MSU journalists publish To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching


The Michigan State University School of Journalism students who published the new book To My Professor.


MSU School of Journalism

Cover of To My Professor by MSU School of Journalism

Click on the cover to see all the online options to order a copy of this book today.

What would college students tell their professors if they could?

In To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching, a journalism class uses more than 100 such comments to get things started.

They include:

“What type of professor gives you a bad grade on a paper and the only comments written were ‘incorrect use of a semicolon’ and ‘good’?”

“I spend a lot of money to go to school here. It would be nice if a professor knew my name.”

Comments like these were selected as starting points for more than 50 chapters in this new book.

This level of confusion and frustration is not surprising to anyone connected with higher education, these days. College campuses have become complicated places. The college population is more diverse than ever, tighter budgets and expanding technology are changing the role of professors, and students are more willing than they have been in 50 years to ban uncomfortable speech. Often, a professor, whether adjunct or a tenured PhD, becomes the fulcrum where all of this change seems to turn on campus.

MSU School of Journalism students now are veterans of identifying and producing helpful books on a wide range of issues concerning America’s changing culture.

This new project, To My Professor, was born when some ugly classroom incidents prompted a committee in the Michigan State College of Communication Arts and Sciences to ask for a teaching guide written from the student’s point of view. The request went to a class called Bias Busters because its students had published earlier 100-question guides to greater cultural competence. To My Professor, became a much bigger project, however, and grew to become a 230-page book written by 18 students over a 15-week semester.

Among the major sections of this book are:

  • Engaging everyone
  • Out of bounds
  • Technology
  • Life stages and circumstances
  • Health and wellness
  • Racial inclusion
  • International community
  • Gender and inclusion

The subjects include communication, grading, the needs of commuters, financial stresses, parent-student issues, challenges faced by first-in-the family students, international students and a growing blend of race, culture and gender identification.


Among the comments collected as starting points in the research, many focused on diversity, including:

There was frustration “when profs do not learn a Black student’s name because it’s ‘too hard’ but they can learn scientific names for plants+animals.”

“My professor just asked if I speak Arabic and then told me I look like a terrorist.”

“I felt like I had to choose between my grades and my religion, but what’s worse, I don’t know which my parents will be more upset about.”

In researching their chapters, the MSU journalists interviewed students and educators—and they also turned to nationally known master teachers and experts on crucial issues. For example, in sorting out the many potential points of misunderstanding over religious practices and observances, the students turned to the nation’s leading journalist covering religious holidays and observances: Stephanie Fenton, who has reported for ReadTheSpirit magazine over the past decade.



So, with the book now out and getting into the hands of educators through Amazon and other booksellers, let’s turn the lens on the student-authors. What do they think now? Here is what some wrote:

“Interviewing professors and students for this book was eye-opening. Some were apathetic to our project, and that alarmed me. From the start we knew that the professors who didn’t want to learn or adapt their teaching styles wouldn’t be our readers—though they likely need our book the most. Others were inspired, and that fueled me to produce better work.”

“I learned that professors don’t suck on purpose. They really are trying their best and they do mean well. Hopefully our book can help them be even better! “

“I learned that there are some AMAZING professors, but there is always going to be some not-so-amazing professors, too. It’s important to realize, though, that these professors, just like us, have a life outside the classroom.”

“As a student you sometimes feel alone in the way you are treated by professors, but you’re not. There is a whole nation full of students just like me.”


Joe Grimm is visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He was the teacher and editor for To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching. He is also the editor of the Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence. And here is a link to the MSU journalism students’ author page.

MSU Bias Busters publish timely guide to American Jews

100 Questions and Answers about American Jews

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

MSU School of Journalism

American Jews are on the front page this spring for many reasons.

This week (March 20-22, 2016), U.S. presidential candidates are vying for attention at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Coming up is the convergence of Easter (March 27 for Western Christians and May 1 for Eastern Orthodox Christians) and Passover (starting at sundown on April 22, 2016). Those holidays always generate headlines, sometimes referring to the calendar convergence as “crossover holidays.”

In a 2015 poll for The Economist and YouGov, 22 percent of a sample of 1,000 Americans said they acknowledge the holiday commemorating the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt. That means about 10 times as many non-Jews say they note the occasion as the 2-3 percent of the country that is Jewish.

Within the Judaism, it’s a Passover tradition for seder hosts to spark discussion of contemporary issues that connect with Jewish tradition and values. Seder hosts often look for thoughtful material to share with participants in addition to the Haggadah booklets that contain the readings and songs seder guests use during the ritual meal.

