CoJMC professor to receive 2019 Sower Award in the Humanities

CoJMC professor to receive 2019 Sower Award in the Humanities

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - 3:45pm
Starita headshot
As a college professor, Starita inspires students to use journalism to expose prejudice and effect change.

CoJMC journalism professor Joe Starita will receive the 2019 Sower Award in the Humanities. Starita will be honored on Oct. 24 at Omaha’s Holland Performing Arts Center, immediately preceding the 24th Annual Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities featuring historian Dwight David Eisenhower II. 

The Sower Award is presented annually to an individual who has made “a significant contribution to public understanding of the humanities in Nebraska.” This contribution can be through any combination of time, expertise, or resources, and the selection committee examines how the nominee has helped inspire and enrich personal and public life in our state through the humanities. 

“Professor Starita has spent decades researching and telling the stories of indigenous people,” CoJMC Dean Amy Struthers said. “His books and articles, and his countless presentations in Nebraska communities have impacted our state for the better.”

Molly O’Holleran, who nominated Starita for the Sower Award, described Starita as the “ultimate storyteller” who “inspires our thinking in a way that calls each of us to seek truth in our own lives, analyze the problems, explore solutions and plant our own seeds of courage to enhance humanity.” 

Starita previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald. There, he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting when he exposed corruption in local government. He has also penned three award-winning books that explore the historic role of Native Americans, showcasing their courage in the face of racial prejudice. All profits from his books, “I am A Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice” and “A Warrior of the People: How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America’s First Indian Doctor,” are forwarded to a scholarship fund that enables Nebraska Native American students to attend accredited universities. 

As a college professor, Starita inspires students to use journalism to expose prejudice and effect change. Students in his depth reporting class who wrote about the troubles in Whiteclay became the first college students to win the Robert F. Kennedy Humanities Foundation Grand Prize, besting The New York Times, National Geographic, Reuters, Univision and HBO. 

“These awards, of course, never occur in a vacuum,” Starita said. “They are always the product of having worked with and learned from a talented group of friends and colleagues. And in this case, having also had the good fortune to work with an extraordinary group of students who genuinely believed that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. I am deeply honored and deeply indebted to all those who made this award possible.”

Starita also gives public talks across the state, independently and as a member of the Humanities Nebraska Speakers Bureau, informing audiences of all ages about Chief Standing Bear and Susan La Flesche. 

Rebekka Schlichting, assistant director of Vision Maker Media and an enrolled member of the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, said she appreciated Starita’s commitment to Nebraska’s Native peoples through his Chief Standing Bear Journey for Justice Scholarship fund. 

“He makes annual trips to all the reservations in Nebraska to talk to the seniors about these impeccable native role models, about choosing their own path of success and doing something great for their communities... His legacy is guiding Native youth, including myself, towards successful futures,” Schlichting said. 

Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and 2011 recipient of the Sower Award in the Humanities, also supported Starita’s nomination. She wrote, “Starita’s passion for Indian culture, his relentless research and creative work, have earned him the trust and respect of Indian people throughout Nebraska and America...He is truly worthy of the Sower Award.” 

The 2019 Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities is presented by Humanities Nebraska, along with co-sponsors Union Pacific, the University of Nebraska and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The free public lecture by David Eisenhower is titled, “D-Day+75 in the Eyes of America’s Postwar Generations.” The Oct. 24 lecture will be held at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.