Oscar Gutierrez, who seeks to empower “community storytellers” so that racial and social justice issues gain better traction in society, has been named the winner of the Journalism Department’s largest award, the Otto J. Bos Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Journalism.
Gutierrez, 21, is the copy editor for the Xpress Magazine in the Fall 2015 semester. He is a student in both the departments of Journalism and Race and Resistance Studies. Gutierrez also serves on the board of Communities for a Better Environment and is a member of PODER SF, an environmental justice organization.
“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me by the SF State Journalism department,” said Gutierrez.
The annual scholarship honors the memory of Otto J. Bos, who was a 1970 graduate of the department, editor of its award-winning newspaper (then named Phoenix) and an All-American soccer star. Following graduation, he covered politics and government for The San Diego Union. He became a key staff member of San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who later was elected a U.S. senator and then governor of California. At the time of his death of a heart attack in 1991, Otto was Gov. Wilson’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs.
The scholarship covers a full year’s tuition – currently approximately $6,476 – and has been awarded to a journalism student since 1992.
Applicants must write an essay in which they offer an analysis of news media performance. Gutierrez’s essay commented on an incident involving Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, who was attempting to cover riots in Baltimore. Community representatives accused Rivera of portraying people as “thugs.” Gutierrez pinned the community’s backlash against Rivera on the news media’s failure to adequately cover issues of race and systemic oppression.
“Furthermore, news media have so often put these communities in a position that requires little to no thought of the historical contexts … actions such as the Baltimore riots are often seen as isolated events as opposed to responses of continual oppression,” wrote Gutierrez.
Gutierrez grew up in Huntington Park in Southern California, where he worked as a youth organizer and a participant in the Youth for Environmental Justice program. He said that Huntington Park was a “hub for toxic industrial facilities” where many families were poor. The community was seldom the subject of news coverage except for the problems of gangs, substance abuse and corruption.
Gutierrez said he plans to go to graduate school for American Studies and Ethnicity so that he can do research on race and journalism. He said that he wants to work on ways to give community people the tools to become “storytellers for their own neighborhoods.”
“I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and I believe in the power of the tools that are given to us in departments such as that of SF State,” he said. “I plan on going off to make departments of journalism even stronger by influencing more focus on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and labor.”