This new book is written for non-Jews to answer commonly asked questions about Jews and Judaism—but the book was edited with the help of a nationwide panel of Jewish readers. Even though the ideal readers for all of the Bias Busters books are not members of the minority groups featured in these volumes—many Jews are likely to want to read this new book and discuss the answers we have assembled.

Consider the Easter/Passover “crossover,” a phrase that describes the convergence of these ancient holidays. What’s the connection? That question is in keeping with our main goals in producing these guides: We’re helping people to learn about each other. We’re answering the questions that are most commonly asked among friends and colleagues, but that are rarely answered in standard reference books.

We answer the basic, everyday questions people have about each other but might not ask because they are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or embarrassing themselves. We believe that curiosity should be rewarded, not discouraged. These guides are meant to take the sting out of asking questions and to open up conversations. We write these books like real people talk. We hope that when you finish one of these guides, you will have more questions than when you started, as well as more confidence to ask them.

We’re fueling a well-informed national conversation that, in the end, builds healthier communities.

100 Questions and Answers About American Jews is the longest guide in the Bias Busters series, so far. Besides 100 questions and answers, it has new special sections including a guide to holidays by ReadTheSpirit’s Stephanie Fenton, graphics to explain things and a glossary. There are also videos that show you about the Passover seder. Other videos let you see and hear the ram’s horn blown for Rosh Hashanah and show how Torahs are kept and handled.

The questions in this new book include:

  • What is the significance of the small, circular cap some Jewish men wear?
  • Are Jews a race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, culture or a people?
  • How are Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews different?
  • How is Zionism different from Judaism?
  • How many Jewish Holocaust survivors are alive today?
  • Why does it seem like there are so many Jewish holidays?

The guide has sections on identity, religious practices, history, customs, food and stereotypes. Some of the answers might surprise you, but the guide will never scold anyone for asking the question.

And that is key. Journalism students at Michigan State create these guides with the idea that it is important and fun to learn about each other and that a clear, simple guide that answers our most basic questions is a good place to start.

This guide was vetted by 20 people, including five rabbis, to reflect practices among the major streams of Judaism. There is great diversity in Jewish thinking. That is explained in an opening essay by Rabbi Bob Alper, author of the books Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This and Thanks I Needed That. Michigan State Associate Professor Kirsten Fermaglich recounts the social and political history of Jews in America. Her first book was American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares. She is working on another tentatively entitled A Rosenberg by Any Other Name, an exploration of name changing in the United States in the 20th century.

Whether you are already doing the Passover crossover and want to know more or are someone who wants to get in on this interfaith experience, this guide can help you in plenty of time for the holiday.

Joe Grimm is editor of the series and visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

2016 03 21 MSU Bias Busters team (3)

MSU School of Journalism Bias Busters publication team.


Care to learn more?

Visit our bookstore for more on this book.

Here is one of the videos produced by the Bias Busters team …

Celebrate Black History Month by confronting racism with … information

100 Questions and Answers about African AmericansBy JOE GRIMM
Michigan State University School of Journalism

The absence of diversity in #OscarsSoWhite is a symptom. A new guide, out for Black History Month, looks at the wider, longer story.

It is 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

As Oscars, street demonstrations, campus protests and studies show, we have a long way to go on race relations. Many people just have a hard time understanding where others are coming from.

Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well.

The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks in 2013. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, classes of students have been trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Here is the class that produced this new book …

African Americans staff photo web rez

Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

This guide, the ninth in the MSU series, includes videos to answer questions about Black hair and African American fraternities. This is the first guide to use a motion graphic to explain the complicated story of wealth disparities. You can watch it here:

This guide, available in print or digital editions, was one of the most challenging to make in this long series our students have been producing at Michigan State. It was difficult because race issues run deep and because, like many campuses, Michigan State had demonstrations about racial inequity while the students were creating the guide. That was the backdrop for their work. As the professor, I think this made the guide sharper and I was impressed with the way the students treated each other.

Come on … take action …

Order your copy of this new book today.

Joe Grimm is editor of the series and visiting editor in residence in the MSU school of Journalism.

The authors of this guide are Michigan State University students Michelle Armstead, Brian Batayeh, Kelsey Block, Victoria Bowles, Paige Boyd, Stacy Cornwell, Kiana Elkins, Lilliana Forti, Brittany Holmes, Rachel Linnemann, Stephanie Hernandez McGavin, Veronica Muñoz, Cayden Royce, Danielle Schwartz, Caitlin Taylor and Rashad Timmons.

Facing anti-Muslim fears? Spread knowledge with MSU’s help!

