Story of the Storytellers The History of Student Publications

Harding University student Publications

“A yearbook is a historical document. It is a written/pictoral history of the year at the institution it represents. It is a memory book of a specific time and place in the lives of the people who share its history. It is an educational/public relations tool that promotes quality journalistic efforts and serves to inform outsiders about the institution it represents.” (Taken from the Student Publications manual of 2006)

Harding University Student Publications serves as a source of documentation for the school year. The Petit Jean yearbook and The Bison newspaper strive to document every piece of history on Harding’s campus, and have since Harding’s very first year in 1924, so that any person could look back, at any given time, and see the things that happened 50 years ago.

The Bison newspaper

The student-run newspaper of Harding University, The Bison, can trace its roots back to the school’s beginning in Morrilton, Arkansas. The original newspaper was published under the name Petit Jean Collegian, and reported on stories such as different clubs and their outings, faculty members returning from trips and new students on campus.

The first issue of the Petit Jean Collegian was one that portrayed what the times were like back in the 1920s — The main example being a two-paragraph article telling students to only buy Christmas gifts from the people who chose to advertise in the Collegian. Everything in the article appeared to be fine until the second paragraph, where the writer says, “If a man wants your trade, but is unwilling to advertise his goods and prices, there must be a ‘n----- in a woodpile.’ Trade with the man who advertises, and, in a way, that helps us to make Harding College complete.”

The article caused much controversy among students and faculty, so after it was published, the newspaper quickly changed its name from the Petit Jean Collegian to The Skeeter in 1926. It was called The Skeeter for three years. The name was taken from a pest that infested parts of Arkansas. It was a monthly paper that was described in the 1927 Petit Jean yearbook as “a very busy creature buzzing around, watching, listening and telling what he has seen and heard. You will find him in chapel, on the campus, in the reception hall, at the club and in classrooms. So you must keep watch, or he may hear something.”

In 1929, the publication changed its name to The Bison, and has kept the name ever since. It has reported on everything that has happened at Harding, from moving from Morrilton to Searcy in 1934, the school’s mortgage being paid in 1939, students fighting and dying in World War II, Harding becoming an accredited school in 1954, all the way to Dr. Bruce McLarty being inaugurated as president of the university in 2013. Since the school’s beginning, the publication has been a voice for the students to use their rights to free speech, and to record the history of the school as a whole.

Dr. Jim Miller, chair of the department of communication, said he thought the most important aspect about The Bison was the voice that it gave to the students.

“Every college campus needs a medium to carry the student voice, and The Bison is one of those avenues at Harding,” Miller said.

The production of the paper has come a long way since its beginning. Chancellor Emeritus Clifton L. Ganus, also a former editor of the Petit Jean talked about how difficult it was to find supplies and products because of the war. This made things difficult during production.

Miller, who was also the adviser for Student Publications for six years from 1999 to 2005, said the production process has come a long way since his days on the staff.

“I know the process has changed so much for the better,” Miller said. "We were still using a darkroom for photography in the early 2000s. We didn't get our first digital camera until around 2003, so we were producing photos for an entire yearbook and a weekly newspaper in a darkroom. We've come a long way."

Something very special about The Bison is how, even though it is a student-run publication at a private, Christian school, the censorship by the administration is very limited, and the university supports the publication any way that it can.

“The First Amendment protects the student press on public campuses," Miller said. "That's not the case on private campuses. Some private schools, for example, require every page of the student newspaper to be approved by the president or another administrator. Harding has not done that. Harding has entrusted an adviser to guide the students to make good decisions and to handle controversial issues responsibly. Harding recognizes that censorship does not promote learning. The most effective education happens when different points of view are discussed intellectually and debated publicly. The Bison is a place where that can happen responsibly at Harding, and the university has supported that role. I am thankful for that."

The biggest thing that Student Publications, and specifically The Bison, does is provide students with the necessary experience in a real-world work environment to help prepare them for a future in the professional field they are planning on going into. The current editor-in-chief of The Bison, Josh Johnson, has been on the staff for four years, and his work on the newspaper staff helped him to land a job as a journalist in New York City.

“As far as what it’s taught me and what it has prepared me for, I honestly believe that the experience I have gained in these four years as an undergrad that will prepare me most for the real world is my experience on the newspaper staff,” Johnson said. “Not to say I haven’t learned in the classroom as well, because I definitely have, but there is such a sharp distinction between textbook education and real world experience. Textbook education can only get you so far. Without applying those principles and applying that knowledge, it is not nearly as effective of a learning tool as getting out there, getting your hands dirty in the business and enabling and using the information that you learned in the classroom. That is what being on The Bison staff has taught me.”

