By Michelle Roberts
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Last month, the Arizona Daily Star printed a story, followed by an editorial, that brought Dean of African-American Student Affairs Jesse Hargrove under fire. The Wildcat editorial page followed suit with a staff editorial and cartoon, and a few days later, Hargrove's reaction in the form of a letter to the editor.
The story reported that Hargrove solicited community sponsors, using university letterhead, for a family reunion and that he wanted to raise money for a scholarship that would go to a family member.
Hargrove responded last week to questions about the reunion, the scholarship and the publicity's effects on the upcoming Tucson Family Reunion.
Wildcat: What family reunion were you referring to in your letter?
Jesse Hargrove: We're having two family reunions. One is Hargrove's family and the other is the African American family.
What the letter you're referring to talked about was the black family reunion. A lot of times what happens is you have an event and then you build on it and that's what was going on.
WC: What do you hope to do with the Tucson Family Reunion?
JH: We're trying to restore a sense of family in Tucson. As a result of all this publicity you've made my job, our job (the staff) much harder.
Guess why. Because people now want it a month-long instead of just a week-long activity. That means the whole month of July. People are talking about making it like a party with tents and gospel singers kicking it off.
Originally, we only looked at a community luncheon, a political panel where political leaders would talk about what could be done legislatively to ensure family values. There will be much more activities. This thing has ballooned.
WC: I understand that you are also trying to raise money for a scholarship. Why are you raising the money?
JH: We're naming a scholarship after my great grandmother Celia Adams.
I'm not sure if you're aware we establish about two or three scholarships out of this office a year. And my family doesn't benefit from those scholarships. They all, including the Celia Adams scholarship, are for the students here.
WC: Was the story by the Arizona Daily Star based on a misunderstanding about what the term "family reunion" meant?
JH: That's what they say was the difference, but its hard to believe. How you could misunderstand when it says "Tucson family reunion"? It didn't say Hargrove family reunion. I signed it.
It's hard to believe but that's what they say they interpreted it to be. I take them at their word and that's what they said. How is it that everyone else understood?
I take that if that's what they said, that's what they meant. I accept their apology. I won't belabor the point because we're all peacemakers.
WC: Why do you think there was a misunderstanding?
JH: If people would just be honest with each other, people will get the truth. If there was an investigation, I should have been told that there was an investigation.
It shouldn't have come like "I'm doing a story on your family," because if you're doing a story on my family, you're going to get family information. And then (with) that family information you get, you're going to make some quantum leaps. And that's what happened.
That's why a lot of the distortion occurred. It was confusion.
To not dedicate time to the situation to research or to find out the truth, that's the disservice, that a real disservice.
WC: Did the story negatively affect the reunion's plans?
JH: No, no. I'm surprised that so many positive calls came in from a lot of non-African Americans. A lot of people called and said, "You've been talking about this (the Tucson reunion) at all your lectures for the last two years. Where have these people been?"
Because I've done gospel programs and always mentioned it, they knew this event was going to occur. Obviously they (the public) didn't read it (the article), because they knew the larger context.
WC: What has the university's response been?
JH: They're great. They've been tremendous.
WC: Have things returned back to normal?
JH: I think that it's easy for other cultures to go right back to business as usual; it's doubly or triply hard for African Americans to go back to business as usual because it casts a little doubt Ÿ in this case a big doubt.
What we do is that we don't apologize to them; we don't do a follow-up story; we just let it linger. That does a lot of disservice. I think there needs to be a lot more effort on that newspaper's behalf to make me whole.
WC: Has this event bred further distrust in the African American community about the press?
JH: Most people feel that if it can happen to a Dr. Hargrove-type who has a doctorate, who is a university administrator, then it can happen to a Jerome Johnson, who doesn't have academic credentials or leadership in a community.
We must correct the image that the media is a vehicle that goes after prominent African Americans and that has been the perception Ÿ that the media goes on the attack to silence African American leadership so that there is not an overcoming for that ethic, because once one builds his or her status, then the media comes in and tears down the credibility of that person.
What we must do is to make certain that the media acts responsibly and checks out and verifies its information, its stories.
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