Cover 100 Q and A on Muslim Americans

Click on this cover to help this effort by ordering the book (only 99 cents) for Amazon’s Kindle.

MSU School of Journalism

Try this quick fill-in-the-blank quiz:

Today’s greatest threat to American values is _______________.

Clue: This threat could erase American values written on everything from the Statue of Liberty to the Liberty Bell, up to the Constitution and right down to the money in your wallet.

Correct answers: The right responses fear, intolerance and lack of knowledge about Muslims.

Muslims, who have lived here for centuries, come to the United States precisely for those values. Some have fought and died to protect them. But now fear threatens to blank out some American values. Stoking these fears, as some activists are doing right now, is dangerous on many levels.


Click on this image to see all of MSU’s guides to cultural competence displayed on Amazon.

A Michigan State University journalism class is stepping into this volatile information gap. This ongoing class—often referred to as Bias Busters—produces well-researched, clear, accessible guides to cultural competence. The plan is to use the best journalistic practices to replace bias and stereotype with facts. So far, these students have published eight guides in their series—all books available easily from Amazon.

The need to fill in some blanks was evident even a year ago when the students’ Muslim guide came out. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center reported that 62 percent of Americans surveyed said they did not know any Muslims. The same study said that Americans’ warmth toward Muslims was cooling.


NOW, in light of current events, we put the digital edition of 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans on sale for 99 cents, less than a penny an answer.

Orders are up. The Detroit Free Press published excerpts from the guide on Thursday. On Friday, a campus police department asked for more information. On Saturday, Maynard Institute journalism columnist Richard Prince made the guide one of his year-end recommended reads.

This is what we need. More reading, questioning and conversation among Muslim and non-Muslims Americans can help us fill in the blanks. And this knowledge can help us keep ourselves from blanking out the values that define our country.


Joe Grimm is visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism and editor of this series of guides to cultural competence. The series includes guides on Hispanics and Latinos, Arab Americans, Native Americans. East Asian cultures, Americans, U.S. veterans and Indian Americans. Guides on African Americans adn American Jews are expected soon.

Veterans and POWs never asked to be labeled heroes—or anything

Veterans memorial (1)


The recent tempest over whether former prisoners of wars deserve to be called heroes neglects two important constituencies: POWs and veterans.

The fact is, they never asked for the label.

In writing 100 Questions and Answers About Veterans: A Guide for Civilians, we found that many veterans are uncomfortable with labels. They should no more be labeled than any other population group of 20 million people.

In his foreword to the guide, U.S. Army veteran J.R. Martinez wrote, “Some people have called me a hero for being in the military. Others have called me a monster for being in the military. I wish people would take the time to listen to me. Maybe eventually they’d just call me J.R.”

There are a number of other labels that chafe when applied to this large group of men and women. Many  have to do with the stereotype that veterans are  damaged individuals or victims. This label does not fit, either.

In the guide, published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism, we try to encourage civilians to have conversations with veterans. We do this by answering some of the basic questions people have about veterans. We hope that, with this as background knowledge, people will be less afraid of hurting the people they talk with or being embarrassed.

The guide says, “Labels such as ‘hero’ and ‘warrior’ frequently are used to describe a veteran’s service. Veterans themselves are not often looking for these labels, nor do they feel labels accurately portray their service. Some veterans served in support roles that did not require heroism. Other veterans who might have done remarkable things say their actions were just part of the job or their only choice. As members of a unit that went into combat together, some are uncomfortable with being singled out for acclaim. Others have regrets about things they did not or could not do.”

Conversations can take us far.

Rather than debate whether veterans deserve the hero label—or any label at all—politicians and journalists would serve us all better by listening to them and letting them speak for themselves. Portray them as the individuals they are and don’t engage in a self-serving argument about how to portray them in a word or dimension that they did not ask for. There is more to them than that.


At Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, Joe Grimm heads up the “Bias Busters” program that publishes a wide range of books dispelling myths and combatting bigotry against minority groups.

How do we honor our veterans and our fallen? By remembering their names …

… and telling their stories to the world

Joe Grimm, the director of a Michigan State University School of Journalism project that is helping veterans, writes today about how one family is honoring the memory of their fallen soldier. (Learn more about MSU’s efforts below.)

Tony Yost tombstone at Arlington

Cheyenne Yost places a photo of her graduation from Michigan State University on her father’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Photo courtesy of STRIVE Communications, Inc.


Cheyenne Yost could not hug her dad on Father’s Day, but she says he was with her just the same.

He was with her again five days later when the Yost Weapons Training Facility at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was dedicated in his name on June 26.