The Petit Jean Yearbook

Harding College began in 1924 in Morrilton, Arkansas, and along with it, the Petit Jean yearbook. It has been called the Petit Jean since the beginning, named after Petit Jean State Park outside of Morrilton, and has been significant in portraying Harding’s history since it first started. Harding was later relocated to Searcy, Arkansas, in 1934 and became a university in 1979, but the Petit Jean remained the same.

Hazel Raye Willoughby was the editor-in-chief of the very first Petit Jean for the 1924-25 school year. The Foreword of her book states:

“In this, the first volume of the Petit Jean, we endeavor to present the results of our efforts to portray a living year of Harding College, in words and in pictures. There have been lessons — heed them; there have been pleasant memories — cherish them; there have been mistakes — profit by them. We hope that this history of the College whose educational advantages and character development are considered important, will prove an inseparable friend, and invaluable treasure.”

Since that was written, the goal of the Petit Jean has remained the same: to portray Harding’s history year by year. Each yearbook is dedicated to a faculty member voted on by the students.

Ganus became the editor-in-chief of the Petit Jean in 1943. According to Ganus, the time when he was an editor was entirely different from today — one way being that the students always signed each other’s annuals (or yearbooks). Ganus was so dedicated to the idea that he was still signing annuals an hour before his wedding ceremony. He graduated at 11:30 a.m. and got married at 1 p.m. on the same day, all the while still signing annuals.

“You could look at [my annual] today, for instance, and it’s just full — from cover to cover—of people writing little expressions,” Ganus said. “I’m sure they do some of that today, but not like we did back then. Everybody wrote in everybody’s annual.”

Ganus’ time as editor-in-chief was spent during World War II, and therefore, supplies were limited, so the staff had to make many adjustments to even be able to provide a yearbook for the students.

“Photographic supplies were extremely difficult to get, because the war took everything back in those days,” Ganus said. “We saved everything back then, and you had to get ration coupons to get anything. Therefore, we had to be very frugal with what we would use. When you look at the annuals today, and you look at the annuals back then, you’ll see a great difference in size and quality, and one of the reasons was because of how limited we were.”

During Ganus’ time as editor, the Petit Jean was produced in Oklahoma. When Searcy flooded that year, the yearbooks’ delivery from Oklahoma was delayed.

“Back in those days, transportation was entirely different, and we used railroads a lot back then,” Ganus said. “They had to send that book back to us, and the first problem they had was getting it to dry because of the flood that we had. The second problem was that they took it to the railroad station, and they lost it. How they did that, I don’t know, but the Railway Express lost our annuals for a while, so we were delayed in getting the annuals. Finally they came in, and we were so happy they were finally here.”

Ganus cherished his memories with the Petit Jean so much that his entire staff signed a $1 bill for him to keep with all of their names on it.

“Mrs. Stapleton [the Student Publications adviser in 1943] had the staff sign a dollar bill and give it to me,” Ganus said. “After three or four years, I lost it. I told her about losing it, and she went to the staff and got them to sign another dollar bill, and I still have it. You can see the names — some of them have almost faded out, but some you can still see pretty well. This dollar bill is about 72 years old, I guess, and I have had it in my wallet ever since, so I will never go broke.”

Technology is one thing that has evolved rapidly over the years, forever changing the operations of Student Publications on Harding’s campus.

In 1986, Dr. Jack Shock, a professor in the department of communication, became the adviser of the Petit Jean. He said when he was the adviser, the staff still used typewriters in the office — one that worked, and a few others that only worked sometimes.

“The desktop publishing industry changed our industry forever,” Shock said. “It’s hard to imagine how many steps are gone from the production process now that so much can be done on a laptop in a student’s dorm.”

Director of Student Publications, Katie Ramirez, said that even when she was the editor-in-chief in the mid-2000s, the technology was still not up to par. She said she was on the Student Publications staff when social media was first introduced.

“The first year [I was on staff], when you had to find a person you didn’t know, the process was literally blowing up the picture of them, zooming in on their face, making 20 copies of that, going around campus and hanging all of those pictures, and writing, ‘Do you know who this person is?'" Ramirez said. “You would also get a lot of misinformation because people would write in joke stuff or incorrect names, so you always had to fact check.”

Ramirez spent two years as editor-in-chief — her senior year and first year of graduate school — and said her second year was her favorite. The theme of her book was “Near the Foothills,” in reference to the first line of Harding’s alma mater. Ramirez said she came up with the idea while sitting in her commencement ceremony, when the student next to her said, “Harding has an alma mater?” She said knew immediately that she had to make that the theme.

