized that instead of the hiring elements of philosophy, you have to be able to read German and French well, I suppose you don’t have to speak it but if you don’t speak it they won’t let you interact with the international scholars so she learnt to speak it. I know it can be done but I have never done it personally but I have never had to go out to teach in German or Malay. That remains top on my advice list; conquer the language first.

 

EWM: Thank you very much I really appreciate you for giving your time and for your being exclusive in the answers given to each question.

 

DRE: You did a good job.