Cheyenne says her father, Master Sgt. Anthony R.C. Yost, has been in her heart—just as he promised—ever since he was killed in Iraq on Nov. 19, 2005. On that day, Yost led a unit of Iraqi soldiers he helped train to assist members of another unit who thought they had cornered Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Doc Maloney, who had been a weapons instructor with Yost at Fort Bragg, said “Tony decided he was going to take the Iraqis he had trained and clear the building. They encountered some resistance in the building and someone on the outside detonated a car that was right next to the house. That reduced the house to rubble and killed Tony and the Iraqi commandos …

“When Tony was killed, I got a phone call from another friend of ours who served with us. When he told me that Tony had been killed in Mosul that day, I was in shock. … I had not thought that he would go over there and get killed. A couple years later we ended up with this new weapons facility. Brand new. And I thought what a great thing it would be if I could get this building named after Tony.”

Maloney, who turned 72 in June, joined the Marines Corps in June 1960 and went into the Army’s Special Forces in 1978. He retired in 2003 and has been a civilian instructor since June of 2004. With 55 years in the military, he knows it is “very, very unusual and very rare” to get a building named after anyone, especially an enlisted soldier.

But Tony Yost, also called “Chief” for the Apache part of his mixed heritage, and “Andy,” was not like many other soldiers. Yost could speak Russian and other languages, played team sports in high school, hunted, was a gunsmith and rode a red Harley-Davidson motorcycle. For his service in the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (airborne), Yost was decorated with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Silver Star, the third-highest medal a service member can receive.

Maloney called Yost “a bigger-than-life guy.”

With Warrant Officer 2 George O’Neal, Maloney pursued the renaming, but a sergeant major who said Yost’s rank wasn’t high enough for such recognition, blocked them. The breakthrough came when Command Sgt. Maj. George Bequer, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, came into the line of command and green-lighted the dedication. Maloney said, “The irony of it was that George (Bequer) was also at one time an instructor and the non-commissioned officer in charge.”

Cheyenne Yost said she sees Maloney as he saw her dad: bigger than life. “He worked hard on it and I am really thankful for him. I know my dad would be proud to have this legacy. … I don’t feel sad that my dad is gone. I do feel so happy that he had a building named for him. He died doing what he loved. He loved his work; he loved his students; he loved his job.”

“Chey” was expecting her dad to come home in two months when the bad news came from Mosul. She was 13; he was 39. The Fort Bragg dedication and her dad’s presence and buddies helped make up for so many fatherless events, including Cheyenne’s graduation from Michigan State University in May.

In one of her classes, Cheyenne helped create 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans, one in a series of cultural competence guides published by the MSU School of Journalism. When Cheyenne heard that the next semester’s class would publish a guide to help civilians understand veterans, she jumped to help.

The class generally interviews only members of the group it is covering, and Cheyenne Yost is not a veteran. So, she briefly faced opposition similar to what Maloney had faced with her dad’s nomination. But she insisted on telling the story of her family. There are more than 20 million U.S. military veterans—and when family members like Cheyenne are included, the number of Americans with close ties to veterans is several times larger.

Cheyenne Yost with plaque honoring her father at Fort Bragg

Cheyenne Yost says she felt her father’s presence at the June 26 ceremony dedicating the Yost Weapons Training Facility at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Photo by Erin Maloney.


Several of Cheyenne Yost’s insights made it into the final text of the veterans guide. Within the book, you’ll find her personal touch in statements like these:

  • Military families can be very close, even though they may be far apart.
  • The military can become a family. Several of her father’s friends reached out to Cheyenne.
  • Some assume that the government pays for the college of veterans’ children. Not true.
  • Military children can have trouble making friends.
  • Family members can experience Post-Traumatic Stress, just like service members do, and it can come back.
  • Stigmas and labels abound. Veterans are stereotyped as being damaged people who have PTS, who are homeless or who must rely on wheelchairs. Or, they can be stereotyped as heroes.

Speaking for her father and his buddies, Cheyenne said, “They don’t want to be thought of as different. They don’t want to be defined as being a veteran.”

On the day after the dedication, Cheyenne Yost said, “My dad was very spiritual and he always told me that if anything would happen, that he would always be in my heart. … I feel like he’s with me all the time in these big moments.”

Now, with the training center named in Tony Yost’s memory and with the Fourth of July coming up, it is a good time to learn about U.S. veterans and their families. Find 100 Questions and Answers About Veterans: A Guide for Civilians, with Cheyenne Yost’s name in it and videos with veterans by Detroit Public Television on Amazon.

There is also a website about Master Sgt. Anthony R.C. Yost.

Joe Grimm was one of Cheyenne Yost’s professors. He continues as editor for this series of guides published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism.


