O'Brien encourages diversity in journalism
Sunday, October 30, 2005, 18:38 EST
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Soledad O'Brien visited with Butler students, faculty and guests at a dinner hosted at the residence of President Bobby and Suzanne Fong before the lecture.
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Soledad O�Brien�s parents started dating in 1958, when most restaurants would not serve an interracial couple, so they ate at home. When her parents could not marry in Massachusetts, they drove to Washington, D.C. where it was legal for an interracial couple to marry. When people told them they should not have interracial children, they ignored the constraints again.

Soledad O�Brien, one of six children, is now an anchor for CNN�s "American Morning" with a distinguished career in broadcast journalism. Of Latino, Irish and African-American descent, O�Brien discussed diversity with Butler students on Oct. 26 as part of the Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series.

�It is critical that we talk of true diversity,� O�Brien said, and not just about blacks or Hispanics.

O�Brien�s parents emphasized to their children early on �to work around obstacles.�

�My parents weren�t much for protests, but they went around obstacles in their own way,� O�Brien said.

Ever since she entered the newsroom, O�Brien has heard she is not black enough, her name is too ethnic and that she was only hired because she was black. Her mother�s advice proved useful again; �what other people consider me means very little.�

Her position has another side though; O�Brien has become a role model for journalists of all ethnic backgrounds.

�I�ve found I could become a role model because I�m hard to categorize,� she said.

This ambiguity has led to some awkward moments. When O�Brien met former vice president Al Gore, �I said something like, �Hi, Mr. Vice President!� and he answered me in Spanish.� He answered her next question in Spanish as well.

�And I thought �This is awkward; my Spanish isn�t very good,'� O�Brien said. �He clearly isn�t aware where I fit.�

O�Brien sees diversity issues in her reporting as well. She cited both Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami as two stories that demanded a look at diversity.

Poll numbers taken after Hurricane Katrina showed �a huge divergence between how African Americans saw it and how white people did,� O�Brien said. Seventy percent of African Americans saw the aftermath of the hurricane as a race issue, while only 30 percent of whites thought it was a race issue.

The hurricane, O�Brien said, has made America say, �No longer will we stand by a double box,� and hear one thing and see another.

�Working at CNN has really redefined diversity in journalism for me,� O�Brien said. Covering the Tsunami for CNN had a powerful effect on O�Brien.

�Even when you couldn�t understand everything [the victims] said, you could understand the story of the human condition,� she said. �These were not voices of Americans, but they were the stories that gripped our hearts, because they are human beings and they matter. That�s what diversity is all about.