“My second yearbook was really just dedicated to Harding and making sure that it had a lot of Harding history,” Ramirez said. “That’s the point of Student Publications anyway. Everything that we do — Bison or [Petit Jean] — is just about recording history. I wanted to make that book almost like a guidebook as to how to navigate through the school. That way, if you were a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, faculty or staff member, and you picked up that book, you learned a little bit about Harding’s history for that year. ‘Near the Foothills’ was my book. It was my design aesthetic. I loved every bit of it. The true test, especially for a yearbook, is when you go back and look at it. Some books I look back [at] and cringe, but [with] that book, I look back and I love every decision that was made. I don’t have any regrets, and that’s kind of where you want to be.”

After two years working as the editor-in-chief, Ramirez left Harding for a year and then came back to be the Student Publications adviser in the fall of 2010, which she is still doing today. She said she loves being her own boss, even though she still has supervision.

“Student media is given a lot of allowances,” Ramirez said. “We don’t have a lot of people above who are checking in to see what we’re doing, which is good. At Harding, obviously we are funded by our administration, but we’re not a school where we have to submit pages to be proofed by an administrative staff. We’re able to have trust, credibility [and] professionalism to represent the voice of the student body, which is really great.”

the integration of the bison and petit jean

All the way up until 1986, The Bison and Petit Jean were completely separate entities. They are still separate in that they are two different publications, but the staff dynamic has changed tremendously since Shock became the first adviser over both publications, at the same time.

“I was the first person to serve as adviser to both Bison and [Petit Jean],” Shock said. “We were starting to build a new formula in those days. It was a struggle, but it was worth it.”

When Ramirez first transitioned into the adviser role, the Student Publications office was still on the second floor of the student center.

“There were three office spaces,” Ramirez said. “The Bison was on one side, there was a communal room in the center that had our darkroom, printer and copier, and then the [Petit Jean was] on the other side. When I was on [Petit Jean] staff for four years as an undergrad, I think I stepped foot in the Bison office three times. I didn’t know who any of them were. [There was] no mixing or mingling. I knew who the editor-in-chief was, and that was about it. It wasn’t bad blood, but it definitely wasn’t a coordinated work environment. We never knew what stories they were doing, we didn’t share equipment [and] we didn’t share computers.”

In the fall of 2014, the office was relocated to the Reynolds building, where it became all one space, forcing Bison and Petit Jean staff members to work together for the first time in Harding’s history.

“In the adviser role, I had to split my time, and it [would become] much easier for me if both of those publications worked together,” Ramirez said. “That was still hard to do because of what our former office looked like. When we moved into our current space over in the Reynolds, it was all one big room. The first staff that moved over hated it so much. They were so used to having split everything, so the yearbook could be super secretive about their theme, [and] The Bison could have all of their original stories [so] yearbook wasn’t poaching their ideas. They did not like all being in one space.”

Miller said while he was adviser, he tried to keep the staffs remotely integrated, but gave most of the credit to Ramirez, as she joined the office space together.

“I think it is still roughly the same today in a sense that both staffs have their own identity,” Miller said. “There’s a little competition between the two staffs, but they generally get along and they share the same space.”

Ramirez said the new space allowed the staff members to work together better, allowing for a much more inviting environment for everyone. Although none of the current staff members have knowledge of what the environment was like before, Ramirez said she was so proud about what Student Publications had become.

“If that is the only thing I leave as a legacy, I will be very happy,” Ramirez said. “We have more of a community, and Student Publications is actually more of a cohesive group, instead of two or three separate pieces and entities.”

The Significance of Student Publications

Student Publications is an institution that has been a cornerstone for Harding University since its beginning in 1924. The Bison and Petit Jean have served as not only a voice for the students, but more importantly as an experience in a real-world newsroom. Students who have participated in either of these publications can say they have their name on multiple stories and articles that will forever be engraved in Harding’s history.

Current editor-in-chief of the Petit Jean yearbook, Kaleb Turner, said that the two most important functions of Student Publications were serving as a real-world office experience and serving as the documentation of the history of Harding University.

“Everything in the course of an academic year that The Bison reports on, takes photos of and puts online, and anything that the Petit Jean publishes or posts online, and the thousands of photos that the Petit Jean collects; all of those things from that academic year are preserving Harding’s history,” Turner said. “[We preserve] it and [archive] it so that years later, when they celebrate their 100-year anniversary or their 200-year anniversary, we can go back and look at the things that we collected and know about the changes the university has [gone] through and what went on during that school year.”

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