Cover of the MSU 100 Q&A Veterans Large Book

Click the cover to learn more about the book.

Getting to know our millions of veterans is a major goal of ReadTheSpirit and PBS this year. With help from DPTV, Michigan’s flagship public TV station, the Michigan State University School of Journalism published a new multimedia book designed to help civilians make those connections.

How your Ramadan greeting can build a healthier community

MSU Front cover Muslim hi res

Click the cover to learn more about getting your own copy of the book.

NOTE—At ReadTheSpirit, we know that good media builds good communities. We also know from the extensive body of United America research by leading sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker that all of us as Americans share many core values. That may sound startling—but it’s true. In June 2015, as 1.6 billion Muslims around the world prepare for the holy fasting month of Ramadan, this is a perfect time to reach out in a welcoming way to Muslim friends, neighbors and co-workers. Greet them. Wish them well. But how do you do that without embarrassing yourself? What words should you use? We’ve got the answers. We publish many resources to help you successfully make friends, including the Michigan State University School of Journalism guide, 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans, produced by students with help from the scholar who writes this week’s cover story …

Making Muslim friends at Ramadan


The summer of 2014 was a chilly one for Muslims in America.

How Americans Feel About Religious Groups

Click on this Pew Research Center graphic to read Pew’s entire report.

They shivered as the lowest religious group on a “warmth index” created by the Pew Research Center. Pew’s American Trends Panel surveyed 3,217 randomly selected adults in the United States about their attitudes toward various religions groups. (Note to readers in 2017: The Pew report referenced here remains the most recent update of this periodic “warmth index.”)

Pew ranked the responses on a 0-100 feelings thermometer. The warmest feelings were for Jews, 63; Catholics, 62; and Evangelical Christians, 61. The lowest feelings were for atheists, 41; and Muslims, 40. Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons were in between. Actually, 41 percent of the respondents placed Mormons below 33—indicating that large numbers of Americans have icy feelings toward several religious minorities.

Pew found that feelings toward religious groups varied by one’s own religion, race and politics—as well as by whether someone knows a member of that group.

At Michigan State University, where we have been publishing 100-question-and-answer cultural competence guides, we thought Islam needed attention. Part of our job is to help people get to know each other. People who attended the North American Interfaith Network conference in Detroit during August 2014 encouraged the project. So, in November, the class published 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans.

As front-page news stories tell us each week, for more than a year, extremists who hijacked Islam for their agenda of political violence in Iraq and Syria have been deliberately trying to redefine this worldwide faith as a fearsome force. This campaign, including horrific scenes of violence committed by ISIL, and by similar groups like Boko Haram in Africa, wound up making life worse for Muslims in America.

Attacks by these groups and their propaganda campaigns helped to fuel an existing Islamophobia.

Mohammad Khalil, 2014 Teacher Scholar recipient

Mohammad Khalil, 2014 Teacher Scholar recipient

For the guide’s preface, Mohammad Hassan Khalil of Michigan State University’s Center for Islamic Studies writes:

“For centuries, Muslim Americans, like other American minorities, have had to confront and contend with numerous detractors and misconceptions. One might assume that the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, only made things worse for Muslim Americans.”

We seem to be in a similar period now.

To make the guide, students interviewed dozens of Muslims, asking what questions they hear and what they wish others understood about them. The meaning and practice of Ramadan came up frequently. Read the Spirit’s Stephanie Fenton explains the month-long observance in the guide’s section on religious holidays, a first for the series.

The guide also answers:

* Who is Muhammad?
* What does the Quran say about Jesus?
* Why do Muslims pray facing Mecca?
* What is Shariah?
* Are halal and kosher foods the same?
* What does jihad mean?

After the interviews, one student noted that sources said they would appreciate it if others learned to pronounce words such as “Muslim” correctly. We gave the guide an audio recording, another first. In it, Muslims of various backgrounds and ages pronounce “Islam,” “Muslim,” “Allah” and “Ramadan Mubarak,” which means “blessed Ramadan.”

Click on the graphic, below, to hear the audio. (Better yet, order your own copy of the book in print or in an e-edition and you’ll be able to share this audio clip with friends anywhere. In the print edition, it plays from a QR code, so you’ll just click your smartphone to hear it.)

Now, a panel of about 20 expert allies are reviewing a new guide about religion. This one is about American Jews, and we plan to publish it this summer.

While Muslims are observing their holy month of Ramadan, the rest of us can join them symbolically by reading 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans.”

Joe Grimm is visiting editor in residence in the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. He is editor of this series of guides to cultural competence.